Saturday is Derby Day at Churchill Downs, with the first race posting at 10:30 a.m. and the “most exciting two minutes in sports,” the Kentucky Derby race, taking off at 6:34 p.m.
While Buffalo may be far from the seersucker-clad tracks, several local establishments are raising a toast to the American tradition with an equally iconic drink: the mint julep.
A mint julep is traditionally bourbon and muddled mint with a teaspoon of powdered sugar or simple syrup over crushed ice, served in a pewter or silver cup that frosts over to keep the drink cold. Since 1938, the mint julep has been the official derby sipper, with more than 120,000 of them served at the Churchill Downs track over its annual two-day span.
The most prominent spot to watch the race is Derby Day at the Marcy Casino, to benefit the Buffalo Therapeutic Riding Center, SPCA Horse Rescue and Buffalo Equestrian Center, thrown by Mike and Dave Shatzel of Coles, Blue Monk, Liberty Hound, Moor Pat, Brennan's Bowery and Bar, and Allen Burger Venture.
The party kicks off at 4 p.m. and a $20 ticket gains entry to a small-batch bourbon bar with mint juleps and other bourbon-based cocktails, live music from “Folk Faces,” Kentucky barbecue and cuisine and prizes for best hat and derby attire. Founders Brewery, including Kentucky Breakfast Porter, will be on draft, as well. Learn more or buy tickets at derbydaymarcycasino.eventbrite.com.
Mes Que is also planning a derby smash, starting at 2 p.m. with mint juleps, bourbon specials and other race-themed specialty cocktails. The Hertel soccer standard will turn toward racing for the day, with prizes and specials fit for a rose crown.
A few blocks north at 2263 Delaware Ave., Gordon’s kicks off its annual Derby Day party with a keep-the-cup mint julep promotion. For $5.50 a pop, guests get a mint julep in a specialty cup that’s yours to take home. The event starts at 5 p.m.
Bourbon and Butter plans to sell juleps at $2 off, and will have the derby on TV for the duration. The Lafayette Hotel-based bar opens at 5 p.m.
Farther south, Bistro in the Square (1 Buffalo St., Hamburg) will turn its TVs to the derby, with $5 mint juleps. After the races, live music with Alison Pipitone will take visitors into the evening.
Craft Tap House in East Aurora will also be hosting a Kentucky Derby Viewing Party from 2 to 7 p.m., with $4 Stella Artois drafts, $5 mint juleps and a “Derby-style menu” special all day long. A charity draft pool is also available for a $5 donation, which nets your first draft and one raffle ticket for prizes. Contests will also be running for the best derby hat, as well as live music.
Whether your sights are on the racing slots or the bottom of your glass, there’s plenty to do on derby day in Buffalo. We’d place bets on it.