One thing I love most about Americans is their love of holidays. Well, that and any excuse to drink during daylight hours. It doesn’t matter if the holidays are our own or not (Cinco de Mayo, anyone?) or whether it’s a religious holiday you may or may not be affiliated with (hello St. Patrick’s Day).
The point is we love any excuse to celebrate and living in the melting pot known as New York City gives me plenty of opportunity to immerse myself in another culture without ever leaving the country.
Growing up in a tiny town with little to zero French influences, the only thing I ever really knew about Bastille Day was some people had stormed some prison-tower thingy and it was a big deal for some reason or other. (I would say that this is where the public school system failed me but to be honest I was probably just scribbling my crush’s name over and over in my notebook during that particular history lesson).
Luckily, during my college years I had the chance to spend some time in France and redeem myself of my earlier lack of knowledge. Being the nostalgic type and missing Paris on le quatorze juillet, my impulsive nature tempted me to hop on the first plane over there.
Annoyingly, that pest known as common sense reminded me that I’m saving up for a round the world trip. So instead of heading to JFK, I dragged one of my roommates along with me through New York City in an attempt to try and rediscover the exquisite French culture that I missed so much.
A Bastille Day Street (af)Fair
The French Institute Alliance Française is the quintessential hub of French culture in NYC and every year they close down 3 blocks of 60th Street and fill the streets with market booths peddling everything from travel escapes to imported mustards, crepes to provincial tablecloths, and jewelry to baguettes. Throw in some music, mimes, and macarons(oh my!) and you’ve got the perfect cure for your ‘I miss France’ blues.
The Hungry March Band
In the spirit of the traditional French open-air party known as Bal Populaire, the streets truly came alive with their supercalifragilisticexpialidocious performance (seriously there is no other word to describe the utterly fun awesomeness that is the Hungry March Band). Everyone, rhythmically challenged or not, from age 2 to 92 couldn’t help but join in for a rambunctious dance in front of their stage.
French Wine and Cheese Tasting
What would a celebration be without some fromage and vin? I mean, the words are practically synonymous with France so how could we not indulge a bit? The wine selection hailed from the Beaujolais area which has its roots dating back to Roman times and their unique wine-making method is specific to the region. The sommeliers on hand were extremely friendly and knowledgeable and they may have snuck us a little more wine than they were supposed to (not that we’re complaining!).
As if 3 glasses of wine, 1 Kronenbourg beer, and 1 Ricard on the rocks in the tasting room weren’t enough, we happened to spot local Mediterranean-inspired restaurant, Amali, selling designer popsicles made with delicious MIP Classic Rosé from Provence. We had already had a few drinks so what was the harm in one more? I mean a popsicle doesn’t really count, right? Isn’t it more like a food, anyway? Screw it – bottoms up bon appetit! (See mom – I told you I was using the Rosetta Stone discs you bought me).
Mad Mac Macarons
Not one to be shy about the fact that my breakfast normally consists of cupcakes, cookies, or ice cream – I was most looking forward to the macarons I knew were a staple for any festival de rue. Much to my surprise the first stand I spotted was Mad Mac which was cofounded by French pastry chef Florian Bellanger (Anyone else binge watch Cupcake Wars?). There was my favorite judge, live and in person, dishing out my favorite pistachio macarons(creeper alert – he caught me trying to sneak a pic of him so I had to settle for taking a picture of his picture. Damn.)
DKA (AKA – Caramelized Croissant)
By Dominique Ansel Bakery, the inventor of the cronut – need I say more?
French Restaurant Week
This title is somewhat misleading because this is actually the section where I don’t tell you anything about our experience at French Restaurant Week. Why not? Well it’s simple – we didn’t go.
We had originally planned on heading down to the Lower East Side to try out Antibes Bistro which was one of the participating restaurants and had a lovely sounding prix fixe menu for the Bastille Day celebration.
As the street fair had left us feeling satisfyingly fat and extremely happy, we decided to save our French dinner for the next day which was the real Bastille Day (the street fair was actually a day earlier since it fell on a Monday).
Well, Monday came and I ended up working late so by the time I got off, it was dark and pouring down rain so my roommate and I decided to just meet at a local French brasserie on our street called Les Halles.
The place was chock-full of revelers and festively decorated with red, white, and blue balloons. There wasn’t an empty table in the place so we settled in at the bar and ordered a couple of Kronenbourgs, some escargot, and a pot of mussels.
Weirdly enough I never actually tried escargot while I was in France. I was quite the scaredy cat back then and I stuck to a healthy diet of just bread and cheese. The first time I ever had escargot was in New York City about 6 months ago. I know that seems a bit odd but that’s nothing compared to my roommate who tried it for the first time at a dive bar in Florida called Hurricane Jacks(I don’t seem so strange now do I?).
I’m glad our original plans fell through as it turned out to be a truly lovely evening at a lively and delicious restaurant that specializes in simple, classic French fare.
Bastille Day was deemed a success!
See, who says you need a $1300 plane ticket to experience France? Sometimes all you have to do is take a stroll through your own backyard.
To see how I spent our Independence Day checkout: A New York City 4th of July
What are some of your favorite French traditions? I’d love to hear from you!
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