The casino is located across from Planten um Blamen park. When you pop up from the metro its vertical stature contrasts the green of the park. The outside is rather plain, except for overbearing columns and a touch of red.
Inside feels like the entrance to a hotel, coats checked to the left. Up the elevator you enter a sterile room: rough red carpet, parent’s basement (cheap attempt at extravagance) bar, people dressed in varying formality, a surprising lack of floozies, and equally spaced tables. A central hallway leads to the back where you can pick up chips from a bank cashier-style counter with two blonds sitting behind thick glass.
Most people are serious. One man, flat out of chips, throws down 500 Euros on the table with a grin. Consistently betting 150 Euros on 0, 7, and 36, he reminds me of a giant slug belching green 50 Euro pellets. He tells me he likes the color of my skirt, petting my hip, as if his overindulgence has bought him the right. Some people put down money and then, not even watching their play, run to another table as if luck has a dog whistle. Watching provides no excitement for jaded eyes.
The woman next to me is edged on by the staff, wanting to win for him as he repeats, “I know you will win this time, OK next time, next time.” On the way out, someone sees their lucky number win, “Oh, I knew I should have played one more time.” They think they can control luck despite the knowledge that odds are stacked against them.
Walking down the icy Rue du Faubourg in the 8th, my hands tucked deep in the pockets of my East Village North Face puffer, I quickly pull one out to check my sticky-note with the address. Coming across ‘hôtel particulier’, I think the tall walls might hide a church. I see the number corresponds to a rather modern, white apartment complex. Peaking into the lobby and checking the door, I enter looking lost. There, through the corridor stands a beautiful old church. As instructed, I turn left, walk down a flight of stairs, through a lobby, take a right towards the room and there it is – a bustling bar.
Welcome to “La Cave,” started by a friend’s brother and some of the monks about 5 years ago, it was decided to create a space where people could hang out and chat. The place ended up being so successful, the monks opened up similar bars at their other monasteries across France.
At the entrance is a table, with two men and one computer in which they take all your information so you can become a remember and receive your membership ID card. The room is packed; people sit on stools and recline on sofas, clotted in circles to chat. The room is smoky (due to a technicality in French law, it is one of the few places you can still smoke indoors because it is considered “private” since everyone is a member). It’s where the next generation bourgeoisie come for cheap beer and to catch up after a long week of studying. A few monks line the walls, laughing and speaking with some of the members.
At midnight, the volunteer staff calls for all to be silent. A monk stands on a table facing the room. Everyone gathers around him and in unison repeats the Lord’s Prayer (I try to whisper along in English, unable to even start to translate into French to keep up with those around me). Following the prayer, he reads from the Bible a short passage about not coveting what your neighbor has, something of which everyone can relate. Once finished, everyone grabs the stools, creating a chain, passing them back into a small back room to close up shop, prior to a continued night of reveling including an end of Paris Fashion Week party and Carnival masks.