Let’s Start with the Basics: When is Bastille Day?
It’s on July 14, and that’s actually what the French call it: le Quatorze Juillet (or la Fête Nationale, ie the national holiday.) Because it celebrates the storming of the Bastille, which took place on July 14, 1789, and because Bastille Day is catchier than July 14, people outside of France have started calling it Bastille day. But nobody in France does that. Another thing the French don’t do is call it France’s Independence Day. Because it’s not. Unless you’re talking figuratively, as in we’re celebrating our independence from the monarchy…
Hum… What’s the Bastille, Exactly?
The Bastille was a huge prison. Key word: was. Apparently that’s not clear to everyone. I’ve been asked for directions to the Bastille fortress many times by very confused tourists. It was stormed, it’s gone. Sorry guys. Now it’s a busy traffic circle and a popular opera hall but there’s not much left of the actual prison other than a tiny piece inside the Bastille metro station.
How do the French Celebrate July 14?
Pretty much like Americans celebrate the 4th of July: with food, friends and family, parades and fireworks. That being said, the French could learn a thing or two from the Americans as far as showmanship is concerned. Our parade is a military parade, meaning it’s not exactly “fun” and entertaining.
The fireworks on the other hand are really amazing. The Eiffel Tower is pretty amazing on its own; add music in the background and fireworks behind it and it’s even better. Don’t believe me? Watch the Paris fireworks live on Saturday starting at 5 pm. Some of the other popular celebrations take place the night before on July 13, when popular balls are held in front of local town halls and inside fire stations. That’s right: the French’s idea of patriotism is partying with hot firefighters.
How Does the French Community in DC Celebrate, Then?
Sadly, there are no hot firefighters involved here, but our ambassador does receives us for speeches and champagne on July 14. It’s a lovely event on the grounds of the embassy. Last year Christine Lagarde was literally mobbed by inebriated Frenchies trying to snap a picture with the newly appointed, and very elegant, head of the IMF. Let’s hope my compatriots behave better this year…
I’m Not French, How Can I Celebrate Bastille Day, I Mean, July 14?
So glad you asked! There are plenty of ways you can celebrate, including at the French Embassy, where local bakery Paul and area chefs like Daniel Labonne of Bistro Labonne or Ris Lacoste of Ris Restaurant will be cooking some yummy French dishes for a lavish buffet. Of course, since the French expats get the Embassy on the actual day of the holiday, that event is held the night before, on July 13 (see the website for more information and tickets).
Bistrot Du Coin: In our area, the two biggest celebrations are at Bistrot Du Coin and L’Enfant Café. Bistrot du Coin (1738 Connecticut, north of Dupont Circle) typically turns into the unofficial after party for the French Embassy crowd as it kicks the tables to the side to make room for a dance floor. The lines can get pretty crazy if you’re not on the list or waited too long to book a 10 pm dinner seating. For a dinner experience that doesn’t involve Claude Francois and dancing on the zinc bar, you can also head to Bistro LaBonne or Mintwood Place, both of which have special July 14 menus.
L’Enfant Café’s annual Bastille Day Street Bash and French Maid Relay Race: But if you’re looking for a party, get ready to lose your head at L’Enfant Café’s annual Bastille Day Street Bash and French Maid Relay Race. There will be can-can dancers, an appearance by Louis the XVI and Marie-Antoinette (with their heads on) and a huge masquerade ball. Gates for this revolutionary party open at 3 pm. L’Enfant is at 2200 18th Street NW. Tickets are $5.
Cork and Fork: Finally, if you just want to celebrate France in the comfort of your own home, may I suggest dropping by Cork and Fork between 5:30 and 9 pm on Friday, July 13, and 3 to 9 pm on Saturday for an all-French wine tasting. All of the wines poured will be budget friendly, under the $20 price range, and from a variety of different French regions. I particularly recommend trying some of the rosés available (they will have a selection from Touraine and Provence that are less sweet, much more dry than the ones typically found in the US), then heading home to watch one of the many great French movies available on Netflix on demand!
However you decide to spend it, please enjoy my national holiday (just don’t call it France’s Independence Day!) Bon Quatorze Juillet, everyone.