Everyone needs an excuse to have Ricard for breakfast. Luckily, Bastille Day gave French folks and Francophiles alike the perfect excuse.
By eleven in the morning, the air outside Boerum Hill’s Bar Tabac was already thick with Gauloises, Romance languages and the smell of freshly baked pastries. The Smith Street block party has been steadily growing for the past eight years, hosted by the bar’s owner, downtown legend and all-round Frenchman Georges Forgeois.
Outside, eating a burger was Mr. Forgeois himself, the block party’s foodie host. The restaurateur owns six of the city’s most beloved restaurants including Café Noir, Le Singe Vert and Jules Bistro.
“A good Bastille day is a lot of people, a lot of fun, a lot of pastis, a lot of burgers, a good game, and friendship, no fighting,” he told us between morsels.
Lawrence “Lip Bone” Redding walked over and asked Mr. Forgeois if he wanted to sing the national anthem.
“I’m gonna call for the sexiest guy out there,” Mr. Redding said, before leaving to warm up.
We asked Mr. Forgeois if he was really the sexiest guy at Bastille Day.
“Of course!” he exclaimed, not missing a beat.
What makes French people so sexy?
“We have fun,” he said. “We don’t take things seriously.”
It would seem so. Nearby, one of the Frenchest things to ever happen occurred. In order to honor the history of the day, which celebrates the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789 and the subsequent downfall of the monarchy, a suspiciously functional guillotine had been placed at a crossroads. Initially unused, someone placed a box of macaroons below the blade. Marie Antoinette would have been proud.
The crowd swelled as the sounds of Edith Piaf wafted over the stalls as waitresses offered wine and lobster rolls. The street was dominated by two large sets of sandboxes filled with men and women throwing silver balls.
“It’s pétanque,” said a Frenchwoman from Philadelphia. “You have two teams. One person throws a jack, a tiny wooden ball, across the box. Then each team tries to get the metal balls as close to it as possible. If someone else’s ball is too close, you want to knock it away with yours. There are sixty four teams here. I’ll just have to hope the other guys aren’t as good!”
People hung out of first floor windows, mimosas in hand as couples walked round with vast glasses of sangria. The pétanque tournament was in full swing, players and spectators defying the belligerent sun.
As the day progressed, someone did sing the national anthem, but it wasn’t Mr. Forgeois. It was an American who didn’t know the words and took to the mike because no one else wanted to. Luckily, the Ricard had sunk in, and the French, as always, didn’t take it too seriously.