Boerum Hill

Smith Street preps for America’s biggest French festival

July 11, 2019 Mary Frost
Brooklyn’s Bastille Day celebration this Sunday will bring French food, music and an internationally famous pétanque tournament (shown above) to Smith Street in Boerum Hill this Sunday, July 15. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

Vive la Révolution!

More than 20,000 Francophiles are expected to invade Smith Street in Boerum Hill this Sunday, July 15, to celebrate Bastille Day.

The 16th annual Smith Street Provence Festival and Pétanque Tournament brings French food, music and culture to the fête, which runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The event marks the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille in 1789, which is officially celebrated on July 14. The French Consul General usually attends the Boerum Hill festivities, as do thousands of French expatriates.

Two blocks of Smith Street between Bergen and Pacific streets will be covered in sand and divided into courts for the international pétanque tournament. Pétanque is similar to bocce, but is played by throwing metal balls (boules) at a small wooden ball, or “pig.”

Three-member pétanque teams will compete as attendees stroll around the booths of local businesses and restaurants and become thoroughly French. The fearless will insert their heads into an actual guillotine. Almost everyone will be wearing summer fedoras, the hat style apparently favored by the French.

Pétanque is not the only game on Smith Street on Bastille Day. Photo by Mary Frost
Pétanque is not the only game on Smith Street on Bastille Day. Photo by Mary FRost

Organized by Bar Tabac bistro and sponsored by aperitif brand Ricard and others, the street party is the biggest Bastille Day celebration in the U.S.

“We have about 80 players in the tournament this year,” Bar Tabac’s owner George Forgeois told the Brooklyn Eagle. “We’re fully sold out, and there are about 20 people on the waiting list.” Competitors include French tourists, chefs, firemen, police and professionals, he said.

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The tournament is “mostly to have fun. We also have champions, and it’s a pleasure to watch them,” Forgeois said. “The first three hours are for people to socialize, have fun, and discover pétanque — Brooklyn style.”

The entertainment this year will be provided by Paris-born Francois Wiss, whose style was described by Forgeois as “a musical melting pot,” combining sounds from France, Africa and Latin America. Music will also be provided by Café Noir’s French DJ Sid Del-Vaga.

Wiss “will play La Marseillaise three times,” Forgeois noted.

Bar Tabac will be serving brunch this year from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and will then switch to more formal lunch and dinner fare. Au Cabanon’s French-style paella will be served under the tent, and food stand fare includes patisserie Ceci Cela’s pastries.

The event is a legacy of the late Bette Stoltz, founder of the South Brooklyn Local Development Corp. and a lover of all things French. Stoltz originally put together the celebration along with restaurants Bar Tabac and Robin des Bois (now shuttered), with the sponsorship of Ricard.

The neighborhoods of Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, and Carroll Gardens have been called Little France because of the concentration of French expats, French eateries and French language programs in local schools.

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