The exploding popularity of the Kentucky Derby in the Mile High City is a bit baffling. Is it the hats? No; people in Colorado wear hats (albeit the kind usually found at a Rockies game). Is it the bourbon? Who cares about bourbon — we have our own craft spirits, and weed! Is it the chance to dress up? You can do that any day (honest). Nevertheless, Derby parties have become de rigueur in the last couple of years, with ever more bars and restaurants setting aside the day for racing and revelry. Here are ten places where you can get your julep on on Saturday, May 4:
Avanti Food & Beverage3200 Pecos Street
Forget the Run for the Roses; get ready to race for a parking spot at Avanti Food & Beverage on Derby Day. That's because starting at noon, you can get mint juleps (made with rye or bourbon for $10, oak-aged for $12) in a keepsake copper julep cup. While the drink specials, free apps from all seven restaurants, professional photo booth and awards for the best-dressed attendees will go until 5 p.m., you only get a copper chalice (think of it as the Holy Grail for alcoholics) if you beat the crowd, since supplies are limited. There's no cover to this event, so get there and stake out your spot on the fantastic patio before the masses descend; details are up on Avanti's Facebook page.
TheBigWonderful4400 Fox Street
While general admission to this food truck rally/flea market mashup isn't specifically Derby-themed (for that you'll have to spring for beer festival tickets, which at $32 include a viewing party, shaded tent and access to unlimited brews), we're betting the overall vibe — standing around outside, eating, drinking and listening to bluegrass — is probably pretty close to what you'd experience at Churchill Downs. Burns Family Artisan Ales (which brews delicious, high-alcohol beers, so pace yourself!), Colorado Sake Co. and Spice Trade Brewing are just a few of the breweries showing up for the beer fest, and trucks serving arepas, ice cream, pizza, ambitious high-end global cuisine and more will be on hand for your noshing needs. Both the beer fest and market run from noon to 6 p.m.; advance tickets range from $5 to $32. Get them and, since the fest runs all weekend, find out what it's pulling out of its hat for Cinco de Mayo on TheBigWonderful website.
Blue Moon Brewery3750 Chestnut Place
Proving that you don't have the spend the equivalent of a plane ticket to Louisville (Kentucky, not Colorado) to enjoy Derby Day in the Mile High City, Blue Moon RiNo isn't charging a cover to its Churchill-on-Chestnut event. Starting at 3 p.m., the brewery will have a pulled-pork sandwich bar along with the obligatory best-dressed contest, live music and the release of its bourbon-barrel aged mint julep beer (what this brew lacks in subtlety it makes up for in obviousness). If you want to guarantee yourself entry and swish past the unwashed masses waiting to get in, though, visit Eventbrite to stock up on food and drink packages for $30 (four beers and food) or $75 (four beers, food, beer-and-cookie pairing, swag and access to the VIP patio).
Death & Co./Ramble Hotel1280 25th Street
What do the Derby and Death & Co. have in common? They're both hot, hip transplants. So don't fight it: Throw up your hands, give into celebrating someone else's cultural touchstones and give up on doing anything remotely Colorado today (that means you've got to put down your pot, people). The luxe cocktail bar and its surrounding hotel are celebrating their first birthdays with mint juleps, fried chicken, oysters and champagne on special starting at 2 p.m., along with live music on the patio and a raffle entry for the first hundred guests through the doors. Tickets aren't required; just show up in your Derby best.
Denver Mini Derby8303 East 49th Place
You can put on your biggest hat, apply the most perfect winged eyeliner and put on the most delightful dress you own, and you still won't be as adorable as the contestants in the Denver Mini Derby. That's because this weekend, cuteness increases exponentially with the number of legs, and bipeds are at a distinct disadvantage — especially the fluffy Welsh corgis and miniature horses that will be racing for the land-speed record come 1 p.m. (not at the same time, obviously — that would just be ridiculous). In between trips to the open bar, there will be best-dressed contests, food for purchase from Rolling Smoke Bar-B-Que and Infinitus Pie, and charitable betting with proceeds going to Minds Matter Denver and Next Step Horse Rescue. Infield tickets start at $99; the VIP option includes barbecue and a private bar and will run you $179 on Eventbrite.
