What You Need to Know About These Traditional Bastille Day Parties!
Every July, Firemen's Balls - Bals des Pompiers - become hot spots of Bastille Day revelry at fire stations and other special venues across Paris.You'll enjoy lots of fun and Champagne (or beer), meet and mingle with real Parisians, and get to ogle the handsome and very physically fit members of the elite Paris Fire Brigade.
If you're lucky enough to be in Paris on July 13 and 14, put one or more of these famous all-night parties on your calendar. The Paris Fire Brigade dates back to 1793, just four short years after the storming of the Bastille, and in 1810 Napoleon decreed it to be a military unit of the French Army devoted to the safety of Paris after a particularly devastating fire burned for 23 hours in the city.
Today, the Paris Fire Brigade includes 8,700 men and women, making it the largest fire brigade in Europe and third largest in the world. They respond to about half a million interventions each year involving fires, explosions, floods, accidents and even rescuing pussy cats stranded in trees!
Although Paris Fire Brigade members march twice in the huge Bastille Day Parade along the Champs Élysées on July 14 - once on foot and once in fire trucks and other vehicles - the real celebrations take place at their Firemen's Balls, a tradition that began in Paris 100 or so years ago and then spread across France.
On July 13 and/or July 14th, the main fire station (caserne) in most of the city's 20 districts throws a huge party in its courtyard (or sometimes nearby at special venue such as a mansion or Roman arena) and welcomes in the public with music, dancing, and drinking for a rousing Bastille Day celebration. Most of the parties offer food for sale, huge inflated balls to toss in the air, disco lights, live bands, DJs, and perhaps other special effects.
The Bals des Pompiers at most stations begin at 9pm a few may begin as early at 7pm and finally wind down around 4am, just as the sun starts to come up after the short July night. The parties attract people of all ages, including families with babies and young children, although many of the families tend to leave by midnight.
By afternoon, you'll begin to see the firemen move their fire trucks out of the stations and park along nearby streets to make room for party guests in the courtyards next to their barracks. In some districts, entrance to the "barracks" gives you a glimpse of another era.
In the 4th Arrondissement in the Marais, for example, the Sévigné Firehouse is in Hotel Chavigny, an enormous mansion built in 1265 with additions such as courtyards, gardens, and galleries added in the 1700s.
The 5th Arrondissement fire station in the Latin Quarter hosts its Bal des Pompiers in nearby Arènes de Lutèce, a huge 1st century Roman arena hidden from the street by tall apartment buildings.
At the most popular locations, you should expect to wait in line to get in - one or two hours or sometimes more, but crowds are mellow and the time passes quickly. You will need to pass through two or three security checkpoints before being allowed entrance. At most locations, the firemen stop letting people in at around 3am.
Some firehouses charge a small entrance fee of 2€ or 3€ while others request a small donation to be dropped into a traditional barrel, you can give what you want, but 2€ - 3€ is reasonable. Proceeds are used to improve the working conditions in the fire stations.
Once you're finally inside - get ready to dance and have fun for the rest of the night! The balls resemble country-style guinguettes, convivial outdoor summer festivals with musicians, plenty of beverages, and dancing.
During peak hours - perhaps 11pm - 3am - most venues will be packed, which is part of the fun.
Champagne by the glass or bottle, beer, and non-alcoholic drinks as well as food are available for purchase at most of the party’s. But dancing is the main activity, with plenty of lively music, flashing disco lights, and other special effects, and huge plastic balls to toss in the air. Since these are Bastille Day celebrations, expect to join in periodic rousing renditions of "La Marseillaise."
Note: the metros stop around 130am so don’t leave yourself stranded.