The first Saturday of May is upon us and that can only mean one thing: the annual running of the roses. The Kentucky Derby is a quintessential Southern celebration, but you don’t have to cheer from the stands at Churchill Downs to revel in true Derby form. From libations to lawn games, grab your best hat and hit up any of these Derby parties. They’re the next best thing to booking a flight to Louisville.
31st Annual Derby Day, Atlanta
Atlanta’s Derby Day at the Georgia International Horse Park attracts more than 1,000 people for its live TV broadcast of the races and the silent auction, in which you could win tickets the High Museum of Art, day-trips to Florida beach towns, and certificates to dine at local restaurants such as Doc Chey’s Noodle House. Odds are you’ll feel good about this expense: all proceeds support the Shepherd’s Center Recreation Therapy Program. $60 in advance, $70 at the gates.
7th Annual N.C. Children’s Promise Gala, Chapel Hill
One of the most picturesque country clubs in the South, Governors Club of Chapel Hill hosts lawn games, auctions featuring UNC memorabilia for the true tar-heel fan, and live music. Food and libations are provided, and the dress code calls for comfortable shoes for the outdoor games. $175 per person; $350 for a pair. Tickets get you access to the member’s-only golf course on Monday, May 6
Belle Meade Plantation 4th Annual Kentucky Derby Party, Nashville
Music City trades its cowboy boots for derby hats at Belle Meade Plantation, one of the South’s most iconic Thoroughbred stables. With bourbon and whiskey tastings and sponsors like Bulleit Bourbon and Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q, you won’t miss the racetrack as you test your luck at the game tables inside the historic carriage house and stables. Pull out all the stops for this one: there are Best Dressed awards for the sharpest spectators. $100 per person
Hendricks BBQ Derby Day Celebration, Saint Charles
For lovers of barbecue and bourbon, this Derby day celebration in Missouri offers a buffet of pulled pork, sausage and black eyed pea hash, and appetizers like mini hot browns and pork-and-gouda turnovers with bourbon jelly. Highlights include Best Derby Hat and Suit contests, the Mint Julep Contest with guest bartenders from the United States Bartenders’ Guild, whiskey mixology classes, and a distillery tour. $85 in advance; $90 at the door
Prancin’- A Derby Day Party, Washington, D.C.
BrightestYoungThings.com throws a mean party with a full open bar, live Derby viewing on projection screens, and horses on location for pony rides and photo ops. Bartenders from local favorites like The Passenger, and Range will mix up their own versions of the mint julep, and food will be provided by Top Chef alum Spike Mendelsohn, Gordy’s Pickle Jar, and Rappahannock Oyster Co. You’ll also enjoy live music including The Sweater Set, Rattlesnake Hill Bluegrass Band, and The Outlaws DJ’s. And the best part? Recommended dress code includes outlandish hats and jockey outfits. $60 in advance; $70 at the door
Anniston Museum League Kentucky Derby Day, Anniston
Experience the thrill of Churchill Downs at the Longleaf Botanical Gardens as you watch the race, sing My Old Kentucky Home, and wager on the horses based on the actual odds of the track. Snack on generously portioned appetizers and sip beer, wine, and mint juleps all before indulging in a slice of Derby pie to cap off the evening. You’ll even be able to take a piece of the Derby home with you, with more than 300 potted rose bushes for sale at the event, all in the spirit of the race and raising money for the Botanical Gardens. $75 for member; $100 for general public
Maysville NYC Derby Day BBQ Bash, New York City
Ok, we know this isn’t the South. But there sure are a lot of our brethren living in NYC. So, for all you Southern transplants in New York, the Maysville party in Manhattan gives you all the Southern trimmings of Derby—hats, juleps, seersucker—in the Big Apple. Chef Kyle Knall, a Birmingham, Alabama, native, and pitmaster John Markus have created a menu and atmosphere to reflect the best Derby bites. You’ll find plenty of smoked pulled pork, ribs, baked beans, and deviled eggs to eat as you watch the race on multiple screens inside the restaurant. Free admission; food priced à la carte.