Julep3258 Larimer Street
Our favorite Southern restaurant in town is, naturally, hosting one of Denver's tastiest Derby parties. The shenanigans at Julep run from noon until 5 p.m., and chef/owner Kyle Foster's kitchen will be turning out race-themed appetizers (no word yet on whether horse meat is on the menu), fluffy biscuits and crunchy fried chicken of both the regular and Nashville hot persuasion. Your ticket also includes three cocktails and a best-dressed-couple contest, which will have the winning pair sashaying away with a $100 gift card to the restaurant. Tickets are available on Eventbrite, though be warned: While they're advertised as $69 plus taxes and tip, the total rings in at $96 for entry.
Officers Club84 Rampart Way
If the Run for the Roses is already on your radar, we're guessing you're planning to consume an eye-watering amount of bourbon before the sun goes down on May 4. You'll need to start the day with a solid meal to cushion your system from the effects of drinking a handle of moonshine — and what meal is better suited to all-day drinking than brunch? Lowry dining room Officers Club is serving up a Makers Mark Derby Day Brunch menu starting at 10 a.m., with Southern specials like pimiento cheese with crackers and pickled okra, fried green tomatoes stuffed with goat cheese, a hot brown sandwich and Derby pie taking their places alongside the regular menu (which already includes decadent semi-Southern dishes like spicy shrimp and grits and chicken and waffles). Find the whole menu on the restaurant's website, where you can also book your table to ensure you have the earliest possible start on the day's alcohol poisoning.
Poka Lola Social Club1850 Wazee Street
Ever thought a mint julep would be better with more sugar (way more sugar)? Or a splash of lemon, or a cherry on top? Find out if your customized cocktail tastes as good as you imagined at Poka Lola's build-your-own julep bar from 2 to 6 p.m., where you can tweak and tailor the classic drink to your heart's content. And even if you aren't the type to don a hat, you aren't excluded from having your attire judged at the bar's no-cover party; there will be prizes for the best bow tie-and-suspender combo in addition to the hautest head gear. Visit Poka Lola's Facebook page for details on this Dairy Block Derby Day.
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Romero's K9 Club & Tap House985 South Public Road, Lafayette
Combine your (totally natural and organic) love of man's best friend and the Star Wars franchise with your (contrived and, honestly, somewhat mystifying) affection for a two-minute-long sporting event taking place on the other side of the country at Romero's May the Horse Be With You party. There won't be a best-dressed contest, but in a refreshing change of pace, you can show up between 3 and 8 p.m. in either a seersucker suit or Jedi robes. Your faithful hound is welcome, too, especially if it's wearing that adorable Yoda costume. Visit the event's Facebook page for details on the party, and make sure you also visit the bar's website to ensure you and your furry friend meet all the requirements to spend an afternoon at the club. May the fourth be with your horth.
Union Station1701 Wynkoop Street
The prettiest place in town to watch the ponies has to be Union Station: Its soaring ceiling and wealth of natural light will make the celebration from 1 to 5 p.m. one for the ages (of selfies). And with no cover, the airy space truly will be Denver's living room during the race. Live music will kick off the festivities, followed by the Derby broadcast, and if you and your best-dressed date manage to impress the judges, you'll get a free night at the swanky Crawford Hotel. Looking to rise above it all? Ascend the stairs to the Cooper Lounge, where you'll be able to look down on the rest of the station from the mezzanine while indulging in free drinks, apps and private TV screens — God forbid you should have to share a television set with a stranger from the street — for $80. The bad news? You've still got to share a bathroom with the hoi polloi. Call the lounge at 720-460-3738 to get your VIP tickets, but if you're the type who thinks a house party is better when the whole city is invited, just show up.
Know of more Derby day events? Send information to firstname.lastname@example.org.