La Fête Nationale brings petanque and pastis to Boerum Hill
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The French invaded Brooklyn’s Smith Street again on Sunday for the eleventh annual Bastille Day celebration, bringing crowds to dance to French music, eat bistro food, drink apéritifs, pose in the guillotine and enjoy a game called petanque, played on sand.
Brooklyn’s Smith Street event is said to be the biggest Bastille Day celebration in the U.S. French restaurants, shops and patisseries in Boerum Hill and Carroll Gardens contribute food and joie de vivre to the festival. (The tacky commercial vendors so common to New York City street fairs are nowhere in sight.)
The annual petanque tournament transforms the northernmost end of Smith Street into a number of courts, with 12 cubic yards of sand spread over the asphalt by the Quadrozzi Concrete Company. Another branch of the celebration unfolds on DeGraw Street.
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). Roughly 80 teams from around the world competed in the tournament.
The French Consul and Borough President Marty Markowitz usually stop by; this year Mayoral hopeful Christine Quinn strolled the street with supporters, who handed out campaign literature to both French expats and U.S. citizens.
The event — which took place this year on July 14, 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 restaurants Bar Tabac and Robin des Bois (now shuttered), and is sponsored by French apéritif company Ricard.
Stoltz told the Brooklyn Eagle last year, “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.”
“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.”