The Six Best Places to Party Like a Racehorse on Derby Day in Denver

These Derby Day revelers ditched the mint juleps for Coors Light.
These Derby Day revelers ditched the mint juleps for Coors Light. Westword
It’s that time of year when Denverites dress like they’re Southern aristocrats, strut around in lightly colored throwback outfits, sip mint juleps and lay down money on riders whipping horses for two minutes solid. Stumble around Mile High alleys on May 6, Kentucky Derby Day, and you’ll see backyard parties where chipper crowds gather and celebrate a race that most attendees, if asked if they could explain how it works, would simply shake their heads and respond, in horse-like fashion, “Neigh.” (If you're looking for a primer, we found this Kentucky Derby interactive animation useful.)

For those of you too dignified to sneak into one of those neighborhood backyard parties or go to King Soopers and buy a crappy Derby pie to gobble down with your $7.99 Kentucky Deluxe, we’ve put together this handy list so that you can join the belles and gents in what will surely be a sloshing good time.
Denver Derby Party
May 6, 1 p.m.
Sculpture Park – Downtown Denver

If you don’t have a ticket, you can only hope to get a peek at the seersucker-suited gentlemen and their bonnet-clad ladies parading about in Sculpture Park at the Denver Performing Arts Complex, because this crème-de-la-crème must-attend event quickly became can't-attend when it sold out long ago. There’s a wait list for the legal eagles, and daredevils can always attempt to sneak in. (Whatever you do, don’t stain your pastel trousers and dresses in the grass.That's the Derby party-crasher equivalent of blood on your hands.)
Niwot Tavern
Derby in Niwot
May 6, 2 to 6 p.m.
Niwot Tavern

Niwot. That’s right, Niwot. If you screwed the pooch (or broken-legged race horse, to stick with the day’s theme) and failed to buy your tickets to the Denver Derby Party, you can take the seer out of the seersucker and head straight for the Niwot Tavern, where you can have a $5 mint julep or shot of Jim Beam while watching the race. The tavern advertises that hats are appreciated at the party, but neglects to mention whether you should wear the rest of the Derby Day outfit. So either show up in, well, just a hat and nothing more, or maybe wear your My Little Pony shirt and your thrift-store jams, because something tells us this won’t be the most formal event in the region. And when you’re sloshed in Niwot, good luck getting back to Denver with a positive balance in your bank account, because that's going to be one expensive Uber.
Mountain Resource Center
Derby Daze
May 6, 1 to 5 p.m.
Anchorage Farm
12889 South Parker Avenue, Pine

So you showed up to Niwot pants-less and were thrown out of the Niwot Tavern? Well, it's still not too late. The Mountain Resource Center in Conifer is holding its second annual Mountain Derby Daze Fundraiser. Daze: That means 420-friendly, right? Ditch the booze and break out a blunt? Nope. You have stumbled into an ill-titled family-friendly event full of food, entertainment and events for kids and adults. So put on your Derby duds and partake in a derby hat contest, face painting and lots of wholesome fun benefiting the Mountain Resource Center.

Read on for more of the best Derby Day events.

Danielle Lirette
May 5 through May 7
4400 Fox Street

The party starts at TheBigWonderful on May 5 and will be going strong by Derby Day. Here you may be able to smell the margaritas on your neighbor's breath beneath the rising scent of mint and bourbon. These die-hard party animals started drinking on Cinco de Mayo, and are keeping this bender going into Sunday, too – for whatever the hell the Siete de Mayo is (In this case, International Hangover Day). Now you’ve begun to find your people: those who drink, who eat and who enjoy a party that bleeds from one holiday into another. They’ve already been listening to Burn It Blue and Andy Thorn & Friends, and after you all watch the race – slightly puzzled as to why you wasted those two precious minutes of your life – you can enjoy Pickin’ on the Beatles while mixing all that whiskey with beer. The Night Bazaar begins at six, and you can shop to your heart’s content and listen to, yep, Pickin’ on Deadphish, another round of Andy Thorne & Friends and then Jeff Austin & Friends.

Denver Mini Derby
Denver Mini Derby
May 6, 1-6:30 p.m.
Stanley Marketplace

In case TheBigWonderful is just too big, try the Denver Mini Derby at Stanley Marketplace. We don’t know who looks weirder: the quaffed miniature horses and the Welsh corgis forced to race, or the Derby-hat wearing revelers. At the expense of these cute – and sort of pathetic – animals, this event bills itself to be the most fun Derby party anywhere. Yes, anywhere – even more fun than the Kentucky Derby itself.

click to enlarge Money Plays 8 at the Derby in Los Angeles. - COURTESY OF JAMES LEO
Money Plays 8 at the Derby in Los Angeles.
Courtesy of James Leo
Seventh Annual Kentucky Derby Party, featuring Money Plays 8
May 6, 4:20 p.m.
The Bar Car

Still looking for action? Saddle up on a stool at the Bar Car, on Colorado Boulevard, where Money Plays 8, one of Denver’s legendary neo-swing bands that broke up years ago, has reunited to bring blaring horns and boozy music to the Derby crowd. (It's hardly the act's first pony show.) Now you’re drinking and listening to swing music and knowing that as you poison your liver, proceeds from the event will benefit the Rocky Mountain chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society – so it all balances out in the end, right?
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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris