It is the end of a Parisian institution. Open for years seven days a week, the Don Camilo dinner-show cabaret closed its doors for good on December 16 after 70 years of existence. Richard Vergnes, one of the sons of the founder Jean Vergnes, had to resign himself to closing the door and selling the establishment on rue des Saints-Pères, in Paris, with its performance hall on the first floor and its restaurant on the ground floor. Originally called La Casserole, the room became the Don-K 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 from the yellow vest crisis, 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,” he explains. An evening in our establishment has been, for decades, a tradition for our regulars during a stay in Paris. »
What will become of the place? Richard Vergnes ignores it even though he knows that the new owner has no intention of making it 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 to this legendary night spot. Parisians.
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 decided, as a wink, to choose a brand reminiscent of The Little World of Don Camillo, which then triumphed in the cinema. 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 for the singers. Raymond Devos, Jean Amadou, Pierre Douglas, Serge Llado, Thierry Le Luron, Bernard Mabille and Laurent Gerra for the comedians.
“I am 50 years old and I spent my entire adolescence here,” confides Richard Vergnes. 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. »
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 often recounted.
In 1999, Sylvain, the brother of the comedian Stéphane Collaro, sympathized with Jean Vergnes during a dinner. A few weeks later, he inherited the artistic direction and presentation of the show.
In recent years, Richard Vergnes has made a point of nurturing 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.
If the premises are sold, he has kept the brand and plans to organize tours of the Don-K Comedy Bar from the start of next year, in another Parisian venue. A new adventure that he could call “the return of Don Camilo”.