the legendary Parisian cabaret closes permanently

INFO LE FIGARO – Yellow vests, confinement, the economic crisis… Open seven days a week for 70 years, the dinner-show cabaret is closing its doors. But the adventure of the artists who performed there is not over.

It is the end of a Parisian institution. Open seven days a week for 70 years, the dinner-show cabaret Le Don Camilo closes permanently on December 16. Richard Vergnes, one of the sons of Jean Vergne – the founder, had to resign himself to closing the door and selling the performance hall on the first floor as well as the restaurant on the ground floor. Originally called “La Cette”, it became the “Don Ca’ Comedy Bar”, a 50-seat space where young comedians came to prowl the stage alone.

Arriving at the head of the two establishments in 2012, Richard Vergnes suffered the full brunt of the yellow vests, confinements, and threats of attacks. The lack of state aid, the rise in prices, and the increase in charges dealt a fatal blow to the establishment’s accounts. “Our audience is mainly provincial, explains Richard Vergnes. An evening in our establishment has been, for decades, a tradition for our regulars during a stay in Paris”. The oldest have ped it on to their children and grandchildren. They respected it until the eve of the 2020s. What will become of the places? He doesn’t know it, but already knows that the new owner has no intention of turning it into a performance hall. “She knows the building since the day after my father’s death, in 2019, she bought the apartment where he lived, which was just above the cabaret,” confides the heir of this legendary place of Parisian nights.

The adventure began in 1953 when Jean Vergnes decided to create a cabaret next to an Italian restaurant where he used to welcome artists who came to push the bill for dessert. He buys the shop of a neighboring antique dealer, which he transforms into a cabaret, asking his friend César to create a decor using shards of mirrors. Fernandel being one of the regulars of his establishment, he decides, as a wink, to choose a sign reminiscent of “The Little World of Don Camillo” which then triumphs on the screen. Since then, on rue des Saints-Pères, more than 500 singers, singers or imitators have, one day or another, been on the bill.

In this list appear, among others, Charles Trenet, Léo Ferré, Serge Gainsbourg, Serge Reggiani, Barbara, Georges Moustaki, Serge Lama, Fernand and Michel Sardou, Jean Amadou, Pierre Douglas, Serge Llado, Thierry le Luron, Bernard Mabille and Laurent Gerra. Richard Vergnes keeps memorable evenings in a corner of his memory. “I am 50 years old and I spent my entire adolescence here. I remember, as if it were yesterday, Raymond Devos trying to do his act in front of a room where Francis Blanche was sitting in the front row. Blanche began to interrupt Devos, who responded. The improvised ping-pong lasted more than ten minutes in front of an audience bursting with laughter. I still regret that no one filmed this exceptional moment.” In 1999, Sylvain Collaro – Stéphane’s brother, who came by chance to have dinner with a friend, sympathized with Jean Vergnes, who, a few weeks later, entrusted him with the artistic direction and presentation of the show.

From the 1960s, everyone in Paris frequented Don Camilo around which another world revolved, that of organized crime. The big names in the industry have their habits there: Francis the Belgian or Christian David aka the handsome Serge, one of the bosses of the French Connexion. The big cops also had their tables, Jean Vergnes has often said, whose son will carry out these missions until recent months, and discover young talents. Among them, we find the impersonator Yann Jamet, the comedian Tony Saint-Laurent, the magician-ventriloquist Jimmy Delp and two performers: Mathieu and Geneviève Morissette. Little by little, they became headliners of this cabaret. Richard Vergnes, however, has no intention of abandoning them by the side of the road. He has kept the brand and plans to organize tours and continue the “Don Ca’ Comedy Bar”, from the beginning of next year, in another Parisian venue. A new adventure that he could call “the return of Don Camilo”.

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