Stag nights are a relatively modern invention, and I have never quite got the hang of them. To my mind, the desire to have a night predominantly designed to get you so larruped you may go blind indicates you’re probably an idiot in your twenties, desperate in your thirties or just plain embarrassing in your forties. Which is, in many ways, how things should be, but the reason I have never wanted one is because, as I explained to numerous enquiries from well-intentioned friends in the run up to my wedding – “I talk to the pricks every weekend, I don’t want to be one of them.” Added to which, having had an alcohol free 2014, it seemed very unfair to drag people along to a gathering where the idea would be to get utterly trousered when I wasn’t going to join in. It would be like taking a virgin dogging – he’d probably rather not do it and everyone else would feel a bit uncomfortable watching.
So, when my best man asked me what I wanted to do, I just suggested we went for dinner. In Paris. Well why not? Hal Cruttenden’s done lots of telly recently, so he could afford it, and as we met at the Eurostar terminal it seemed abundantly clear that here were two straight men who could very much put the gay in Paree. This was a view enthusiastically endorsed by what appeared to be all of Facebook and everyone we’d ever met.
And we didn’t care. After the Gare du Nord we checked into our hotel and popped out for the obligatory croque monsieur and a spot of sight-seeing. We stopped for coffee and cake at the Café Tour Eiffel, a surprisingly quiet and classy little affair considering its location, though my opinion may have been swayed by a fellow customer complimenting my French, albeit probably for effort rather than grammatical precision. We didn’t go up the Eiffel Tower because Hal was worried he’d propose. Having discovered that Paris was much bigger than our map, we took a cab back to the hotel for a quick nap before the evening’s festivities because otherwise we might have got cross over dinner, which would have ruined everything.
In a vain attempt to man up a bit, we had bought tickets for the Moulin Rouge, because nothing says red-blooded men like nipples, apparently, and we had booked to see a lot of them, but first we had to eat. A flick through various guides had unearthed La Renaissance in the Rue Championnet, slightly off the beaten track, so we jumped in another cab as further experiments with the map had proved that our only abilities with it involved walking in the opposite direction to the one we wanted. Upon arrival, we discovered a restaurant bar for which the term shabby chic might have been invented, with people outside smoking slightly threateningly, for which I believe the term ‘Parisian’ has been coined. Once inside, things were relatively quiet, but one of the selling points of the place is the original 30’s décor, which goes a long way to explaining why Quentin Tarantino used it as a location for ‘Inglourious Basterds’, and why it was considerably cooler than its two latest customers. But the welcome from our waiter was very warm, the specials board was up and Blue Monday, The Message and Get It On came on the sound system in quick succession which only heightened the impression we were mildly over-dressed.
The food was pretty good, if not quite the gastronomic fireworks we might have expected from a five-star Time Out review. Two starters of excellent foie gras with a tea and bergamot jelly were very, very good, and got me quite excited for main course, but a pork filet mignon with a mushroom sauce was merely workmanlike. Adding walnut to the accompanying polenta jazzed it up a bit, but it’s still polenta, and I’m never quite convinced. A ribsteak with potatoes, onion and red wine sauce was similarly acceptable, while a ‘moellaux chocolat, crème anglaise au café’ was a slightly disappointing fondant in a rather thin sauce. Having said that, the service was excellent, the ambience very Parisian, and we obviously did a lot of staring into one another’s eyes.
We even nipped outside to the smoking area for a couple of Romeo y Julietas I’d bought with me for added stagness, and even if we got the distinct feeling it was more a Gitanes than cigar establishment, I could easily see myself returning for a bohemian afternoon of liver failure when I’m back on the absinthe. On this occasion, however, we paid the extremely reasonable bill and set off down the street to the Moulin Rouge in completely the wrong direction, puffing at our cigars like a right pair of numpties.
The Moulin Rouge did nothing whatsoever for our heterosexual credentials, being quite the campest thing I have ever seen. I’m very glad I went, even if I’m not sure that nipples, feathers, roller skates, nipples, Shetland ponies, 80s pop videos, snakes, nipples, sequins, juggling, dodgy ventriloquism, nipples and seating that might have upset a battery hen are entirely my thing. Well worth a visit, but perhaps, in the culturally sensitive words of ‘Allo ‘Allo – “only wernce.”
A nightcap (of ice cream, party people) later, and it was another cab back to the hotel in crazytown. A leisurely breakfast of coffee, croissants and the usual in-depth discussion about Hal’s career followed the next morning before we headed back to the station. Our train wasn’t til mid-afternoon, but this gave us ample time to enjoy a superb lunch at Terminus Nord, the quite brilliant brasserie I wrote about last time I was in Paris. This is one of my favourite places on the planet, and as I polished off soupe à l’oignon, a very punchy steak tartare and a suitably calorific café gourmand for dessert, I reflected that it is also perhaps one of the best located. No matter what has happened to you in Paris, you can always stop here on the way out and all will be well with the world.
Luckily, I had already had a marvelous time, for which I must give full and heartfelt thanks to Mr Cruttenden. We may not have been the best stags, but we made a couple of very convincing dears.