In France, Bastille Day is full of parades, fireworks, dances and activities celebrating French culture. The day commemorates July 14, 1789 when troops stormed the Bastille, a medieval fortress and prison, an event that marked the beginning of the French Revolution.
But what about those Philadelphian Francophiles who want to join in the festivities without taking a trip to Europe?
The answer is Parc Restaurant, Bistro & Cafe.
Parc is the renowned, Parisian-inspired restaurant in Rittenhouse Square. The swank eatery opened on Bastille Day in 2008 by James Beard Award winning restaurateur Stephen Starr. Celebrating its ninth anniversary on the French national holiday, the restaurant evokes the spirit that would have drawn in Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the rest of 1920s American expatriates for a drink and a classic French meal.
“It is quintessential Paris,” said Carol Serena, general manager of Parc. “So many of our guests have been to Paris, have been all over France, and I have to say the common theme is whenever they come home, they drop their bags and they come to Parc.”
According to Serena, Starr “misses no details” when it comes to the authentic French experience. “We buy our chairs from France, we get fixtures from France, there are no shortcuts when it comes to that attention to detail,” explained Serena. “I think that is why his guests respect him so much, because he is not trying to fool anyone.”
The ambiance oozes France from the artwork to the fresh baguettes on the bistro tables. Steak frites is one of the top three most popular dishes off the French cuisine menu according to Serena. “We have a lot of staples that we could never take off the menu for that reason, because so many people come here for those particular reasons.”
But the restaurant goes beyond the food and décor with a community aspect that for a lack of a better word—feels, well French. While Parc attracts a lot of tourists, Serena noted that it also brings in many regulars who know one another. “What is most notable about Parc is that every person leaves here with a memory, it’s lovely to hear people tell stories,” said Serena. “I can’t tell you how many people met here, got married as a result of meeting here, had their engagement parties and took their engagement pictures here.”
Not only does the restaurant on the corner of Eighteenth Street create a unique environment inside, but it also helped change the dynamic of Rittenhouse Square and, in turn, the city at-large. “To say the least, it was something that the Square was waiting for,” Serena affirmed. “When I moved here [ten-years-ago], Philly was not the place it is today. Today it is outrageous and has one of the best food scenes to scale.”
As to what the restaurant will be doing for Bastille Day and its anniversary, Serena and the rest of the smartly dressed staff have a simple response. Serve great food and drinks. “It’s interesting, because I have spoken to several people from France, and Bastille Day is just a day about food and drinks,” said Serena who loves the French Onion soup. “There are people that do some more, maybe extravagant things, but if you speak to somebody from France, it is just about people having the day off, and they just eat and drink a lot. That’s what we are going to do.”
The day will include drink and food specials as well as balloons and French national colors galore. “Hopefully the weather will be beautiful and we are going to just open the doors and let them come in,” said Serena who hopes to visit France for the first time in October to celebrate her fiftieth birthday.