Le Chabanais was one of the best known and most luxurious brothels in Paris, operating near the Louvre at 12 rue Chabanais from 1878 until 1946, when brothels were outlawed in France. It was founded by the Irish-born Madame Kelly, who was closely acquainted with several members at the Jockey-Club de Paris. Among the habituées were Edward VII, Prince of Wales; Toulouse-Lautrec; Cary Grant; Humphrey Bogart, Mae West and diplomatic guests of the French government.
The brothel, famous enough to warrant mentioning in the 7-volume Nouveau Larousse illustré encyclopaedia of 1904, was founded by the Irish-born Madame Kelly (real name - Alexandrine Joannet (or possibly Jouannet)), who was closely associated with several members at the prestigious Jockey-Club de Paris. She sold shares in the profitable business to wealthy anonymous investors. The total cost of the establishment was reported to be the exorbitant sum of 1.7 million francs. The entrance hall was designed as a bare stone cave; the bedrooms were lavishly decorated, many in their own style: Moorish, Hindu, Japanese, Pompeii and Louis XVI. The Japanese room won a design prize at the 1900 World Fair in Paris. Madame Kelly died in 1899.
In the mid-1920s, Le Chabanais was overtaken by the One Two Two (fr:One-Two-Two) as the top luxury brothel in Paris.
During the World War II German occupation of France, twenty top Paris brothels, including Le Chabanais, Le Sphinx, One Two Two, La Fleur blanche(fr:La_Fleur_blanche), La rue des Moulins, and Chez Marguerite, were reserved by the Wehrmacht for German officers and collaborating Frenchmen. The brothels flourished and Hermann Göring visited Le Chabanais, as is related in the 2009 two-volume book 1940–1945 Années Erotiques by Patrick Buisson.
The French legal brothels, known as "maisons closes" or "maisons de tolérance", were closed by law in 1946, after a campaign by Marthe Richard. The backlash against the brothels was in part due to their collaboration with the Germans. A 2002 survey showed that, despite the fact that 64% of the French thought that prostitution was "a degrading practice for the image and the dignity of the woman (or the man)", nearly two-thirds believed that reopening the brothels would be a good idea.
On 8 May 1951 the contents of La Chabanais were sold at auction by Maurice Rheims, publicly revealing the furnishings, furniture and equipment including Edward VII's chaise de volupté and his copper champagne bath decorated with a sphinx. The bath was bought for 110,500 francs by the antiques dealer Jacob Street and was acquired in 1972 by Salvador Dalí, who placed it in his room at the Hotel Meurice.
The French government sometimes included a visit to the Chabanais as part of the programme for foreign guests of state, disguising it as "visit with the President of the Senate" in the official programme at the opening of the World's Fair in 1889.
Prominent visitors included King Carlos I of Portugal; Jagatjit Singh, Maharaja of Kapurthala; writer Pierre Louÿs; Cary Grant; Humphrey Bogart; Mae West; Roscoe Arbuckle and Marlène Dietrich on the arm of Erich Maria Remarque.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was a frequent visitor; he painted 16 tableaux for the house, now held in private collections.
The poet Guy de Maupassant built a copy of the Moorish room in his mansion at the sea, so that he wouldn't have to miss it during his vacations.
"Bertie", Prince of Wales, who would later become King Edward VII of the United Kingdom, often visited during the 1880s and 1890s. One room carried his coat of arms over the bed and a large copper bath-tub with a half-woman-half-swan figurehead, which he liked to fill with champagne and which, in 1951 after the closure, Salvador Dalí bought for 112,000 francs. Edward, heavily overweight, also had a "love seat" (siège d'amour) manufactured by Louis Soubrier, cabinetmaker of the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine, allowing easy access for oral and other forms of sex with several participants.
Today, the six-story building is used as an apartment house.
The Musée de l'Erotisme in Pigalle devotes one floor to the maisons closes, exhibiting Polissons et galipettes, a collection of short erotic silent movies that were used to entertain brothel visitors, and copies of Le Guide Rose, a contemporary brothel guide that also carried advertising. The 2003 BBC Four documentary Storyville – Paris Brothel describes the maisons closes and contains footage of the Chabanais. A replica of Edward's love seat is exhibited in a Prague sex museum; the original was sold at auction in 1996 to a private party.
An exhibition about historical Paris brothels took place in a gallery across the street from the building at 12 rue Chabanais from November 2009 to January 2010.