Big hats, fancy dresses and icy mint juleps: The Kentucky Derby is always a party, even if you've never heard of any of the thoroughbreds. For those who can't be in Louisville on Saturday for the 139th running of the Derby, local bars and restaurants are getting into the spirit with bourbon tastings, hat contests and other fun.
Just so everyone remembers: Post time is 6:24 p.m., so you'll want to be in front of a screen, with a julep in hand, before that.
Bonnets and Bow-Ties at the Round Robin Bar
The Willard Hotel's annual gathering is D.C.'s longest-running Kentucky Derby party. It's only fitting, since the Willard Hotel is where Henry Clay first introduced the mint julep to Washington. The crowd is older than some other D.C. gatherings, but no less jocular. The $75 ticket includes two juleps, a buffet with sandwiches, sides and Derby pie, raffle entries and gifts. Pick your outfit carefully: Prizes will be awarded for the best bonnet and the most bodacious bow-tie.
Kentucky Derby Celebration at Jack Rose
If the sun is shining, there's no better place to watch the Derby than Jack Rose's rooftop deck. At this annual celebration, bartenders whip up traditional mint juleps ($9) and bourbon sweet tea ($7), and from 4 to 6 p.m., the staff passes out free Kentucky-inspired snacks. (Previous years have included personal-sized derby pie and mini Kentucky hot browns.) The race plays on TVs on both floors, and admission is free, with no reservations required.
Perry Center Kentucky Derby Party
The Perry Center's annual soiree is moving from the Iron Horse Tap Room to Penn Social this year, which means better views of the race, including a 22-foot high definition projection screen, more (free) games and more room to spread out. The best-dressed competition is serious business, so look sharp. A $25 ticket includes discounted drinks, including $5 mint juleps, free appetizers, free shuffleboard and an after-race party with DJs.
A new entry into this year's Kentucky Derby party stakes, Prancin' is the only Kentucky Derby party in D.C. that will have real live horses for adults to ride. Seriously: Pony rides for grown-ups at the Hill Center. The Brightest Young Things party is an open-bar affair with six bartenders whipping up their own takes on the mint julep, including Alexandra Bookless of the Passenger and Rachel Sergi of Buffalo and Bergen. If you can tear yourself away from the horses, entertainment options include barbershop quartets, bluegrass and heavy metal bands, dancing to country music spun by the Outlaws DJs, whiskey tastings, and free barbecue, oysters and other snacks. Tickets are $60 in advance.
Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Kentucky Derby Party
Raise money for charity while enjoying $3 mint juleps, $2 PBR and Bud Light and free appetizers at Bayou. Fundraising raffle items include bourbon gift baskets, restaurant gift certificates and golf and yoga packages. Arrive early: The first 100 people through the door receive a free (random) betting slip from Laurel Park. (Maybe you'll draw Orb.) Tickets are $20 in advance, or $25 at the door.
Kentucky Derby Party with Angel's Envy
Angel's Envy is a pretty smooth bourbon. Created by former Woodford Reserve master distiller Lincoln Henderson, it's aged for four years, and then finished with another six months in port casks. Angel's Envy is the star at Little Miss Whiskey's on Saturday: The $5 ticket includes a pour of whiskey, a crunkcake cupcake made with Angel's Envy, and a chance to try a DC Brau porter aged in Angel's Envy casks. Throw in a rhubarb punch made with Angel's Envy (extra cost), a barbecue on the backyard patio and the race on a 4-foot-by-6-foot projection screen, and you've got a seriously boozy day lined up. Doors open at 5 p.m.
Triple Crown Party Series
The Brixton celebrates the year's three biggest horse races with a series of rooftop parties. Enjoy burgers (cheese or veggie) and hot dogs from the grill, and sip Derby Punch or discounted Miller Lite. Wear your best horse racing attire to win prizes. (After this Saturday's party, the Preakness is May 18, and the Belmont Stakes is June 8.)