Hundreds of people took to the streets outside the midtown restaurant district Sunday to commemorate the anniversary of the French Revolution, celebrate French culture and sample food and drink in the fifth annual Sacramento Bastille Day.
In one highlight of the fest, about 50 waiters and other restaurant workers donned berets, sported drawn-on mustaches and joined in the Waiter’s Race, which has become a fixture of the celebration.
Members of the California Stage Theater Company kicked off the celebration by performing monologues “Marat/Sade,” a play about the French Revolution, as a musician strolled along L Street playing traditional French tunes on his accordion.
“We took it on three years ago,” said Seann Rooney, executive director of midtown’s Handle District, which manages events for the area. “We went from 100, to 200 people, to 400 people and then last year we had about 1,000. I think we might have eclipsed that this year.”
Bastille Day marks the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789 when a mob of angry Parisians stormed the Bastille prison. In France, the holiday is known as “La Fête Nationale.”
The food-oriented neighborhood is perfect for celebrating French culture and cuisine, Rooney said.
“We’ve got 12 restaurants in one square block,” he said. “It’s kind of the hub of food in downtown Sacramento. It’s part French, part food and part restaurants.”
The restaurants and cafes offered samples of food and beverages.
F.J. Villalobos, chef at 58 Degrees, called Sacramento’s Bastille Day a celebration of community.
“For the neighborhood, it’s a good event to bring people in and appreciate what the restaurants, the shops and the people that live here have done to revamp and rebuild the community,” Villalobos said. “I’m here six days out of the week, sometimes seven. I feed the people on the block; it’s what I do.”
Each restaurant worker who participated in the Waiter’s Race was required to carry a tray balancing two glasses and a bottle of water without spilling water and without relying on the other hand. The race, which originated in Paris, isn’t traditionally linked to Bastille Day, but it has always been a part of Sacramento’s celebration.
The Waiter’s Race drew about 50 contestants who traveled the equivalent of a four-block stretch at their best walking speed.
The winner turned out to be a late entry.
“The bartender at the Grange couldn’t do it because he had to work this morning, so I said I would fill in for him,” said waiter Sam Paris, who also works at the Grange. “I just came here and winged it.”
Paris beat six other male competitors and collected the top prize of $500. All the top waiters in the men’s final finished the race without spilling a drop. Among the female competitors, two women completed the race without sloshing water onto their trays.
Paris said he had not planned to join in the footrace – until the bartender called him about 11:30 p.m. the night before.
Paris said he will participate next year – if he is still in the restaurant business.
“Hopefully, I will be in some kind of medical school, nursing school at this point next year so I won’t have to worry about it,” he said.
Gianna Jordan, a waitress at Old Soul Co., won the women’s portion of the race and pocketed $500. She said her previous job as a waitress at Mulvaney’s played into her championship.
The newest presence at Sacramento’s Bastille Day was the Alliance Française de Sacramento. The organization, which offers language courses as well as cultural and social activities, opened a booth at the event and became one of its beneficiaries.
“We met so many people who were interested in the French language and culture,” said Kristin Rapinac, a member. “We had a lot of people come up and tell us they were interested in French. We actually ran out of class schedules and promotional material.”
Rooney said he hopes Bastille Day becomes a larger event for the community in the coming years.
“Each year, I want to do something a little different to help raise the bar,” Rooney said. “I think next year, we’ll have a big French band on the end and we’ll do more kids stuff. I think it’s just blossomed into a great event for the whole family.”
This year, Bastille Day benefits the French Film Festival along with the Alliance Française de Sacramento. Donors and participants provide about $20,000 in food, drink and prizes.
Contact The Bee’s Lauren Chapman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Laurenechapman_.