"It’s the Saint-Tropez of Brooklyn."

By Alison Fox
July 12, 2019
Andrew Cribb/Alamy

An entire cement truck full of sand will fill the streets, dozens and dozens of teams ready to compete in a life-size game of pétanque — like the French version of bocce ball — as tens of thousands party the day away, all in celebration of Bastille Day.

No, this isn’t France. It’s Brooklyn, New York.

Brooklyn’s Smith Street has been a haven for French expats and Francophiles for years. It’s because of that fervor that the neighborhood’s 19th annual Bastille Day celebration on Sunday, July 14 feels less like a big deal, and more like an inevitability.

“You feel like you’re on a terrace in Saint-Tropez — it’s the Saint-Tropez of Brooklyn,” Georges Forgeois, the owner of Bar Tabac, which puts on the celebration, told Travel + Leisure. “I’m very proud as a French person to bring Bastille and our way of life for one day. If it was [up] to me, I would do it every weekend.”

Smith Street is not a quiet block. On any given day the busy street that runs through Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill and Carroll Gardens neighborhoods is a constant hum of shoppers and hungry patrons finding a spot for lunch, kids scooting down the street after school, and commuters running errands on their way to and from the subway.

On Bastille Day — which commemorates the storming of the Bastille, an event that ignited the French Revolution — busy is taken to a new level. Last year, Forgeois estimated that 40,000 people came through, partly because it coincided with the FIFA World Cup that France won. This year, he’s hoping for a slightly smaller crowd.

“It’s hot and we’re slow — we like to do things slowly,” Forgeois said of the French. “With all these people running in the subway and all that, they feel good just being relaxed… Before anything, it’s a party for the people of Brooklyn, it’s to have a good time.”

It’s with that laid back attitude in mind that people flock to the neighborhood. A total of 85 teams will compete in pétanque set up over two blocks (which takes about four hours to set up, and another four to clean up). Beer and wine will flow and live music will play over the thrum of happy conversations.

In the end, when traffic finally resumes on Smith Street and all that’s left is memories of the fête, the neighborhood will still retain a warmth — a certain je ne sais quoi, if you will.

“In Brooklyn, everybody watches after each other,” Forgeois said, “and it’s good to be part of the community.”

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