This tongue-in-cheek Bastille Day reenactment, complete with Butterscotch Krimpet hailstorm, is an iconic Philadelphia summer tradition, returning this Saturday, July 13. (Photo at top left by D. Tavani for GPTMC; others by Darryl Moran for Eastern State Penitentiary)
Time to rehearse your best cries of “liberté, égalité, fraternité!”
Eastern State Penitentiary’s iconic Bastille Day Festival returns to the streets of the Fairmount neighborhood for its 19th year this Saturday, July 13.
Once again, the Penitentiary teams-up with marvelous cabaret troupe The Bearded Ladies to put on a hilarious theatrical performance playfully reenacting the storming of the Bastille with song, sarcasm, dance and a cast of historic characters.
Read on for our guide to the festive day in Fairmount, and check out our guide of other ways to celebrate Bastille Day in and around Philadelphia here.
Vive la révolution!
At the heart of the festival, of course, is Eastern State Penitentiary on Fairmount Avenue. The block between Corinthian Avenue and 22nd Street is closed to vehicles, making way for thousands of festival-goers.
Street admission and sights of the show are both completely free. The VIP section has sold out, so for a good view of the performance, your best bet is to arrive early.
Thousands gather each year to celebrate Bastille Day in the shadow of Eastern State, so do expect crowds.
The Bearded Ladies Cabaret Show
The Bearded Ladies’ performance begins at 5:30 p.m., and culminates less than an hour later in a mock-storming of the Bastille — for which Eastern State Penitentiary makes a perfect stand-in — with 3,000 Tastykakes flung into the crowds from the prison’s towers.
The show, a tongue-in-cheek retelling of the French Revolution is emceed by Bearded Ladies creative director John Jarboe as Edith Piaf, “the voice of Paris,” and is slated to incude two brand-new numbers this year.
The hilariously campy show is an extravaganza of song and dance, and includes appearances by historic characters like Napoleon, Joan of Arc, Benjamin Franklin and a life-size French Baguette. Oui, a loaf of bread.
This is the festival’s main act, during which dozens of French revolutionaries, armed with muskets and cannons and singing “La Marseilles,” storm the stone walls of “the Bastille” (Eastern State) and drag “Marie Antoinette” (Terry McNally, co-owner of Fairmount‘s London Grill) to a functioning guillotine built for the occasion.
Listen for Marie’s cry of “Let them eat Tastykake!” around 6:15 p.m. Then, look out! A rainstorm of 3,000 Butterscotch Krimpets are flung from the towers into the crowds.
Bastille Day After-Parties
Following the free performance on Fairmount Avenue, Fairmount’s businesses and restaurants open their doors for a public celebration with French-themed entertainment and food and drink specials.
Plus, the Penitentiary will reopen for rare twilight tours at a discounted admission price ($10 adults, $5 students, seniors and kids).
Just down the street, London Grill and Paris Wine Bar keep the festivities going strong with food and drink specials all day, and a street party featuring The West Philadelphia Orchestra and lasting until midnight.
A handful of other restaurants are set to offer up specials on Saturday, too. Visit The Belgian Cafe for a beet Napoleon, Hickory Lane or Isabel for classics like bouillabaisse, as well as Mugshots for French press coffee and Rembrandt’s for a Lillet “Liberte” cocktail.
For more ideas on where to dine in Fairmount, check out our neighborhood guide here.
Traveling to the Fairmount neighborhood is simple via walking, biking, public transit and taxi/Uber. Parking is fairly limited, so driving is probably not the best option.
For travel by SEPTA, check out the trip planner here, or hop on the number 33, 48 or 2 bus heading north. Or hop on the Broad Street line, hop off at Fairmount and walk the six blocks west.
Bastille Day Festival 2013
Where: Eastern State Penitentiary, 2020 Fairmount Avenue
When: Saturday, July 13, 5:30 p.m.
More info: www.easternstate.org