La Brooklynais

for The Brooklyn Paper
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This Sunday, a two-block section of Smith Street will look less like part of the B75 bus route and more like a backyard in Provence, as restaurants Bar Tabac and Robin des Bois host a grand scale “petanque” tournament in honor of Bastille Day.

At 8 am on July 13, a truck will show up with several tons of sand, donated by the Quadrozzi Concrete Corporation. A team will go to work smoothing out the sand into courts for as early a start as possible. Eighty teams of three will then compete in a good-natured, community-building round-robin tournament for bragging rights.

The objective of the game, as in lawn bowling and “bocce,” “petanque’s” Italian cousin, is to get their balls, or “boules,” closer to a smaller ball known as the “cochonnet” (literally, “piggy”). Points are awarded for each ball closer than one’s opponents, with games normally played to 13, but in this case, with so many games to get through, to 11.

Bernard De Canari, owner of Robin des Bois restaurant, has competed for the last six years along with two skilled players, but, as one of the event’s organizers, he often gets distracted.

“People are always tugging at my sleeve trying to get me to do something or other, so I don’t get to focus enough on playing,” he told us. “I sometimes end up dragging my team down.”

Since the first tournament in 2002, which consisted of 10 friends playing in the street in front of Patois, word has gotten around, and players are flying in from all over the world to compete, although De Canari said he tries to maintain a balance of experienced players and people from the neighborhood who’ve never played before. (In any case, all available spaces for teams were gone within a matter of hours after inscription began one day in late June.)

While “petanque” may be the main reason to come out, there will be plenty of distractions for everyone in attendance. As always, there will be street vendors selling such treats as crepes and “merguez” sausage. Ricard, the most recognizable name in pastis, will again be a sponsor, as will several winemakers.

Restaurants along the stretch will be extending their brunch service to accommodate the expected crowds. Apostolos, a Greek man who will be bartending at Bar Tabac that day, said this is how the French like to celebrate Bastille Day: “Drink lots of pastis and play ‘petanque’ under the sun.”

For those who simply can’t get enough “petanque” — or pastis, Columbia Street’s French bistro Pit Stop will be hosting a tournament of its own in its spacious back garden the day before the Smith Street fete, on Saturday, July 12. (As this is slightly off the beaten path, you might have a better chance of actually playing, although nothing is guaranteed.)

Employees of the various Smith Street restaurants usually go to Pit Stop, too, after the Sunday melee finishes, to finally do a bit of well-deserved Bastille Day celebrating of their own.

Gregory, who works at Robin des Bois but was unable, even with those kinds of connections, to secure a spot in Sunday’s tournament, plans to get his playing in at Pit Stop on Saturday, where he hopes it will be less crowded than Smith Street.

“It’s a bit less commercial,” he said.

We don’t have a problem with commerce, but it would be nice to get a chance to throw a “boule” or “deux.”

The Smith Street “petanque” tournament will be played on Smith Street, between Bergen and Pacific streets, on Sunday, July 13 from noon to 10 pm. For more information, call (718) 923-0918 or visit

“Petanque” will also be played on July 12, beginning at 11:30 am at Pit Stop (127 Columbia St. between Kane and Degraw streets in the Columbia Street Waterfront District). For more information, call (718) 875-4664 or visit

Updated 5:07 pm, July 9, 2018
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