Just Folks: Louisvillians on Derby

So we’re just over halfway through our make-shift Derby Festival here on Zelda & Scout, and as a blog about displacement and diaspora, we wanted to focus a couple of days on how to celebrate Derby when you’re far away from Churchill Downs (as we so often are…sigh).

The stars aren’t always in alignment for us: Not every year brings a big, flowery party to attend. Scout had to work last year and thus was only able to help Zelda with preparations in the morning (no worries though — many floral-dressed, fascinator-donning selfies were taken to commemorate our short-lived celebration). We’ve both had Derby’s in foreign countries (Zelda had two in France; Scout had one in the Czech Republic). We both had thrown together dorm room celebrations, huddled over a laptop. Scout spent her first two college Derby Days nursing post-Spring Fest hangovers. Zelda spent her sophomore one in a recording booth with her a cappella group.

Scout and Zelda at Derby celebrations gone by
Scout and Zelda at Derby celebrations gone by

But wherever we are, we always find a way to sit down and remember our old Kentucky home for at least a few minutes. There are a lot of ways to celebrate, and we’re of the opinion that there is no wrong way to get your Derby on (obviously we’d prefer the all out party with juleps and hats and bluegrass music, but we understand that’s not a possibility for everyone).

So we decided to turn to our displaced Louisville brethren to see how they fête the special day. Our super formal and official survey revealed a few things.

Some people go home, and that seems to be the pipe dream for those who do not. Everyone is agreed: Nothing matches the experience of actually being beneath the Twin Spires with 200,000 of your peeps. One Louisville gal’s parents even go so far as to leave her a voicemail every year of the crowd singing “My Old Kentucky Home,” so she feels like part of the day, even when she finds herself at work.

But that’s not to say being away from the Bluegrass stops people from partying their faces off. Some people (us included) throw their own shindigs, and get their kicks from showing them Yankees how it’s done.

Brother Jimmy's, awaiting Derby spectators
Brother Jimmy’s, awaiting Derby spectators

Others get their party on at various New York establishments. We’ve compiled our own guide to NYC Derby Fests, coming your way tomorrow, but our fellow Louisvillians’ favorites range from the classy (Union League Club, very Lilly Pulitzer and traditional) to the more down home (favorites include Brother Jimmy’s on the Upper West Side, Distilled in Tribeca, and the Red Rooster in Harlem).

Louisvillians had a few other tips for making the most of Derby day. One suggested New York stalwart Goorin Brothers for hats. Another suggested Forever 21, if you’re in need of a quick and affordable millinery fix. And everyone seems to agree that watching Brooklyn hipsters try mint juleps for the first time, and then proceed to make faces and complain about how they “thought it would be like a mojito,” is highly entertaining if you approach it with a heaping tablespoon of irony (this is Brooklyn, after all).

Near or far, whether alone with our laptops and bottle of Bulleit or surrounded by friends, we Kentuckians are a proud bunch. Sometimes certain characters from our dear state make us cringe, some days the jokes about kissin’ cousins or fried chicken get old, but in May there’s no place we’d rather call home than the Bluegrass State. And nobody, not one of us, can sing “My Old Kentucky Home” without a tear coming to his or her eye. Cheers to that.


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