It's time to briefly pretend to care about horse racing again! This Saturday is the Kentucky Derby, which New Yorkers tend to observe with a surprising degree of enthusiasm, perhaps because it gives everyone a chance to dress up and day-drink a ridiculous quantity of Mint Juleps. The fanciest party for the past five years has gone down at Eleven Madison Park, where the Juleps come in pewter cups, Nat Sherman hands out cigars, and your seersucker pants rim at the seams from all the Derby-inspired food long before the bugler in equestrian attire plays “The Call” to start the race. Unfortunately, that decadent bash is already sold out. But here are some more fun Derby parties that seem worth checking out.
Pine Box Rock Shop
: Mark the Derby amongst the Kentuckians of New York, who celebrate their official Derby party at this Bushwick joint. They'll have juleps, of course, plus mix and match bourbon flights for $25, which gets you four samples. Whoever wears the "best" Derby hat will be rewarded with a bottle of bourbon from King's County, Brooklyn's oldest distillery.
2 Grattan Street (between Bogart & Morgan), Bushwick
The Vault at Pfaff's: If intimate, underground parties are more your thing, this subterranean spot in the Village will be broadcasting the races starting at 4 p.m. and passing out sweet and savory morsels gratis for everyone in the bar. Snack on Crispy Duroc Pork Belly and Chess Pie while drinking riffs on a classic Mint Julep with peaches and pineapple. Betting folks can participate in the "Pick the Winner" contest, with a $100 gift certificate to anyone who picks the top three ponies.
643 Broadway. Call 212-253-5421 for reservations.
21 Club: With a line of mini jockeys lining the facade, iconic restaurant 21 Club already has the Derby theme going on year-round. Their less formal but equally deluxe Bar 21 hosts a party from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. on Saturday with passed food, drinks and a best dressed contest to win dinner for two at the restaurant. A menu of Kentucky-inspired treats from Executive Chef John Greeley includes Cornmeal Fried Oysters with Remoulade, Kentucky Ham on Biscuits, Burgoo (a popular spicy Southern stew often served with cornbread or corn muffins), Mini Hot Browns, and Mini Derby Pecan Pies with whipped cream. For $45 (including tax and gratuity) you'll get two hours of eats, two Mint Juleps and 20% off should you want to dine in the restaurant that evening.
21 West 52nd Street, 212-582-7200
mad46: The annual rooftop Derby celebration atop the Roosevelt Hotel continues this year, with a selection of Woodford Reserve cocktails like the Oaks Lilly, Sweet Bourbon Punch and, of course, Mint Juleps flowing freely from 3 p.m. until 10 p.m. Betting folks can enter the Derby prize pool, plus prizes will be awarded to the "Most Stylish" ladies and gents and the three best hats.
Madison Avenue and 46th Street, 212-885-6095. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve a table (recommended).
The Bell House: For a fully immersive experience on Derby day head to Gowanus, where starting at 1 p.m. The Bell House begins a day of festivities centered around drinking, dancing and decking out in Derby fashions. Purchase a dramatic hat from milner La China Loca; learn to square dance with NYC Barn Dance; and down some Kentucky-style grub from Floyd Eats and Urban Rustic. All this leads up to the main event, when bugler Ryan Resky leads the Call to the Post for the big race at 6 p.m.
149 7th Street, Gowanus, 718-643-6510
Greenwich Village Country Club: While you're betting on Java's War to take first place, you could simultaneously be providing an opportunity for a deserving middle schooler to spend the summer at art camp. Giving Opportunities to Others is giving you such an opportunity at their Kentucky Derby Party, being held at wacky game emporium/bar Greenwich Village Country Club, located above Bowlmor Lanes. A $60 general tickets gets you food, a "partially sponsored bar," and access to the space's many games like mini golf, bocce and air hockey.
110 University Place, 212-255-8188. Tickets available via GOTO's website.
Mable's Smokehouse & Banquet Hall: Who better to throw a Kentucky Derby party than someone from Kentucky? If you share that sentiment, head over to this Williamsburg BBQ joint at 2 p.m., where Kentucky-born Meghan Love and her husband will be showing all the races and offering $5 Mint Juleps. If you have cash to burn, take part in a "friendly wager" or spend your money on more concrete offerings like Derby Pie and other Kentucky food specialties. If bourbon ain't your thang, they've got Shiner!
44 Berry Street, Williamsburg, 718-218-6655
Pete's Candy Store: Bring your "gumption and your greenbacks" to this Williamsburg performance space and bar, where Saturday's events kick off at 3 p.m. Gals can compete in the "Ladies Millinery Competition," where the top topper wins some spending money at the bar. Betting folks can pick up some inside info for playing the ponies at Pete's Paddock, but even losers are winners in the Idiot Stakes. Nosh on the Bluegrass Blue-Plate Special, which includes home-made Bourbon Glazed Ribs, Louisville Potato Salad and Derby Pie or you can just get blotto on mint juleps, which is what everyone will be doing on the day.
709 Lorimer Street, Williamsburg, 718-302-3770