Vive la France!
Thousands of French ex-pats and just as many Francophiles turned out for the annual Bastille Day celebration on Smith Street on Sunday, July 14 — the date that marks the actual anniversary of the 1789 French storming of the Bastille prison in Paris.
The blocks-long 12th annual celebration of French independence along Brooklyn’s famed restaurant row ran from Bergen to Pacific streets in Boerum Hill. The extravaganza of red, white — and bleu — featured tasty French fare, lots of booze, live music, a mock guillotine, and what organizers billed as the biggest pétanque tournament in the world outside of France.
“It’s an opportunity to meet compatriot French,” said Olivier Desaintmartin, a French native and resident of Philadelphia, as he took a break from playing pétanque, a popular French sport that’s described as the cousin of Italian bocce. White-hat wearing players from all around the world made up 72 teams that competed in the massive tournament, in which the objective is to throw metal balls, called boules, down a long sand court in the hopes of getting them as close as possible to a smaller target ball.
Concrete titan John Quadrozzi Jr. of Quadrozzi Concrete Company has been donating and spreading the sand used for the tournament, which is organized by French bistro Bar Tabac, since the celebration’s inception. This year, he gave more than 22 tons of sand for the 16 courts that were set up in the center of the bustling festival.
There was no shortage of boozy revelers sipping on champagne, sangria, and pastis, a traditional French anise-flavored liqueur, amid chants of “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem. Others indulged in delicious fare such as crepes — French pancakes — lobster rolls, grilled oysters, and macaroons from local businesses on the strip.
“It’s not your same-old, same-old street fair,” said event organizer Bette Stoltz, the director of the South Brooklyn Local Development Corporation. “It’s become a New York City event and not just a Smith Street event — people come from all over.”
Stoltz, who has helped many French restaurants find storefronts on Smith Street in the 1990s, said the Bastille Day celebration continues to grow, just as the French population does in Brownstone Brooklyn.
“It has really exploded,” said Stoltz, referring to the French community. She added that many French families are drawn to the area because schools like PS 58 in Carroll Gardens have incorporated French-English bilingual programs.
Stoltz estimated that the 20,000 festival-goers were made up of half locals and half French natives.
“Everybody is French on Bastille Day,” said native Brooklynite Frank Esposito. “It’s very laid back, and plus, you get to drink on the street.”