For the past 20 years, every July 14, a flock of waiters, carefully balancing glasses of champagne atop plates, have raced up and down a street of East Falls Church. This competition of speed and nimbleness is an annual tradition, part of La Fête Nationale, or the Bastille Day, celebration at the french restaurant, La Côte D’Or Café.
The idea of a waiters race, a test of the speed a waiter can carry a loaded tray without tipping it, originated in France and has been traced back to the early 20th century. Raymond Campet, owner of the cozy eatery located just over the Little City border in Arlington, started his version of the race at his first restaurant, La Brasserie, on Capitol Hill in 1979. The early races on the Hill, Campet says, featured many congressmen and senators participating, racing down the street for charity.
Campet sold the restaurant in 1992 and opened La Côte D’Or on the corner of Lee Highway and North Westmoreland that November and has continued the tradition ever since.
This year’s race will mark the 20th edition of La Côte D’Or circuit and will kick off Sunday at 2 p.m. The one who proves the swiftest of foot down the 1/4 mile course will win a round-trip ticket to France, a prize Campet has awarded since he started the races. All are welcome to enter and for the spectators free champagne will be offered from 2 to 4 p.m.
In addition to the race, La Côte D’Or will have a special $1 wine tasting at 11 a.m., lunch accompanied by live accordion music from noon until 3 p.m. and dinner with live music at 6 p.m. And capping off the day of celebration will be a fireworks display at 10 p.m. (thank goodness the restaurant is outside the City limits).
While you won’t find any racing servers, 2941 Restaurant, another F.C.-area French eatery also has a full day planned for Bastille Day celebration.
The festivities on Fairview Park Drive start at 11 a.m. with Executive Chef Bertrand Chemel’s Bastille Day “Food & Wine Festival” featuring food and wine stations throughout the dining room offering up charcuterie, cheese, salad nicoise, escargot and more French cuisine.
In the evening, Chemel, a native of Auvergne, France, and Pastry Chef Caitlin Dysart, are serving a four-course tasting menu paired with French wines by Sommelier Jonathan Schuyler.
The afternoon’s wine and food festival runs until 2:30 p.m. and tickets are $48, all inclusive. Tickets for the four-course tasting menu, running from 6 – 8:30 p.m., are $95 and includes the wine pairings.
La Côte D’Or Café is located at 6876 Lee Highway in Arlington and 2941 Restaurant is located at 2941 Fairview Park Drive in Falls Church.