Raise your hand if you’re hosting your first Kentucky Derby party this year: Here! Here! As someone who loves to attend and host a good party I’ve spent what little free time I’ve had the last few weeks researching all things derby and thankfully my trusty friends Google and Pinterest have helped this California raised Austinite learn a thing or two about this historic Southern event. From dress code, activities, to food and drink, if you’re in need of some last minute ideas and inspiration look no further cause we’ve got you covered! And if you’re merely looking for the best place to view the race in Austin, scroll to the bottom cause we’ve got that too.

For those of you hosting, here are a few ideas…

Attire: The Kentucky Derby is known as a fashionable southern event where ladies don spring garden party style dresses along with over the top hats or fascinators. Gentlemen should be dressed dapper, sporting festive colored and patterned bow ties, navy blazers adorned with gold buttons, seersucker pants and straw hats if you want to go all out. Etsy and Amazon offer some excellent headwear options, but if you’re on a time crunch you never know what may pop up at your local thrift shop. Let’s be honest, I’m partially throwing this party for the excuse to dress up alone!

Décor: I love the Kentucky Derby theme because you can make your party however elaborate or simple you’d like and it can be a hit. Whatever your style though, roses are a must have as the winning horse is draped with a garland of 400 red roses. You could go traditional with lace doilies on tables and all silver serving pieces or have fun with bright spring colors and balloons like these darling mylar horses. I especially love this photo op idea I found on Pinterest.

Drinks: The official beverage of the derby is the Mint Julep, served in its traditional silver cup. There are plenty of recipes out there for this drink, but I tend to favor the one in Reese Witherspoon’s book, Whiskey in a Tea Cup, because it serves 12 and can be made in advance. Yes, she has a section of her book devoted to the Kentucky Derby and horse races in general. Below is the recipe, and I highly recommend checking out her book for more ideas. Along with Mint Juleps and other bourbon friendly cocktails you must serve sweet and regular iced tea as those are Southern staples.

Mint Juleps (serves 12)

From the kitchen of Annie Campbell


1 cup sugar

1 cup distilled water


2 bunches fresh spearmint

4 cups bourbon

Powdered sugar for garnish

To Make the Simple Syrup: Mix the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Heat to dissolve the sugar. Stir constantly so the sugar does not burn. Set aside to cool.

To Make the Mint Extract: Wash about 40 small or 20 big mint leaves. Place in a small bowl. Cover with 3 ounces bourbon. Soak for 15 minutes. Then gather the leaves in paper towels. Wring the mint over the bowl of bourbon. Repeat the process several times. 

To Make the Mint Julep: Pour 3 1/2 cups of bourbon into a large glass bowl or glass pitcher. Add 1 cup of simple syrup to the bourbon. Now add the mint extract 1 tablespoon at a time to the mixture until it tastes as you’d like it to (3 tablespoons is usually about right) Pour the whole mixture back into a bottle or pitcher and refrigerate it for at least 24 hours. To serve the julep, fill each glass half full with shaved ice. Insert a sprig of mint and then more ice until the ice sits about 1 inch over the top of the cup. Then insert a straw (it’s best if you cut the straw to 1 inch above the top of the cup). Pour the refrigerated julep mixture over the ice. Add a sprinkle of powdered sugar to the top of the ice. 

Food: Whether you’re doing appetizers or a full meal there are so many options that it can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you’re letting the Internet take the reigns. Luckily, the official Kentucky Derby website lists the menu they are serving their guests each year, along with some of the recipes, which is a great place to start. You can find this year’s menu here. Whatever courses you plan on serving, I think the key is to keep it simple: having a good mix of store bought and homemade foods, but making it unique by offering a few traditional items. I plan on making these Hot Brown Crostini appetizers which are a spin off of the sandwich created and made famous at the Brown Hotel in Louisville back in 1923. For dessert you can’t go wrong with a Derby Pie, Bourbon Balls or this recipe for Bourbon Bacon Caramel Corn. I hope no one at my party likes that last one, because I’m going to be off in the corner hoarding it.

Activities: While your guests are awaiting the most anticipated 2 minutes in sports enjoying the food and libations, why not throw it up a notch by having them bet on their picks for win, place and show. I also found these adorable Kentucky Derby trivia cards. For a few dollars you can download, print at home and voila: an easy party idea, and conversation piece as well!

Where to Watch in Austin:

Fareground: The downtown food hall will be having a child-friendly event hosted by horse nonprofit Horselink from 3-8pm. They will have derby themed food, drinks and activities along with live music, games and contests.

Black Sheep Lodge: They will be hosting their annual Kentucky Derby party with contests for best dressed, most elaborate hat and the horse race. Party begins at 2pm.

The Fairmont: The luxe hotel will be screening the race beginning at 2pm while serving mint juleps and old fashions.

Revelry Kitchen & Bar: This 6th Street bar is hosting a derby day party beginning at 2pm that includes race and best dressed contests along with a hat making station.

Healing with Horses Ranch is hosting a Derby Day Trail Run 5k for adults and 1k for kids. Registration for this fun event begins at 2:30 with the children’s race at 3:30 and the adult’s at 4:30. Stay afterwards for the Kentucky Derby watch party! Pricing for the 5k is $40 and includes a shirt, the 1k is $10 and does not include a shirt. All proceeds benefit the Healing with Horses Ranch.

Hidden Falls Adventure Park in Marble Falls is having a “May the 4th – Be With You” Darkside Derby Watch Party put on the HF Crawler Club. True, it’s not officially in Austin, but I love that this is a family friendly event honoring both the derby and the fact it falls on May the 4th! With Star Wars themed costume contests, creative foods such as Darth Maul-Dogs and Han-Burgers, games, raffle and derby watch, it is sure to be an awesome time for the entire family. Party is from noon to 8pm and tickets can be purchased here

What do you do for the Kentucky Derby?



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