Some people think of July in New Orleans as a quiet month — a stretch that leaves the city feeling less populated. For centuries, our ancestors fled summer nuisances like malaria and yellow fever. Even today, many decamp for vacations to points north, or to pristine beaches along the Gulf.
But a city with a history as diverse as ours never has a shortage of holidays to celebrate, and those who stay in New Orleans during the first half of July are treated to an especially unique stretch of festivities.
Want to run with the bulls as a nod to our Spanish heritage? Go for it! Want to “party with a purpose?” Hit up Essence Fest — America’s largest event celebrating African-American music and culture.
Heck, even the Fourth of July isn’t the only national day of independence we honor. Because if one wants to understand our city’s lineage, they can’t possibly do it without the French.
And, acknowledging our French heritage is a lot more than bonjour, baguettes and beignets. This time of year it’s also about “Liberté, égalité, fraternité!”, three pillars of a revolution that, beginning with the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, transformed France from a feudal aristocracy under King Louis XVI to a Republic of the People.
Since 1790, France has celebrated Bastille Day with a massive fireworks display and Europe’s oldest and largest military parade, right down the Champs-Élysées. But, good news for all of us, you don’t have to reside in Paris to celebrate. There are beaucoup ways to show just how much of a Francophile you are right here in “America’s most French city.” Here are five of our favorites.
Take in French culture at NOMA
Every Friday night, the New Orleans Museum of Art hosts a family-friendly event with fun ranging from movies to food to music to gallery walks. And, for the seventh consecutive year, the Friday closest to Bastille Day is set aside for all things French.
Stop by the museum on Friday, July 13, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. for what is sure to be a revolutionary night. “The gypsy-swing band, Bon Bon Vivant, is back again after their incredible show last year,” said the museum’s Creator of Programs, Erin Greenwald. “They bring high energy, inspired music-making and a lot of dancing to our Great Hall.”
In addition to the music, there will be a cooking presentation on the Creolization of classic French cuisine, the screening of several French short films, guided tours of the museum’s exhibits, a puppet parade and food provided by Boucherie, Cafe Degas, Crepes a la Cart and Frencheez.
Museum-goers can also expect visits by the Merry Antoinettes — locally famous for celebrating the glamour, revelry and cheekiness of Marie Antoinette and her court — as well as by Napoleon, the balloon-twisting general. “He’s a clown dressed up like Napoleon Bonaparte,” explained Greenwald, “and he makes balloons for kids,” Because, of course there’s a man dressed up like a clown dressed up like Napoleon in New Orleans.
Race to the French Market
For more than a century, competitions around the world have pitted waiters against one another to determine who’s the fleetest of foot. The event has its origins in Paris, and some of the first competitions took place during Bastille Day.
Unique to New Orleans, we also let bartenders compete. Yes, we love our bartenders that much!
The races begin Saturday, July 14, at 4 p.m., across from the Old U.S. Mint (on French Market Place). Come watch your favorite local waiters, waitresses and bartenders compete, while also enjoying all the food, music and ambiance the French Market has to offer.
Feast fit for a king
Perhaps you want to feel a little less like the common man and a little more like King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Hey, no judgment here. There’s something for everyone on Bastille Day!
The Grill Room at Windsor Court is hosting a five-course Bastille Day meal with all of the most French things. Quail egg? Check. Mussels? Check. Seared lamp chop and ratatouille? Check. Check. Filet mignon, a bordelaise sauce, a dessert called Sainte-Honore au Chocolat, and wines from the regions of Loire Valley, Provence, Burgundy, Bordeaux and Champagne. Yes, all checks!
View the full menu and make a reservation ASAP by calling (504) 596-4723.
Toast the French musical tradition
Immerse yourself in the melodies of the motherland as Trinity Episcopal Church, 1329 Jackson Ave., presents its "Vive La France" Bastille Day Fête on Sunday at 3 p.m.
The musical extravaganza celebrates classical and popular music from France. This year's event features Albinas Prizgintas, vocals, piano and organ; Calvin Johnson, saxophone; Joy Mead, soprano; Fritzgerald Barrau, trumpet; Nanette Ledet, dancer; Michael Ward-Bergman, accordion; and Maria Victoire, vocals and guitar.
Join the block party in Faubourg St. John
Modeled after French fairs, which feature food, drink, music and an art fair, the Faubourg St. John Bastille Day Block Party is a can’t miss! Neighborhood organizer, Mona McMahon, said, “the event started the year after Katrina when we realized how much love there is for our neighborhood,” which surrounds Bayou St. John. “It started out as just a block party, but now in its 12th year, it attracts people from across the city!”
The party features music from great local bands and food from neighborhood favorites like Cafe Degas, Lola’s, Toast, Liuzza’s and many others! Prizes are given to the attendee with the best Marie Antoinette and Napoleon Bonaparte costumes, and libations include wine by Swirl as well as special French Flag-inspired cocktails by Pal’s.
“There’s also an art market,” McMahon said, “and a clown that roams around and entertains the kids. It’s truly a block party for the whole city — as communal and charmingly chaotic as these things can get. We love it!”
A party for the People by the People. It kicks off on Bastille Day, Saturday, from 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on the 3100 block of Ponce de Leon Street.
Are you afraid that’s too many parties for one weekend? Well, Napoleon Bonaparte used the following words to inspire his soldiers as they looked down the barrel of an enemy’s gun, and I’d like to think they work just as well for New Orleanians facing down a packed social calendar: “Death is nothing; but to live defeated and inglorious is to die daily.”
Vive le France! Vive New Orleans!