Bastille Day, from can-can dancers to champagne cocktails

July 10, 2013

Bastille Day, the celebration of the beginning of the French Revolution, falls on a Sunday this year, so some of Washington's biggest gatherings won't be taking place on the holiday itself. If you're looking for a little joie de vivre this weekend, here's where you should be.


"King Louis XVI" reigns over the French maid relay race at L'Enfant Cafe's annual Bastille Day block party. (L'Enfant Cafe)

Thursday
The Phillips Collection now has a major show of paintings by the influential French cubist Georges Braque, which is the perfect excuse for an early Bastille Day party. The after-hours Unstill Life event includes gallery tours in English and French, a cocktail bar, a "let-them-eat-cake dessert bar," DJs and live music from 5 to 8:30 p.m. Admission includes an absinthe cocktail.

When the party winds up at the Phillips, it moves to Malmaison, where there will be DJ sets by Chairlift singer Caroline Polachek and U Street Music Hall regular Lxsx Frxnk. (Hint: The easiest way to get between the two locations is the Dupont Circle-to-Rosslyn Circulator.) Music and dancing runs from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Tickets are $22 for the Phillips event, $10 for the afterparty, or $30 for both from the Phillips Collection.

Friday
The biggest and most official Bastille Day party that's open to the public is at the French Embassy. Feast on dishes from some of D.C.'s best French-touched restaurants, including Cafe du Parc, Ris and Central Michel Richard; sip champagne, wine and cocktails from open bars; and dance to live jazz. There's a large silent auction, including trips to Paris and Marseilles. It's a grand affair, and ticket prices reflect this: $110 per person, or $150 if you want parking at the embassy.

Saturday
The Hillwood Museum hosts a family-friendly French Festival with wandering French mimes, 18th-century music and dance, lessons in courtly manners, children's games and craft workshops and a display of antique cars. The galleries will host tours and gallery talks in English and French from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., while the grounds and the mansion will remain open until 7.

The main event at L'Enfant's festive Adams Morgan block party remains the French maid race, in which 40 men and women in black-and-white outfits race up and down Vernon Street to fill a champagne glass with soup spoons of water. (Yes, it's as difficult as it sounds.) The rest of the night features can-can dancing on a large stage, burlesque dancers, dancing in the street to DJs and drinking beer, wine and cocktails from outdoor bars. The night ends with an outdoor masquerade ball; masks will be distributed after "Marie Antoinette" arrives about 9 p.m.

The Alliance Francaise cultural group will be hosting its Bastille Day Celebration at the bar atop the Beacon Hotel, with jazz from Hot Club of DC, video projections, art and dancing.

A free glass of champagne when you walk through the door and half-price champagne cocktails from 9 to 11 p.m.: That should set the tone nicely at the "Vive le France" party in Napoleon's basement lounge. A DJ spins French tunes, and there will be a "French costume contest" at 11 p.m., so B.Y.O. berets and baguettes. The best outfit wins a bottle of champagne, and then dancing continues all night.

Sunday
A play on the popular waiters races, the annual Baguette Relay at the Pennsylvania Avenue branch of the French bakery Paul involves teams of six speed-walking their way around the Navy Memorial. Gift certificates are awarded to all the winners of the kids race (2 p.m.) and adult race (2:30 p.m.). Entry is free.

Malmaison's all-ages Bastille Day party features accordion music, a sweet and savory crepe stand and face-painting for the kids from 2 to 4 p.m. After that, the party continues with a waiters race and a "Parisian Flair" fashion contest, where a dinner for two will be awarded to "the guest who most exemplifies the fashion savvy of a Parisian socialite." There's no cover charge.

Bistrot Lepic is offering a special three-course prix-fixe menu for $34.95 through July 14. On Bastille Day, Jeremy Le Musicador performs French jazz at 7 p.m.

You can't beat Bistrot du Coin for a flat-out party on Bastille Day. About 11 p.m., tables and chairs are moved out of the way, a DJ cranks house music and, before you know it, people are dancing on the bar while others are singing French songs. Laser lights flash overhead while stilt-walkers dressed as showgirls work their way through the crowd. (A satellite bar is set up to handle the crush.) Lines usually stretch around the block by 9 or 10 p.m., so dinner reservations or early arrival are strongly suggested.

Fritz Hahn has covered bars, drinks and nightlife for the Washington Post Weekend Section since 2003, but he also writes about everything from Civil War battlefields to sailing classes. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram.
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