Let Them Eat Tastykake! Experience the Final Bastille Day at Eastern State Penitentiary
Liberté, égalité, fraternité… et Tastykakes!
This weekend, Eastern State Penitentiary will hold its final Bastille Day celebration, and if you have never experienced this sublimely unique Philly tradition, it is your last chance. The final Bastille Day performance will take place on July 14 at 5:30 pm outside Eastern State Penitentiary, located at 2027 Fairmount Avenue in Philadelphia.
Celebrating the storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution, Bastille Day celebrates France’s ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity. At Eastern State Penitentiary, this has meant an outlandish celebration for the past 24 years, featuring drag cabaret, hilarious anachronisms, and culminating with the throwing of thousands of Tastykakes from the top of the historic prison down to the crowd in a real “let them eat cake” moment!
The feted Bearded Ladies Cabaret leads the show, with John Jarboe transforming into chanteuse Edith Piaf—we told you there were anachronisms. Last year, “Edith” rappelled down the side of Eastern State to the stage, singing all the way, as a six-foot-tall baguette danced below. Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” was rewritten to tell the story of the French Revolution. A watermelon was executed in the guillotine. So we can safely promise this is unlike anything else you will ever see!
To cap off the spectacle, Terry McNally (co-owner of London Grill and Paris Wine Bar) as Marie Antoinette taunts les citoyens, crying “Let them eat Tastycake!” and thousands of Butterscotch Krimpets are thrown from the top of Eastern State’s towers.
But, quel dommage, the celebration will throw its last Tastykake this Saturday. As Eastern State Penitentiary explained in a press release, “we have a bold new vision for our organization that requires we make some tough sacrifices.” This means dedicating resources to site renovations and focusing programming on issues like criminal justice reform.
So for one last time—or one last chance if you have never been—the historic site will celebrate Bastille Day in its distinctive way. Doors open at 10 am for tours of the prison, and the performance will begin at 5:30 pm outside Eastern State, on Fairmount Avenue. Following the show, there will be French-themed food and drink specials at Fairmount restaurants Urban Saloon and London Grill beginning at 6:30 pm.
Photographs by Laura Swartz.