Celebrate Bastille Day with mimes, racing French maids and a masquerade ball

Washingtonians love Bastille Day, and there's even more reason to celebrate this year: July 14 falls on a Monday, so the races, garden parties and happy hours are spread over four days instead of one. Whether you're a lifelong Francophile or just appreciate French wine and music, you'll find something to enjoy.


"King Louis XVI" runs the French Maid Relay Race at L'Enfant Cafe's annual Bastille Day block party. (Courtesy of L'Enfant Cafe)

Friday, July 11

The Alliance Francaise is the official conduit for French language and culture in Washington, offering everything from beginner French to movie screenings. To kick off the weekend, the Alliance is hosting an open house at its Kalorama headquarters for both kids (3 to 5 p.m.) and adults (5:30 to 8). The agenda includes free basic French classes, music spun by a DJ and wine and cheese for adults.

Ambassador François Delattre is the official host for the French-American Cultural Foundation's annual Bastille Day celebration at the French Embassy. More than 20 restaurants, including Central Michel Richard, Ris and Bistro Lepic provide food, and there are also wine and cocktail tastings. This year's party has a "Liberation of Normandy" theme, so Doc Scantlin and the Imperial Palms Orchestra will play swing music from the 1920s through the '40s. (The dress code is "period costumes or cocktail attire.") A modern DJ follows the band. As you might expect, it's not a cheap evening out: all-inclusive tickets start at $110, and $125 at the door. (On the bright side, proceeds benefit local charities, so $60 of the cost is tax deductible.)

Saturday, July 12

The Hillwood Museum and Gardens turns into an 18th-century French chateau on Saturday, thanks to the Alliance Francaise. Costumed characters modeled after the French court (think Madame de Pompadour and Marie Antoinette) will roam the grounds, along with mimes and musicians. The New York Baroque Dance Company will perform and offer "lessons in courtly manners" to the crowd, while children can try period games and make souvenirs in the art workshop. Inside the museum, staff offer gallery talks throughout the day. (The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; entertainment on the grounds continues until 7 p.m.) Admission is $18, $15 for seniors, $10 for college students and $5 for those aged 6 to 18; children 5 and younger are free.

Racers in French maid costumes, burlesque dancers, can-can performers, outdoor bars and late night DJs: It takes a lot to outshine an appearance by Marie Antoinette, but L'Enfant Cafe's annual Bastille Day Block Party can do it. The 10th annual celebration is again taking over all of Vernon Street NW outside the Adams Morgan restaurant. The French Maid race is a hoot: 40 men and women dressed in skimpy French maid costumes running a relay to fill champagne glasses with a soup spoon. (Entry requires purchasing a costume for $20.) The rest of the afternoon's festivities include beer, food trucks, dance performances and a raffle for two round-trip tickets to Paris, capped by a masquerade ball in the street from 9 to 11. Gates open at 3 p.m., and there's a $10 admission charge, which benefits the neighborhood Sitar Arts Center. (Pro tip: You can skip inevitable lines by purchasing advance tickets on L'Enfant's website.)

Over at Central Michel Richard, all French bottles of wine are 20 percent off from 5 to 11 p.m., which you can pair with a special Bastille Day menu. Everyone who orders a meal receives free gougeres (cheese puffs). The Laissez-Foure quartet performs classic hot jazz from 6 to 10.

Sunday, July 13

The biggest Bastille Day celebration in the city is at Bistrot du Coin. Once dinner service ends around 10 or 11 p.m., servers begin clearing tables and chairs to turn the Dupont restaurant's dining room into a dance floor. DJs spin house music, popular French tunes and there's a giant singalong to "La Marseillaise." Lines always stretch out the door and down the block. Your best bet is to make a reservation for dinner or arrive early and hang out at the bar for a few hours. Otherwise, show up after the party starts – think 11:30 or midnight – and you can often walk in. (Correction: This event was previously listed under Monday, July 14.)

H Street's Le Grenier is a pretty sweet place for happy hour, thanks to half-price French wines, cocktails and beer in a cozy environment with great French music. On Bastille Day, it gets even better: Kronenbourg beer is free from 5 to 7 p.m., and drinks are half-price from 5 to midnight. Every table receives a complimentary baguette, and the La Troquet cocktail, which mixes Pernod with elderflower-based St. Germain liqueur and elderflower soda, is $5 all day.

The garden of Georgetown's Ritz-Carlton hotel – sorry, make that "Jardin du Ritz-Carlton" – is the site of an evening Bastille Day Garden Party hosted by Moet champagne and the Art Soiree group. The $20 advance ticket ($30 at the door) includes unlimited samples of Moet Ice Imperial from 7 to 8 p.m., DJ Sabeel Chohan spinning electronic dance music, and cake served by Marie Antoinette herself.

There's a simple reason Chez Billy is throwing its Bastille Day party a day early: The Petworth restaurant isn't open on Mondays. Beginning at 6 p.m., DJs Yann TaLvez and Guillaume Daumas will spin vintage French soul music in the upstairs bar. Happy hour deals, including $5 glasses of wine, will be offered all night, along with complimentary hors d'oeuvres.

Monday, July 14

Want to get some goofy exercise on Bastille Day? The Pennsylvania Avenue NW branch of French bakery Paul hosts its fourth Bastille Day Baguette Relay Race at the U.S. Navy Memorial. Teams of six people will speedwalk around the memorial, passing off a baguette like a baton. Each member of the winner sextet receives a $25 gift card to Paul. A race for children begins at 11 a.m., while the adult race starts at 11:30. The bakery advises showing up at least 15 minutes before the start of the race to sign up.

Georgetown's Bistrot Lepic has a special $35 three-course menu for the week leading up to Bastille Day, with 10 different appetizers and eight main courses to mix and match. (The full menu is here.) On July 14, the upstairs wine bar will feature live jazz from 7 p.m. on.

Vinoteca isn't technically a French restaurant, but it's getting in the spirit of Bastille Day by offering 50 percent off all French wines by the glass from 5 p.m. to close. Grab a drink and head to the patio for a game of boules (for one night, don't call it bocce).

Fritz Hahn has written about 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. A product of Prince George's County public schools, Fritz majored in journalism at the University of Maryland and lives in the District.
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