le Boeuf sur le Toit

Le Boeuf sur le Toit is considered by many to be the cradle of the Paris Jazz Age.  The Americans and other foreigners had clubs like the Dome and Deux Magots, but for young French artists, writers and musicians, Le Boeuf was home.

It all started in 1920, when a Mr. Schwarts opened a club named Le Gaya in the rue Duphot.  He hired a demobilized soldier, Louis Moyses, to help run it.  Mr. Schwarts also hired a piano player, Jean Weiner, the son of an old friend.  Jean’s piano jazz style did not set well with the club’s conservative customers.  One day Louis Moyses told Jean Cocteau,” I think I’m going to have to get rid of him.”  Cocteau replied, “Keep him and get rid of your customers.”  That is exactly what Louis did.

Louis opened his own club but, having no money, he could only assemble a few tables and chairs in a run down storefront. His sister was the cashier and his half brother the waiter.  With his last francs, he bought a bottle of cognac and a bottle of whisky.  He filled a third bottle with colored water to make the bar more impressive.  He also brought along Jean Wiener and his piano. The new and exciting jazz sounds coming out of the tiny club started drawing crowds.

It became obvious he needed a larger location. After finding some investors, he moved the club to 28 rue Boissy d’Anglas.  The club had two rooms connected by an arched alley.  One side was an informal bar and restaurant, while the other side was a formal room designed for more elegant dining and entertainment. Cocteau decorated the club and fellow artist, Francis Picabia, hung a painting he called The Cacodylic Eye over the bar.  In later years it was to become one of the most famous works of the Dadaist Movement.  Another friend, composer Darius Milhaud, had just returned from Brazil with a newly completed work called le Boeuf sur le Toit, which translates into Bull of the Roof.  Some argue the translation is really Ox on the Roof or Cow on the Roof, but the Parisians seemed to prefer Bull.

The Boeuf was an instant success and became, as Vanity Fair writer Edmund Wilson described it, “the nerve center of the musical revolution in France.”  Jean Wiener brought in his friend and fellow pianist, Clement Doucet, and together they introduced Paris to Gershwin, Cole Porter and Jerome Kern.  Under the watchful eye of Cocteau, it quickly became the unofficial home of music, art and literary giants such as Picasso, Diaghilev, Andri Gide, Chevalier, Man Ray, Satie, Rubinstein, Stein, Joyce, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and scores more. 

In the fall of 1925, Louis Moyses offered Bob & Muriel a job performing at the Boeuf, which they quickly accepted.  They were a huge hit and, in 1926, purchased the bar and restaurant side of the cabaret.  They sold their interest in the Boeuf back to Louis later that year when they moved to London.  They returned in 1929 to perform once again.  

For more information about the Boeuf, click here.