The first Saturday in May calls for your Sunday best. What it doesn’t call for is your best behavior. A city never overserved but intoxicated with charm, chivalry and originality, Louisville knows how to throw one hell of a party. “Are you coming in for Derby?” isn’t really a question as much as a check on your social sanity. Young or old, single or married, and everything in-between, the Kentucky Derby is magic, I promise you. There really is nothing else like it. Certainly not in sports. My best friend Carrie and her husband Michael hosted 19 of us the entire weekend and said simply, “This is DERBY. It’s our Christmas.”
The Derby has been cool since 1875. When Colonel Lewis Clark Jr. started it, he wanted people to experience this comfortable and luxurious environment that made them feel like they were in Europe watching the races.
Some say find your dress first, others say it starts with the hat. And the hat starts with Michelle Clements. She and her daughter Meredith Renfro design gorgeous custom as eccentric as you’d like hats for ladies, gentleman, and little derby-goers in the lower level of their home.
With my hat and dress secured, it was time to head to dinner at a local spot Mesh to celebrate Thurby, or the Thursday before Derby. Murby, Turby, and Werby might be a thing too, I don’t know. Mesh was delish. My three favorites on the menu: Crabbies Ginger Beer, the mushroom and goat cheese strudel, and Graeter's Ice Cream Mocha Chip / Mint Chocolate Chip / Black Raspberry Chip Trio. Yum.
Friday is Oaks, the “Lillies for the Fillies”, but the thought of two dresses, two hat combos, not to mention the all-day heels factor led to a new tradition, The Fillies lunch at Jack Fry’s. A tiny little place with a big personality, Jack and Flossie opened it in 1933 over their love of amateur fights and horse racing. The mimosas were perfect, and I’ll be back to order the shrimp and grits when it gets cold outside.
By Friday night, the entire crew made it in for the house party, and if you caught it on periscope, you saw the tip to bet your house on American Pharaoh and caught some sweet almost-made-it-but-we-looked-good-missing-it dunks in a game of P.I.G. on a 7.5 foot rim. I didn’t win, but I did finish second in flip-flops. After that it was time for the taco line and a seat by the fire while the boys fired up a game of poker.
7am came pretty quickly Saturday morning, but there is no such thing as sleeping in when twenty-one people are looking for towels, mirror space, and outlets, and another 100 are coming in an hour for the Gates Derby Breakfast.
No need to Uber, we had our own drivers, a.k.a. Brian "Big Dog's" wife Karen and daughter Abigail coordinating transportation, getting us to the "as close as you can get" drop off point so you don't have to walk in heels. Thanks ladies :)
That intoxicating charm hits you again even harder when you step inside Churchill Downs. Everyone it seemed, dressed down and up, young and old, black and white, girls and guys, were experiencing the same thing. The weather was perfect, and although the Kentucky Derby came and went, I didn’t bet on a single horse. I was having more fun making new friends and taking their picture. Here are a few of my favorite looks from the day, some with their instagram handle. Thank you all so much for letting me take your photo. You looked amazing and I'll be back next year so look for me!
Go if you haven't, go again if you have. Louisville and The Kentucky Derby will fill your soul with happiness.