Image: France nightlife
Jacques Brinon  /  AP
In a bid to bring partiers back to France, the government proclaimed last weekend that dance clubs across the country can now stay open until 7 a.m.
updated 12/30/2009 2:39:26 PM ET 2009-12-30T19:39:26

Just in time for New Year's Eve, a new decree from France: Let them dance 'til dawn.

Despite France's reputation for bon vivants sipping Champagne until the wee hours, aficionados have been complaining that nightlife, especially in Paris, is in decline.

An Internet petition warns that the City of Light has become "Europe's capital of sleep" — and complains that musicians, DJs and partiers are heading instead to London, Barcelona, Prague and Berlin.

In a bid to bring them back, government proclaimed last weekend that dance clubs across France can now stay open until 7 a.m., later than has been allowed in many parts of the country.

For some partiers, it's a matter of economics.

"This way we can get our money's worth from the cover charges," said Elodie Bari, a 24-year-old preparing to spend New Year's Eve at the massive Macumba club near France's border with Switzerland. The club, with seven dance floors, has booked 10 DJs for the event.

In Paris, police frequently break up festivities after complaints from neighbors. Smoky drinking holes have become a thing of the past: A ban on lighting up in restaurants and bars went into effect two years ago.

The Internet petition, launched in October, has 14,000 signatures so far and asks authorities for clearer legislation — and subsidies for soundproofing.

Until now, local officials had the power to decide how late clubs could stay open. That encouraged drunk driving, as partiers hopped in their cars and headed to areas where clubs stayed open later, the Synhorcat union for hotels, restaurants and caterers said. Slideshow: Perfectly Paris

Closing times were especially bewildering in Paris because they differed in the city's 20 arrondissements, or neighborhoods.

The new law clears all that up: Party till the sun comes up. It also requires nightclubs to stop serving alcohol an hour and a half before closing to cut down on drunk driving.

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The union, which supports the changes, said early closing times led to binge-drinking in the streets. Binge drinking is a growing concern in France, where youths were traditionally taught to savor the fruit of the grape, not chug hard liquor.

Club owners were taken by surprise by the new rules.

Many big nightclubs, like the Rex Club in the heart of Paris, already close around 6 or 7 a.m. The club's director, Fabrice Gadeau, is unsure how the new hours will affect his business.

"Will people leave at 7, or will they leave at 5:30 when alcohol sales end?" he wondered. "This law came out of nowhere right before New Year's Eve."

France isn't the only country to experiment with the rules. Britain overhauled its drinking laws in 2005, allowing bars and clubs to apply for permission to stay open around the clock. The changes were supposed to cut down on binge drinking at closing time.

But three years later, the government acknowledged that keeping the bars open 24 hours hadn't curbed binge drinking — and, in some cities, alcohol-related violence actually rose.

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