A tip of the beret: Waiters’ race highlights Bastille Day fest

By Chris Macias
Published: Thursday, Jul. 15, 2010 – The Sacramento Bee | Page 4B

The wine glasses smashed into 19th Street as local restaurant servers huffed toward the finish line. It was all the sound of a worldwide tradition breaking ground Wednesday night in Midtown Sacramento.

Like a scene from the streets of Paris, Sacramento hosted its first waiters race. About 50 restaurant servers lined up at Le Petit Paris cafe, each with a tray holding a bottle and glasses. The goal: race to the courtyard of L Wine Lounge & Urban Kitchen on 18th and L streets without spilling their spirits or stemware.

Yeah, right. From the start, as the popping of a champagne bottle signaled that the race was on, plenty of glasses came tumbling into the sidewalk and streets.

The race was held in a raucous observance of Bastille Day, the French national holiday celebrated each July 14. Waiters races themselves were popularized in Paris near the turn of the 20th century, and can be found from Hong Kong to Los Angeles.

And now, midtown Sacramento.

The idea sprang from the current issue of Sactown magazine and it’s “Why Not Here?” feature. Rob Turner, Sactown’s CEO, noted the River City already has a Francophile bent with its Sacramento French Film Festival and abundance of French foods. And if such cities as Portland and Boston can host a waiters race, Sacramento should give it a shot, too.

“We’re always trying to come up with ideas we love from other cities and see what makes sense for Sacramento,” Turner said. “Getting people on the streets just creates a more vibrant, dynamic city. This seemed like a perfect idea and it’s just fun.”

The race was also a winner for nearby businesses. Mulvaney’s Building & Loan, next to Le Petit Paris, was booked for most of the night.

The finish line at L Wine Lounge’s courtyard was packed with a couple hundred revelers, who bought plenty of wine and cocktails to celebrate and cool down on the warm night.

“It’s busier than we’d normally be for a Wednesday night,” said restaurateur Patrick Mulvaney, who helped organize the race. “It’s also just a lot of fun and a great boost to the L Wine Lounge.”

Some servers sniped that too many competitors had glued their bottles and glasses to their trays. But the vibe was overall jovial, a bit of friendly competition from workers who all know what it’s like to race around a restaurant dining room.

“It was really hot and fun,” said Angie Taylor, a server at Mikuni Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar. “First I was speed walking, but I broke some glasses at the first corner. Then I ran. It was just a fun experience to see all my friends out here.”

Joe Cowley of Michaelangelo’s Italian Restaurant was ultimately crowned as the winner. He was presented with the “Daniel Pont Golden Beret” award, named after the owner of downtown’s La Bonne Soupe Cafe. The prize package wasn’t much, just some gift certificates and a bottle of champagne, but the win was still as satisfying as a sip of Chateau Lafite Rothschild.

“I just wanted to go as fast as I could and hold on to those glasses,” Cowley said. “I’ll wear the beret proudly.”

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