Monday, May 2, 2011

The best Derby party outside of Kentucky

By Meredith Deliso

And they’re off!

The mint juleps will be flowing, the hats will be crazy and the seersucker suits will be in full force when the Bell House throws its annual Kentucky Derby Party on Saturday.

Sure, there’s a big race on, but for Michael Boyd, it’s all about the party.
“It’s not really about racing, it’s about springtime,” said Boyd, a Kentuckian who organizes the party at the Gowanus venue each year. “Where I come from, it’s the biggest holiday of the year. It’s our version of Mardi Gras.”

Boyd started hosting Derby parties in his Cobble Hill apartment 13 years ago, but they became so popular he moved them to the now-closed Magnetic Fields on Atlantic Avenue. That party soon outgrew that venue, moving to Union Hall, and then the Bell House, where Derby enthusiasts have been converging for the past three years. (You can also find the race on at Union Hall on May 7 for the Park Slope venue’s own Derby party.)

“There’s something about it that people respond to,” said Boyd, who, thanks to his Derby parties, is a bona fide colonel. “It’s still a little bit of a mystery to me as to why. Especially in Brooklyn, it’s a weird Southern-meets-hipster thing.”

Indeed, before the jockeys kick things off at 6 pm, you can enjoy the DJ stylings of Party Like It’s 1999’s Steven R. Reynolds, square dancing led by David Harvey and NYC Barn Dance, including lessons for all the newbies, food from Urban Rustic and ice cream from Van Leeuwen Artisan.

For the competitive set, there’s a contest for best dressed man, best formal hat, and best informal hat (think beer hats).

“The things people would do for their informal hats are just amazing,” said Boyd, who will fit in with the festivities thanks to his tan seersucker suit. “You never know what you’re going to see every year, but it always will be eye-popping.”

Before the race, Ryan Resky (pictured) will do the honors of the Call to the Post, that all-too-familiar bugle tune, and Jaime and Lisa from the band The Secret History will sing “My Old Kentucky Home.” And then it’s the quickest two minutes in history once the horses are released (our money’s on Uncle Mo).

“The real magic is the moments when they’re loading the horses in the gate,” said Boyd. “There’s this crescendo all day leading up to it, and it gets unbelievably loud. The hair on my arms is standing just talking about it. “

Derby Day at the Bell House [149 Seventh St. between Second and Third avenues in Gowanus, (718) 643-6510]. Free. For info, visit; also at Union Hall [702 Union St. near Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, (718) 638-4400]. Free. For info, visit Both parties are May 7 at 1 pm.

Photo by Allan E. Shoening


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