As Louisville locals, we’ve had our fill of crowds, long lines and mediocre juleps at the track. These days we often spend Derby weekend out of town or laying low watching the race from home, but this year we got the itch to get our party hats back on and throw a real Derby celebration for our close friends and family.
As we got into party planning mode, we quickly realized it was the perfect opportunity to pull out our family’s silver that rarely gets used. Most importantly the collection of silver julep cups acquired over the years to serve a proper mint julep--the epitome of Derby day.
But then we realized, we can’t have silver without gorgeous linens, beautiful spring flowers, and awesome southern food to match! So we took all the traditions we love from our past and updated them to match our style. The mix of old and new, formal and casual, classic and contemporary are the combinations that inspire our business, so it was only natural that those became the theme for our party.
As the planning kicked off, and the vision was set, we just so happened to find this excerpt from our aunt Sally's book, But Always Fine Bourbon to reinforce our direction:
Derby Day 1938:
Pappy remembers mother would get up real early in the morning and go out in the garden—in her kimono, barefooted—to cut flowers. One Derby weekend, the neighbors across the street had rented their house to some people from Kansas named Woolf. The Woolfs had a horse running in the Derby. Mother found a four-leaf clover in the grass and later that morning had the butler take it across the street on a silver tray with a lace doily, a couple of mint juleps and a note that said, “Put this under your horse’s saddle and you’ll win the Derby!”
The year was 1938. The jockey was Eddie Arcaro, who had yet to ride a Derby winner. The horse was named Lawrin, and the critics said it didn’t have a chance. But Mr. Woolf did what the lady said, and sure enough, Lawrin romped home to win and paid $19.20 for a $2 bet. The next day, Herbert Woolf walked across the street and gave the big horseshoe of red roses to our great grandmother Mrs. Pappy Van Winkle.
Before we get into all the details, it goes without saying we could not have pulled any of this off without the collaborative effort from our sister, Chenault (Chenault James Interiors) and some really talented friends, Carmen Johnston (Carmen Johnston Gardens) who co-designed the space and flowers, and Kat McCall (Kat McCall Papers) who designed our invitation, menu cards and custom linens. There was inspiration overload for this bunch, which resulted in custom everything and not a single detail overlooked.
Our parents were good sports as they watched us turn their house upside down, tenting the back patio, rearranging furniture and transforming every last detail so we could host the ultimate indoor/outdoor garden party.
Our mixologist friend Kyle Higgins served up THE BEST Derby inspired cocktails! Like all strong Kentuckians, we definitely consumed a lot of bourbon, but surprisingly the favorite cocktail on the menu was not the Mint Julep! It was our fruity "Run For The Roses" bourbon cocktail that Kyle developed especially for the party.
We had bluegrass music by "The Wooks" playing out on the patio, which made all the formal things about the party feel more casual and the food was passed in stages so guests were pleasantly surprised with new dishes at different times throughout the afternoon and evening.
Our friend and local chef Michael Crouch created an amazing Derby themed menu. He took some of our favorite food traditions like grits and country ham and put a modern spin on them. He also incorporated some of our favorite food companies and friends throughout the South including Callie’s Charleston Biscuits, Allan Benton’s Country Ham, grits from Jimmy Haygood, and Kenny's Farmhouse Cheese.
And for dessert we served three flavors of famous Caroline’s Cakes sent by our friend Richard, along with our Bourbon Maple Biscuits by Callie's Charleston Biscuits and our handmade Bourbon Balls from Sugar Mama’s Bakeshop.
But like all good parties, what really made the night special were the friends and family, young and old, ranging from longtime childhood pals, to employees and business partners who travelled from Sun Valley to Georgia to Minnesota to Nashville to Ohio all to be together for what was a Derby celebration to remember. There was a special sense of gratitude and family tradition that filled the air and memories made we won’t forget. If you have thrown a party of any size, you know it’s a lot of work, but the memories created and good times had by all make it all worth the while!
If you’re still reading, a special thank you to our dear friend and talented photographer Thom Shelby who we can’t thank enough for capturing priceless images that our kids will look at one day and hopefully inspire them just like our grandparents have done for us.