When I was researching Lost Roses, spending time in Paris was a wonderful necessity and I visited Rue Chabanais, former site of the infamous brothel, since it features prominently in the book. Once, the five-story townhouse was decorated as a grotto, with toadstool tables, faux rocks and a noisy waterfall, the most sumptuous house of pleasure in Europe at the time. Opened and operated by Madame Kelly starting in 1846 close to the the Louvre, Le Chabanais entertained high-society visitors who spent time in the arms of thirty black-stockinged courtesans in residence.
Every room at the brothel had a theme. The Louis XVI room provided decadent royal nostalgia, and the Moorish room was a favorite of poet Guy de Maupassant, who made his own replica of the room in his home. A frequent guest of Le Chabanais, King Edward VII had a sphinx copper bathtub made for his favorite suite to provide champagne skinny dips, while Toulouse-Lautrec, another famous visitor, donated sixteen oil paintings featuring centaurs in the throes of passion.
Today there is little trace of the brothel, which shuttered in 1946. It exists as an exotic footnote in French history and in the pages of Lost Roses, where Sofya is forced to live for a while, along with former aristocratic Russians forced to work as courtesans, and where she ends up working as an accounts collector.