Monday, April 26, 2010

Horsing around: Derby Day is nigh

Call it the anti-Superbowl.

Every year on the first Saturday of May, Kentucky Derby enthusiasts dress to the nines, don towering hats and sip mint juleps in hours of buildup for a sporting event that lasts just two minutes.

While the festivities get underway at the iconic Churchill Downs thousands of miles away, each year, Brooklynites get into the spirit the dapper way, sporting Seersucker Suits and bringing some Southern charm to their local bars.

Off the ‘Hook’

Jamie Hook has been a fan of the Derby since he was a little boy.

“I’ve always been obsessed with the Kentucky Derby,” said Hook, who is organizing a Derby party at Pete’s Candy Store in Williamsburg for the May 1 festivities. “I love looking forward to something all year that’s over in 120 seconds. Most things in this world promise too little and take too long, but the Derby is one of the very few things that promises a lot and takes very little time. I just love that about it.”

Derby novices are welcome to partake in the festivities, as the party will feature a hat-making corner for the ladies, stats on all the horses, courtesy of Hook, and an Idiots Stakes — where the losers win.

Get your fill of Southern fare as well with the Bluegrass Blue-Plate Special — barbecued baby-back ribs, potato salad, and Derby pie with whipped cream.

Pete’s Candy Store [709 Lorimer St. near Richardson Street in Williamsburg, (718) 302-3077] at 7 pm. Free. For info, visit

Derby ‘Triple Crown’

Pete’s isn’t the only game in town. The Kentuckians behind the bars Floyd, Union Hall and the Bell House will be bringing the races to all three, for the “Triple Crown” of the Kentucky Derby in Brooklyn.

The Bell House in Gowanus does it up big, with square dancing, live renditions of “My Old Kentucky Home” and “Call to the Post,” and some BBQ and Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream.
Park’s Slope Union Hall is all about games on the day of the big races, with a Corn-hole bean bag toss — the backwoods Bocce — in addition to its regular Bocce courts.

Over at Floyd in Brooklyn Heights, eat like a king while watching the race, with free country ham biscuits and Derby Pie.

All three spots will be giving out prizes for best hat, as well as serving $5 mint juleps all day long.
“People always enjoy an excuse to drink mint juleps,” said the Bell House’s Andrew Mumm.

The Bell House [149 Seventh St. between Second and Third avenues in Gowanus, (718) 643-6510] starting at 1 pm. Tickets $5. For info, visit; Union Hall [702 Union St. near Fifth Avenue, (718) 638-4400] at noon. Free. For info, visit; Floyd [131 Atlantic Ave. between Henry and Clinton streets in Brooklyn Heights, (718) 858-5810] starting around 1 pm. Free. For info, visit

Place your bets

For those who seriously follow the races and don’t care for mint julep specials or hat-making corners, you’re best bet for betting is Il Fornetto.

The Derby is always a busy day for the Sheepshead Bay sports bar, which has the races on a multi-screen display in the front and off-track-betting stations for the risk-takers in the back.
“They eat, drink and gamble all day,” said manager Sammy Soho.

For other OTB action, head to Hunter’s Steak & Ale House. The Bay Ridge restaurant will have a big screen showing the race in addition to off-track betting.

“Everyone’s in a good mood,” said co-owner John Ryan.

As long as his horse wins, that is.

Il Fornetto [2902 Emmons Ave. at 29th Street in Sheepshead Bay, (718) 332-8494]. For info, visit; Hunter’s Steak and Ale House [9404 Fourth Ave. at 94th Street in Bay Ridge, (718) 238-8899] For info, visit

— with Tony Cella


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