Le Madame - Clubbed to Death
I am saddened to have to write this writeup in the past tense.
The ingeniously titled Le Madame was a snazzy underground
hangout, conveniently tucked away on ul. Freta* in Warsaw. The buzzword here is definitely 'eccentric'. You could expect to be greeted by an alternate decor and, most certainly, an even more eccentric clientele.
The walls of this adapted electronics warehouse had a say in turning the place into a social hub for art exhibitions. Originally a gay club, it has hosted a range of multi-cultural and counter-cultural artistic and political events, although their main focus was on contemporary theatre and art. “We work with 61 theatre groups and have produced 204 plays and pieces of performance art - everything from Chekhov and the classics to a play featuring only actors who were all schizophrenics." said Kastia (Kate) Szurstow, the club's artistic director, in an interview. However, it is said that its liberal atmosphere had no chance against the new ultra-conservative regime which has been governing Poland since October 2005. Gay City News identified the shut down of the club as a direct attack on the Polish gay community on behalf of the new hard-right goverment led by the Kaczynski twins and their 'Law and Justics Party.'
Owner Krystian Legierski (a Polish-born black and a gay activist with the Warsaw Lambda Association) is able to recount a series of attempts to derail the institution, including one episode were nude portraiture was labelled pornographic.
On March 25, 2006 the Warsaw City Council ordered the immediate evacuation of patrons and Le Madame's shutdown because of uncleared debts. Police were met with a surprise - those inside refused to walk out. Curiously, the police barricades at the club's entraces did not stop reinforcements from pouring in. The sit-in was eventually made up of over two hundred individuals from in and out of town and included men, women and children.
Sadly, Le Madame was eventually closed on April 10, 2006.
My experience of Le Madame aka 'Lema'
I cannot exactly call myself a ex-patron of Le Madame - During my short, six-week stay in Warsaw, I only made it to the club once, bought one Jack Coke and escaped having to pay the 10 zloty entrance fee. Still, it was by far one of the best spots I've been to in Poland. Although my friends and I descended on the club as a large group, I got to chatting with some cool Poles, the ambience was great and the bartender was friendly.
I also made a brave attempt at using the toilets and prevailed.
You may or may not know that the Poles have devised their own set of toilet gender symbols - Doors marked with a triangle are open to men, while a circle welcomes female guests. Did the non-conventional Le Madame adopt this rule. Of course he-she didn't.
Two restrooms. No circle in sight. No triangle, either. Urinals in both. Hmmm?
Never in my life have I spent more than a minute trying to figure out where to pee. When a passer-by noticed me and my equally confused Egyptian roommate, he retorted...
"This place is called 'Le Madame', girls! Don't you get it."
I hope I do.
*Ulice or ul. is the Polish word for 'Street'.
check out http://www.lemadame.pl for images (text in Polish)