Vive la Brooklyn! Biggest Bastille Day in U.S. comes to Smith Street
Thousands of Francophiles are expected to invade Smith Street in Boerum Hill this Sunday, July 15, for the biggest Bastille Day celebration in the U.S.
The tenth-annual festival of everything French will take over the north end of the street, with dining and music on Dean Street, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. or later.
In an amazing transformation, Smith between Bergen and Pacific streets will be covered in sand, courtesy of John Quadrozzi Jr. of the Quadrozzi Concrete Company, and divided into courts for the international petanque tournament. Petanque is similar to bocce, but is played by throwing metal balls (boules) at a small wooden ball, or “pig” — usually while sipping a glass of pastis (Ricard’s anise-flavored French apéritif). This year, 64–70 teams with players from around the world will compete.
“It’s always bigger and better than ever,” event founder Bette Stoltz of the South Brooklyn Local Development Corporation told the Brooklyn Eagle. “It’s become literally a French neighborhood down there. I don’t know which came first — but it’s the right thing in the right place.”
While the games officially begin at noon, “At 10 a.m. the Quadrozzi Concrete Company arrives with an antique mixer truck and spreads the sand. People come early to see that — it’s such a weird scene,” Stoltz said. “Everyone stands around and — what’s kibitzes in French? They discuss whether they’ve spread it right. To me it’s the funnest part of the day.
“French Consul General M. Philippe Lalliot comes every year, and Borough President Marty Markowitz usually stops by,” she added.
“This year we’re spreading 12 cubic yards of sand on Smith Street,” Quadrozzi told the Brooklyn Eagle. “We deliver it with our historic 1961 Mack Truck concrete mixer — it’s the first truck we had when we started the business, and it’s fully restored.”
“This is a special year,” he added. “It’s the tenth anniversary, and we’ve been here since the inception. We’re happy to see that everyone enjoys the event every year and hope it continues for years to come.”
French food, music and drinks give Smith Street the feeling of a summer day in Marseille. “It’s petanque, it’s pastis, it’s fun — Vive la Revolution!” said Christophe Haxaire, one of the owners of founding restaurant Bar Tabac. Two bands will provide live music outside the restaurant, he said. “Milton and his band will play funky French happy music from 1 to 6 p.m., and François Weiss and his trio will play from 6 to 8 or 9, maybe 10.”
Haxaire said that this year FDNY required that one lane of Smith Street remain open for a fire lane, so that will put a limit on the number of teams competing in the tournament. “We lost some field for playing, so this year we will have from 64 to 70 teams. Last year there were 65.” Roughly 80 teams applied for the tournament.
The event — which takes place this year one day after July 14, the date that marks the actual anniversary of the storming of the Bastille in 1789 — was founded by Bette Stoltz along with restaurants Bar Tabac and Robin des Bois (now shuttered), and is sponsored by French apéritif company Ricard.
Other participating restaurants include Apartment 138, Coco Roco, Sue Perrette, One Girl Cookie, Bien Cuit bakery, Angry Wades and Brick Lane, along with foods representing the Brittany and Normandy regions of France and more.