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Bastille Day Tour de Pour

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(Sacramento, CA)
Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Even in a tough economy, in the middle of a hot summer, some restaurants are finding time to play. A recent essay in SacTown Magazine challenged Sacramento’s waiters to a version of the mid-summer waiter’s frolic held in Paris every Bastille Day – that’s today. So tonight, on short notice, the event is loosely coming together here. Elaine Corn has a preview.

That’s Portland, Bastille Day 2009, just like in Paris. By tonight, that could be the sound of Sacramento Bastille Day. It’s a race that makes waiters run through the streets balancing wine and glasses on a tray without a single drop spilled or a glass broken. Chef Patrick Mulvaney is the unelected leader of the unofficial event. He took the initiative for what he says are all the best reasons.

Mulvaney: It’s fun and goofy and it’s the middle of summer and it just seems like something to do.

To put this race together, there were no committees. There weren’t even any meetings.  In a few weeks, 50 restaurants had signed up. There may be more by race time.  Waiters will speed-walk about around almost a block. AND there’s no cash prize. The turnout surprised even Mulvaney.

Mulvaney: We thought that about three-quarters of a block was about as far as you could get a waiter in Sacramento to go for a free drink.

To give the race a Gallic garnish, Mulvaney needed a grand marshall. Preferably French. Sacramento’s only Michelin-starred chef, Daniel Pont of La Bonne Soupe, will do the honors at the finish line. Pont ran this race as a young server. So, he knows the rules.

Daniel Pont: You have to be dressed properly. No tennis shoes. Normally, black shoes, no white socks. Black pants, white jacket, shirt and white apron. 

The Bastille Day race hinges on what Pont says is the under-rated waiter skill of balancing a serving tray.

Pont: It’s a very hard thing to do because no. 1, you have to carry a tray on one hand with a bottle of wine in it, and two glasses who are filled up with red wine, so you can see. And you’re supposed to run through the street. And the one who is going to win is the one arriving the first with no spilling on the tray.

Whoever’s out there this evening, they better watch out for Brandy Rocha. She’s the bar manager at Midtown’s 58 Degrees and Holding. Usually Rocha glides gracefully between the high tables, a tray of stemware floating on her fingertips. But tonight, Rocha will be on the attack.

Brandy Rocha: I’ve been working with my trainer Mario, asked him to help me with some techniques – bobbing and weaving and slipping -- so that I can intimidate a little bit.

A Bastille Day Waiters Race here means Sacramento joins other US cities that have borrowed the Parisian tradition. Portland’s in its 6th straight year. Linda Witt, of Portland’s Alliance Francaise, says because of today’s race, it’s Portland’s biggest restaurant day of the year.

Linda Witt: This year we’re expecting 8,000 people at the festival.

It’s still not clear how Sacramento’s race will go or how Mulvaney and Grand Marshall Pont will judge. But Pont is graciously going along with the gag.

Pont:  ‘cause there’s always a glass of wine at the end!  ha ha!

The 2010 Bastille Day Waiters Race starts at 6 tonight at Le Petit Paris and ends at L Urban Wine Lounge. The streets will be closed for the duration of the race. Elaine Corn Capital Public Radio News. 

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