A European Union of Independence
There's something about long, hot summers that puts revolution in the air, and I'm not just talking about July 4. France's biggest holiday is Bastille Day, July 14, which marks the day the citizens of Paris stormed the Bastille prison in 1789 and launched the French Revolution. Exactly a week later, Belgium celebrates 177 years of independence from the Netherlands.
While wine and beer will be flowing in Paris and Brussels, there'll be plenty of soirees on this side of the Atlantic, too. Read on for info on decadent menus, racing waiters, champagne specials and dancing on bars.
You'd expect this Alexandria restaurant to go all out for Bastille Day, and Saturday's special celebration -- which comes two days early -- includes a three-course prix-fixe meal for $29.95. The choices include French favorites like duck charcuterie, Basque-style slow-roasted chicken and hanger steak with red wine and shallot sauce. And how's this for freedom: The menu is served from noon until 9:30, so you can choose when you want to stop in. (Sadly, and most un-French-like, the cheese course is optional -- and it costs an extra $9.)
Bistrot du Coin
If I'm being honest, Bistrot du Coin throws my favorite Bastille Day party in the city. It's also probably the most crowded and the one where it's hardest to get to the bar, but the atmosphere -- everyone shouting in French over the music, couples of all ages getting down on the makeshift dance floor, women dancing on the zinc-topped bar, the way people throw their arms around each other's shoulders and jump up and down when certain soccer songs come on -- is magic. Of course, this is a hard party to get into. The easiest way is to make dinner reservations, but all tables are full for the later seating, which starts between 9 and 10. The first seating, which starts between 6 and 7, still has spots open, but after you're done eating, you have go to the bar and wait a few hours for the tables to be cleared and the party to start. It's possible to get in with reservations, but admission is on a first-come, first-in basis, beginning around 10:30 or 11. This year, says owner Michel Verdon, the champagne is sponsored by Piper-Heidsieck, who are offering a new drink called La Piscine -- that's French for "swimming pool" -- which is champagne over ice in an oversized glass.
The special Bastille Day menu at the cozy Georgetown bistro and wine bar includes such treats as sautÃ©ed duck foie gras, shrimp and lobster bisque with jumbo lump crab meat, roasted rack of lamb with ratatouille, roasted duck breast with duck confit, and trout stuffed with wild mushrooms in a caper butter sauce. (If, for some reason, none of that appeals to you, the regular menu is available as well.) The upstairs wine bar will be open as usual.
Who needs racing waiters when you've got racing French maids at L'Enfant? The Adams Morgan cafe hosts an annual relay race featuring women (and some men) in costume competing for prizes. Of course, there's more to the night than just the race: beer, wine and champagne specials, a DJ spinning French music, and appearances by King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. (She'll be handing out free cake.) Doors open at 5 and the race begins at 8. There's a $5 cover, which includes one drink and a ticket for the night's raffles.
Over the years, the Waiters' Race at Les Halles has become the largest Bastille Day celebration in Washington. Monday at 2:30 p.m., professional waiters and waitresses navigate one-block obstacle course on Pennsylvania Avenue, carrying a bottle of water and a glass of beer on a tray with one hand. There are plenty of thrills and spills as the servers speed-walk their way for prizes, including a trip to France. We're not sure what, if anything, this has to do with French independence, but it's a fun way to spend an afternoon downtown. Les Halles offers a special menu, music, face-painting for children and more. Waiters aren't the only attraction. Patrons can get in on the fun too -- before the main event, the restaurant holds races for children (noon) and patrons (1 p.m.).
Later that night, the party moves inside, with a DJ and dancing until the wee hours.
La Maison Francaise
If you want to spend Bastille Day on French soil, the French Embassy's annual soiree is as close as it gets if you can't spend your monthly paycheck on airfare. Held in the embassy and its garden on Saturday night, the night includes food from local French restaurants, desserts, wines, beers, a cooking demonstration by former White House pastry chef Roland Mesnier, live music by the Mediterranean band Gibraltar, dancing to DJs and a chance to win a trip to Paris. Admission is $85, and $45 of that goes to the Comite Tricolore, a volunteer organization that works with the sick and elderly in the French-speaking community. See the Maison Francaise Web site for tickets and more information.
National Gallery of Art
Not all Bastille Day celebrations are for adults. On Monday, the National Gallery's Summer Story Series reads "The Cows are Going to Paris," about a group of French bovines who trade their pasture for the Eiffel Tower and the Pont Neuf. After storytime (at 10:30, 11:30 and 12:30), kids take their own sightseeing trip through the museum's French galleries. Admission is free, and RSVPs are not required.
French expat DJ Herve, who spins dance music at the Alliance Francaise's Soiree Carte Blanche happy hours as well as his own Planete Chic events, is the man behind this Saturday night party. Multiple DJs spin "what's hot from Paris to St. Tropez" on multiple levels for a well-dressed Francophone crowd. The evening also includes makeup and hair "pampering" by Salon Roi, dance performances, crepes, and an exhibit of works by D.C.-based French artists Valentin Thoris and Lamine Hamdad. Admission is $15 with an RSVP on planetchicdc.com, and the first 100 people through the door on Saturday night receive a free glass of champagne.
If you're a fan of French food, check out Et Voila's Bastille Day cooking demonstration, where chefs will teach you how to make vichyssoise, potato-crusted sea bass with beurre blanc, and a Paris-Brest pastry. Then you get to taste the end results, along with two different wines. The cost is $65 per person, and the lesson and dinner run from 6:30 to 9:30.
The best way to celebrate Belgium's national holiday is to do what the Belgians will be doing: Drinking lots of their delicious beer. At Beck, beer sommelier Bill Catron -- a knight of the Belgian brewers' guild -- is serving 18 Belgian beers for half-price all day, including some that can't be found anywhere else in the area. You'll pay between $3 and $6 for each draft, and the list includes knockouts like Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor, Gulden Draak, Piraat, Kasteel Donker and Blanche des Bruxelles.
chef Claudio Pirollo has quite an international resume: named Best Young Chef in Belgium in 1994, he went on to work at the French restaurant Montmartre on Capitol Hill before being hired to cook for the Irish ambassador, a post he held for six years. He's celebrating his Belgian side on the 21st with a special menu that includes stuffed tomatoes, steak frites, crepes and a tasting of three Belgian beers. The all-inclusive dinner starts at 6:30 and costs $68.50.
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