Bastille Day on Smith Street


I have no business celebrating Bastille Day: I’m Irish and German. I’ve never been to Paris. And almost nothing incites in me bouts of unfounded jealousy like a pretty French girl hanging around with her pink bicycle and her Chanel flats and her perfect fucking bangs. On the other hand, I love day drinking. Especially wine, and especially when it’s under blue skies in 80-degree weather. So Sunday’s French fête in Brooklyn was a hard call.

I sided with the drink.

For the uninitiated, Bastille Day celebrates the day that French citizens stormed the Bastille prison in 1789, bringing an end to the monarchy and the beginning of the Revolution; the Brooklyn counterpart is spearheaded by Robin des Bois, Ricard, and Bar Tabac. Starting at 11 a.m., Smith Street is closed to traffic and covered in sand for the country’s largest pétanque tournament; this year, organizers were expecting 80 teams and more than 7,000 people. (Pétanque is like the French version of bocce ball, which is like the Italian version of lawn bowling. Players take turns rolling small steel balls, called boules, as close as possible to a small wooden aim ball, called a but or cochonnet.)

On the north end there’s skateboarding, and everywhere are actual French people, like, speaking French and smoking Gauloises cigarettes. Along Smith and down the side streets, vendors sell booze (pastis, Lillet, sangria, beer) and food (merguez sandwiches, etc.); tables are set up everywhere under big umbrellas. But there’s also tons of bar-hopping, and in Bar Tabac at 3 p.m., you can’t make it from the front to the back in less than 15 minutes. At the intersection of Dean and Smith, the Baby Blue Orchids play jazz and swing; the dancing gets sloppier as the day goes on. Two of the people I was with attempted a very low dip very late in the day, around 9. They were unsuccessful.

By the time the pétanque finals roll around at night, the crowd has diminished significantly, but it’s also rowdier. I’m talking to my friend Jill, with whom I frequently feel about 80—that’s how long we’ve known each other, and that’s what we look like when we start cackling about something that only old women would cackle at. Mid-conversation, I spot across the way a nearly perfect physical specimen. He is wearing plaid. I nudge Jill, and she follows my eye. “Is it possible that he can even hold a conversation?” she whispers. “Absolutely not,” I respond. “People that attractive never develop personalities growing up, because they aren’t required to earn love or affection—it’s just spilled onto them by default.” Jill nods, and we sit there for a second in silence. Then she leans over and whispers, “Then how do you explain us?” And then we get the giggles. Bad.

After the finals, we head to Robin des Bois, where they’re playing a loud and questionable mix of music (including Journey, When in Rome, and Snoop); girls are dancing and the bartender is singing and couples are making out in every corner. Our clan is considering whether or not to continue on, but I’m on day four of a seven-hour-plus-per-day drinking regimen, and I’m afraid my liver is considering a revolution of its own, so we finish our wine and croque-monsieurs and head home. It was so much more fun than the Fourth of July. Vive la France!

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