Everybody in the South should know about the Kentucky Derby. It’s the one-day of the year that everyone becomes a horse expert, while they crush Mint Juleps. The pinnacle of the day is when a crowd yelling their favorite horse’s name at a television while decked out in seersucker surrounds you. The Derby is a spectacle that made it’s way to our fair city last year with the name Derby Day.
When I first heard there was going to be a Kentucky Derby viewing party that was open to the public, I was ready to buy a ticket and tell my fiancé to find a big floppy hat that could block out the sun. Shortly after hearing there was going to be a 500-person party on the lawn of Norton Art Gallery, I found out that Wine Country was going to be doing the bar. I went from attending the first year event, to designing the cocktail menu and tending bar. Honestly, I couldn’t tell if I was more excited with the thought of going to the event or working it.
After many chats with Matt Snyder about what we wanted to serve, we settled on two signature cocktails: the obvious one was the Mint Julep. I mean, come on, you have to drink juleps during the Kentucky Derby. The other was my take on the newer signature cocktail of the Derby called the Kentucky Oaks, which is a vodka-based cocktail for whiskey haters. I studied the recipe and tweaked a few things to make it unique. In the end we came up with the Lily Rose, which is a vodka-based cocktail with cranberry and basil simple syrup. With the cocktails set, we needed some tasty local brews and Great Raft was the obvious choice. Our libations menu was set and we were ready for Derby Day.
The day finally arrived. I had personally pre-batched gallons and gallons of Lily Roses as well as an insane amount of mint simple syrup. I think I went through over 20 pounds of mint. We were ready to serve. The scene was gorgeous: it was sunny and the temperature was in the mid 70’s. We couldn’t have paid for better weather.
People started arriving and it looked like something out of Garden & Gun or Southern Living. The gentlemen were dressed to the nines in seersucker and the ladies were wearing massive hats. The whole event, from start to finish, was over the top. Buttercups provided some incredible cupcakes and Rhino Coffee catered the perfect mid-afternoon delights of the culinary fare. Flow Tribe was playing before the Derby started and they had everyone dancing while Wine Country kept the cocktail glasses full. It was like when you walked through the gates of the Norton Art Gallery, you were transported to Kentucky for the races.
The only break the bartenders got the entire time was when the race started. It was just enough time to get a quick clean and reset the bar before the race was over. I looked around and saw almost every bartender entranced by the spirit of the day with their eyes glued to the screens, cheering for their horses. The vibe of the day was truly infectious. Everyone was having a blast, even the people working the event. I heard multiple bartenders say they wouldn’t work it next year because they wanted to come.
This year’s Derby Day is going to be bigger and better than last year. I’ve already been talking to the brain trust about what we need to do to help. Drinks will be plentiful and so will the food. If you didn’t make it out last year, do yourself a huge favor and get your tickets early. I can’t think of a better way to experience Shreveport than to be a part of the events that are locally organized, give back to our area, and create fellowship in our community.