- The Washington Times - Monday, July 17, 2000

Ask a waiter to walk half a mile with a tray perfectly balanced in his or her hand and there had better be a good tip coming.
The contestants at Friday's 26th annual Bastille Day Race and Celebration servers from District of Columbia-area restaurants scrambled to win the ultimate tip, two round-trip tickets to Paris, courtesy of Air France.
The event, hosted by the Parisian brasserie Les Halles, brought out about 65 contestants who had to race down Pennsylvania Avenue NW with a half-bottle of Nicolas Feuillatte champagne and two tall flutes on a tiny tray.
Dominique D'Ermo, founder of Dominique's restaurant and a Lyon, France, native, created the race in 1975 to celebrate Bastille Day, the French holiday commemorating the start of the French Revolution. Les Halles took over the hosting duties in the mid-1990s.
"I'm very happy that Les Halles can continue the tradition," Mr. D'Ermo said, looking suavely continental in a crisp white shirt and boater hat. "This is a great tribute to the French people."
The event featured swing dancing demonstrations, a brief but bawdy cancan dance and enough crepes to satiate the crowd. But the day belonged to the servers.
This year's winners, Peter Vanderberg, 27, of Seabury, Md., and Maria Topping, 19, of Bethesda, Md., managed not to spill their precious cargo while power walking the race's 12 blocks.
"We both stayed focused, like we do at work," said Mr. Vanderberg, who works at the Old Ebbitt Grill in the District.
Miss Topping, a server with Montgomery's Grille in Bethesda, said the city's uneven pavement made their trek all the more difficult.
D.C. Councilman Jack Evans, a Ward 2 Democrat, and Diane Simmons Williams, the mayor's wife, were among those on hand to congratulate the winners.
Chanel La Fleur of Fairfax, Va., arrived resplendently attired from head to toenails in the French flag's colors of red, white and blue.
"My usual attire for Bastille day," she said.
The event wasn't all Parisian delights. Proceeds from the race will go to the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.

Mount Vernon and the Hay-Adams Hotel celebrated the French holiday as well on Thursday and Friday with "Bastille Day Private Evenings" featuring a private Francophile tour of George Washington's mansion and a stay at the luxury hotel on 16th and H streets NW.
"Vive America," exclaimed Mount Vernon interpreter Brian Hilton, costumed in an 18th-century black suit with gold-braided piping as the Comte de Moustier, the first French ambassador to the United States during Washington's presidency.
Mr. Hilton, who stayed in character throughout the night, noted ruefully that Washington never visited France, though the Marquis de Lafayette invited him several times. He speculated that Washington might have declined because he was too embarrassed by his lack of formal education and familiarity with the French language.
After toasting Washington, the faux French envoy pointed to the inside of the mansion's main hallway. On the wall, encased in glass, was the black key to the Bastille, an icon of the French Revolution that the Marquis de Lafayette gave to Washington.
Mount Vernon staffer Susan Fincke said patriot Thomas Paine helped whisk the key from Paris to London before it ended up on Washington's wall in 1790.
The fete included a private evening tour of the grounds, where even at night salt-and-pepper guinea fowls paddle about beneath 200-year-old white ash trees. The mansion tour also included a peek at the third floor of Mount Vernon, where guests could climb up a wooden ladder to gaze out on the grounds from the cupola or tour the rooms where Washington's wife, Martha, retreated after her husband's death in 1799. Guests dined on a special menu at the darkened, wooden-floored Mount Vernon Inn, which is currently undergoing a three-phase, $60 million expansion of its facilities and gift shop.
Then visitors were taken back to the Hay-Adams to cap the evening with another view: The historic hotel overlooks Lafayette Square and the White House, which was planned and constructed under the first president's oversight although he never lived there.

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