As a native Kentuckian living in Brooklyn, Derby Day, that oh-so-special and festive first Saturday in May each year, has always been a pretty sweet deal for me. It’s not like I need an excuse to drink bourbon or another reason to miss the Bluegrass Region—there’s just something nice about seeing a hefty chunk of the country care about the place I grew up, even if it’s only for two quick minutes, one day a year.
If you found yourself Saturday-strolling up Franklin Street in Greenpoint, like I did this weekend, you probably noticed a few extra faces. There were a number of explanations for the increase in foot traffic—good weather, two new bars (Northern Territory and Dirck the Norseman) on a stretch of Franklin that until just three months ago was nothing but barbed wire fencing and some swampy space for dumping a body, a Kickstarter Block Party on Kent Street, and plenty of what Kentuckian Hunter S. Thompson would call “the whiskey gentry”—people looking for a good spot to celebrate the Kentucky Derby.
I settled on The Moonlight Mile, a new bar owned and operated by a fellow Kentuckian on the corner of Franklin and India Street.
Why Moonlight Mile? Well, I knew Mable’s Smokehouse was hosting its fourth annual Derby Party full of yummy BBQ and Derby pie, I’d heard that Maison Premiere played the race on an old-timey radio with the promise of delicious cocktails and good company, and there was always the option to swing by Pete’s Candy Store for some solid betting festivities. These were all great options, of course, but I had two things on my mind—authentic Mint Juleps and adequate personal space, both of which could not be guaranteed at the other establishments.
The newly polished julep cups laid out on the bar were like a red carpet, welcoming patrons into the open and airy space that would serve as their home away from home for the next few hours. Two perfect juleps made with Medley Bros. Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey and one pint of Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale later and the afternoon had come and gone. Before I knew it, the entire place was huddled into a single giant mass, eyes glued to the big event. I’d say I was upset that I didn’t get a clear view of the winner from where I was standing, which in theory was the point of the whole affair, but it didn’t really matter. To borrow even more language from Hunter S. Thompson and his essay The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved, “unlike most of the others in the press box, we didn’t give a hoot in hell what was happening on the track. We had come there to watch the real beasts perform.”
The race, the gathering, one of the first beautiful Saturdays of the year in Brooklyn all ended sooner than I’d wanted. But thank god for the Derby–without it Kentuckians like me would have to figure out a way to romanticize KFC.