French nightlife keeps its own time, adapting worldwide fashions in unpredictable ways. Celebrity discos like Le Baron, for example, have kept the spirit of Studio 54 alive from the 1980s until today, while the celebrity DJs of more recent years have brought world music to upscale clubs. No matter what your taste, there's a range of user-friendly options, depending on how late you want to stay up and the thickness of your wallet. Be prepared to dress up and keep your voice down: The only stumbling, shouting people you're likely to see on a night out are other tourists.
Want to bypass doormen and cover charges? Head to one of the country's increasingly popular wine bars after dinner (or don't leave the dinner table at all—small neighborhood cafés are the perfect place to linger over another bottle of Sancerre). The only catch is that the more relaxed nightlife options tend to shut their doors by 11 pm (or midnight at the latest). From then on, it's music that defines French nightlife in the form of performance venues and dance clubs, and you'll generally have to pay a premium for it. The jazz scene in France is still extremely active, with clubs catering to everyone from poor students to high rollers. Hot Paris dance clubs feature international DJs and extremely selective door policies (on the other hand, those doors stay open until 5 am).
Cities outside Paris tend to shut down earlier (with the exception of a student-oriented club or two). However, the Champagne-swilling nightclubs that line the Côte d'Azur from Antibes to St. Tropez give the capital city a run for its nightlife money. Down south, mounting bar tabs seem immaterial to the yacht owners and nubile young yacht-bait they attract. Something to avoid throughout France: the "Irish pub" phenomenon, where expatriates of every nationality surround you in advanced (and loud) states of inebriation.