Boerum Hill

Bastille Day in Brooklyn: Pétanque, pastis and the World Cup

Thousands on Smith Street

July 14, 2014 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Bastille Day crowd on Smith Street cheers the World Cup final. Photo by Mary Frost
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Thousands came to Smith Street in Boerum Hill on Sunday for the largest — and most convivial — Bastille Day celebration in the U.S.

Mellow, fun-seeking crowds danced to swing bands, drank apéritifs, posed in the guillotine and enjoyed the unique French game called pétanque, played on courts created by the Quadrozzi Concrete Company, which spread 12 cubic yards of sand over Smith Street.

Pétanque 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). Roughly 64 teams from around the world competed in the tournament.

This year, Bar Tabac installed a giant video screen in the street so attendees could cheer on their favorites in the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina. (In extra time, it was a dramatic victory for Germany.)

The event — which took place on July 13, one day before the actual anniversary of the storming of the Bastille in 1789 — was founded by Bette Stoltz of the South Brooklyn Local Development Corporation along with Georges Forgeois of restaurant Bar Tabac and Robin des Bois (now shuttered), and is sponsored by French apéritif companies Ricard and Lillet. Salvatto Sound kept the music rolling during the games.
Alexis Vuong, are manager for Ricard and Lillet, told the Brooklyn Eagle that the celebration has grown into “one of the most important outdoor festivals in U.S. People drink outside, play pétanque and have fun — not just the French, but Americans, too. It brings a piece of French culture to Brooklyn for one day.”
Vuong estimated that 20,000 visitors celebrated on Smith Street on Sunday — “Fifty percent French and fifty percent Francophiles, who love the French. For me, it’s a pleasure. Each year it grows in terms of quality and quantity.”

Jennifer Amaral, national brand manager at Ricard, pointed to the seat of white hats and ventured, “Pétanque and pastis speak to a hip, young crowd.”

She added, “We don’t advertise, it’s all word-of-mouth buzz. It gets bigger every year.”

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