Our Guide To Fairmount’s Bastille Day Festival Returning To Eastern State Penitentiary For Its 20th Year This Saturday, July 12

A crowd of thousands turns out annually to take part in the Bastille Day Festival at Eastern State Penitentiary, which makes a great stand-in for the Bastille. (Photo by Darryl Moran for Eastern State Penitentiary)

Liberté, égalité, fraternité!

Mais oui, Philadelphia. Eastern State Penitentiary’s Bastille Day Festival returns this weekend, Saturday, July 12, to celebrate its 20th-anniversary year of celebrating French National Day, which commemorates the start of the French Revolution with the Storming of the Bastille.

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!

The Festival

From around 2 p.m. on until midnight, Fairmount Avenue and Eastern State Penitentiary are home to a festive Bastille Day block party.

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.

Early in the day starting at 2 p.m., report to London Grill for outdoor dining, drinking and family-friendly fun including kids crafts, face painting and a photo booth.

The centerpiece of the festival, The Bearded Ladies Cabaret Show, begins at 5:30 p.m. on a stage directly in front of the Penitentiary.

Street admission and sights of the show are both completely free. As of publication tickets to the VIP section right in front of the stage are still available for $40 per person (plus $4.75 service fee). Book online here to score a seat, which includes first-come, first-served seating and complimentary Kronenbourg 1664 from 4:30 p.m. until 6:15 p.m.

For a good — free — view of the performance, your best bet is to simply arrive early. Thousands gather each year to celebrate Bastille Day in the shadow of Eastern State, so do expect crowds.

The performance is immediately followed by a lively after-party back at London Grill until midnight. After the “guillotine” has fallen, London Grill hosts dancing in the street with The West Philadelphia Orchestra from 6:30 p.m. until 9:30 p.m.

Really, the entire neighborhood gets in on the fete, with bars and restaurants opening their doors for after parties well into the evening.

For information about additional Bastille Day dinners and events — click here.

Eastern State Penitentiary's tongue-in-cheek Bastille Day reenactment, complete with a Butterscotch Krimpet hailstorm, is an iconic Philadelphia summer tradition, returning this Saturday, July 12. (Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia)

For more on Eastern State’s Bastille Day, see below.

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.

Pop culture and song harmonizes nicely with French history in The Bearded Ladies Cabaret's Bastille Day performance. (Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia)

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 after-party specials on Saturday, too. Visit The Belgian Cafe for a beet Napoleon, Bridgid’s for $3 Kronenbourg beers all day long and Rembrandt’s for French specialties and such cocktails as La Gillotine, Bombay gin, St. Germaine and grapefruit juice.

For more ideas on where to dine in Fairmount, check out our neighborhood guide here.

Getting There

Traveling to the Fairmount neighborhood is simple via walking, biking, public transit and taxi/Uber. Parking is fairly limited, and streets will be blocked off for the all-day street fair, so driving is probably not the best option.

For travel by SEPTA, 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 2014
Where: Eastern State Penitentiary, 2020 Fairmount Avenue, and surrounding neighborhood
When: Saturday, July 12, London Grill Block Party, 2 p.m.; Theatrical Show, 5:30 p.m.; After Parties, 6:30 p.m.-midnight or later
Cost: Free
More info: www.easternstate.org

For information about additional Bastille Day dinners and events — click here.

The annual Bastille Day celebration in Fairmount, now in its 20th year, has grown from a modest performance by Eastern State Penitentiary staffers to a blowout festival with live music and thousands of attendees. (Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia)


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