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The Storming of the Bastille! The Rights of Man! Unbelievable amounts of wine! These are the makings for a great holiday. But why isn’t this festive celebration of freedom and liberty more widely celebrated in the States? We love freedom! Some of us are missing out on a reason to party, and letting that happen is almost as tragic as the Third Estate before the Revolution. Don’t worry– My name is Jonny Grave, and I’m here to help.

Bastille Day Best Bets

There’s very little to not love about Bastille Day, or as it’s more commonly called in France, La Fête Nationale. It’s a celebration of unity, peace, and the principles of freedom that make nations great. Also, wine. Lots of wine, champagne, and food.

Le Diplomate

Fortune favors the bold. The Storming of the Bastille was a bold move. Opening a French restaurant on 14th St. during one of the District’s most volatile development periods is similarly bold. Le Diplomate has become a local benchmark for French food in the area. They hold all foods French with a kind of reverence most reserve for church. Every week, their staff has a sit-down with Girard Beck, Smithsonian’s liaison. They go over geography, French food history, and even pronunciation. They also take Bastille Day very seriously, and have a new handful of drinks to help you celebrate.

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Bistro D’Oc

This bistro is perfect proof that great things do come in small packages. Directly across 10th St. from the famed Ford’s Theater, in the heart of Downtown DC, and with a capacity of maybe 100, Bistro D’Oc is one of the rare examples of a restaurant dedicated to the cuisine of the Languedoc region of France. This region is known for a more agrarian approach to food. Try the cassoulet.

Chez Billy Sud

When I heard my beloved, tiny Café La Ruche had folded, I nearly wept. Who could possibly take up the reins, and provide delicious canard confit, to be eaten outside on a patio, while looking over the canal? It turns out the brothers Hilton do a bang-up job, actually. This is the spot to go if you have a date. This is also a perfectly acceptable spot to go if you’re by yourself, and have no shame in finishing a bottle of Fronton by yourself. Don’t judge.

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Montmarte

The thing you’ll have to remember about Paris-style restaurants is that their menu will often read like a “greatest hits” of French cuisine. This can be either good or bad, depending on the restaurant. You might see on place that can pull off a fillet au poivre, but completely butcher the ratatouille. I am pleased to tell you, however, that Montmarte pulls from almost every corner of France, and does each dish with the care and respect it deserves. While Eastern Market thrums endlessly with barter and barking on the weekends, Montmarte is more like stepping into a sing-song oasis for a meal. Be adventurous while you’re there, though. Try the rabbit leg, or the skate wing.

History

Let’s face it. You probably slept through your AP World History unit on the French Revolution. It’s okay. You probably slept through it again when it came up in your History survey course in college. Seriously, it’s okay. John Green has you covered:

Now, let’s dispel some historical inaccuracies about the French, shall we?

“Let them eat cake”

Like with a lot of historical half-truths, people tend to accept the sensational more than the factual. Her influence on the French Revolution is often blown out of proportion. She was, however, an interesting historical figure, and lived an extravagant life up until her beheading. Stefan Zwaig wrote a great book about her.

Napoleon was short

Depends on who you’re talking to. At his death, Napoleon was measured at 5’2″. However, it’s worth noting that during the tumultuous and confusing French Revolution, the units of measurement changed. Napoleon Bonaparte would have been closer to 5’6″ by our standards, which would have put him right around the average height at the time. It’s also worth noting that Dustin Hoffman, Woody Allen, and Elijah Wood, are also 5’6″, and all have Oscars.

The creator of the Guillotine was executed by Guillotine

Joseph-Ignance Guillotin was never executed. Maximillian Robespierre, however, was an early advocate of the Guillotine during the Reign of Terror. And, after his followers turned on him, he wound up being beheaded by the very device he helped promote.

“Cheese-eating surrender monkeys”

My favorite! It’s curious how one military defeat gave birth to a national stereotype (propagated almost exclusively by Americans, I might add). France fell to the Axis powers, you can read up on the Battle of France during World War II. Long story short, the Germans had superior air support, and swooped into a largely under-defended Paris. The French officially surrendered, setting up the Vichy government in 1940.

The French Resistance, however, was one of the most ruthless, and tightly-organized groups to actively work against the Nazis, long before the Americans landed in Normandy. La Résistance fighters blew up bridges, assassinated German officers, smuggled weapons, and trafficked information to the Allied powers. Has everyone forgotten Casablanca? Just watch this to jog your memory:

The next time your historically ignorant buddy says “y’know, without us, they’d be speaking German,” I would suggest reminding your friend that not only are they wrong, but they should also remember that if it weren’t for France, we may very well be singing “God Save the Queen.”

Drink

My good friend at the Gibson, Guillaume (fun fact: he’s French), had some words to say on the matter of what to drink for La Fête Nationale. Our conversation went like this:

JONNY: So, what the hell should I be drinking to celebrate Bastille Day, anyway?
GUILLAUME: I mean, you should probably drink whatever makes you happy.
JONNY: Okay, but what would someone drink in France to celebrate the holiday?
GUILLAUME: It’s less about what you’re drinking, and more about who you’re drinking it with, you know?
JONNY: Right! But what makes sense for the occasion? What kind of drink would be a good way to commemorate the day?
GUILLAUME: Most people drink wine, although that’s not much different from any other day, I suppose.
JONNY: This is really the best you can do? I have a story to write here, man.
GUILLAUME: Well, for a celebration, you’ll want to drink champagne, I think.
JONNY: Now we’re getting somewhere.
GUILLAUME: If I’m going to be drinking all day, though, I’d go with a Côtes du Rhone, or maybe a good rosé.
JONNY: Perfect.
GUILLAUME: But, for god’s sake, make sure it’s a good rosé, or you’ll get a massive fucking headache.
JONNY: I mean, naturally.

Food

Want to stay at home and celebrate? Splendid idea. I’m broke, too. Here’s a few dishes you can make at home, and for not a lot of money, either:

Coq au Vin

This dish is the perfect example of getting out of it whatever you put into it. If you have the patience to pull this off, you’ll be set for life.

Cassoulet Toulosaine

What Keith Floyd once described as “French cowboy food,” Cassoulet is a perfect iteration of pork-and-beans casserole. If you can find duck confit, you should put it in. If you want to use chicken, Jaques Pépin won’t try to kill you in your sleep.

Moules Provençal

Mussels in white wine, tomatoes, garlic, herbs, and butter. Did I stutter? Bonus tip: watch the video, and listen close to what Jean Pierre says about using good wine.

Music

Whether you decide to spend the 14th at a beautiful bistro, a palatial Parisian patio, or inside your house, with mussels, watching Casablanca, here’s some tunes for your Fête. I particularly like the last tune. You’re looking at a room full of some of the world’s best living Gipsy Jazz players, and they’re just goofing off around a table, half-rehearsing, and half playing for the fun of it. I think that says a lot about French music in general. It’s a social endeavor, meant to be shared for the sake of enjoying people’s company.

A votre santé, mes amis.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FZBPcXTXPEA





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