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Everyone knows about Churchill Downs and the Run for the Roses (May 7 this year), but the surrounding traditions and events are what really make the Kentucky Derby a celebration; lots of Louisvillians enjoy the revels each year and never see the race live. Billed as a two-week event in April and May, the Derby buildup actually starts in February with the Bootleggers’ Ball, and continues with bed races, marathons, magnificent parties and great concerts, many of which can be attended with a Pegasus Pin, which can be purchased at under $10 at a thousand retailers’ from banks to Walmart.
The Seelbach a la Great GatsbyMen and women, bring a hat and join the celebrities at the Four-Diamond Seelbach Hilton right in the heart of downtown and minutes from Churchill Downs. It’s on the National Register of Historical Places, and F. Scott Fitzgerald used it as the locale for Tom and Daisy Buchanan's wedding in “The Great Gatsby.” Have a meal or a drink if you’re not staying there and enjoy the people watching.www.seelbachhilton.com
Great Steamboat RaceOne of the greatest traditional events is the Great Steamboat Race, enacted on various occasions since the heyday of the sternwheeler. This year’s is held May 4 and it’s very serious business to the crews of the boats from Louisville and Cincinnati, tons of fun for the passengers, many of whom come in late 19th-century costume. With Cincinnati’s Delta Queen out of service, The Belle of Cincinnati competes against the Belle of Louisville. Tickets for the Belle of Louisville cost $130, including food, drinks, and entertainment; for Belle of Cincinnati it’s $75 including food and entertainment, with a cash bar. For tickets or more information, call 502-584-3378.
Mint Julep or Hot Brown at the BrownIt’s practically illegal to pass through the Derby period without a Mint Julep; head for the Brown Hotel to indulge in an exquisite version (bourbon, mint and sugar, but secret proportions and ingredients everywhere) served frosty in silver cups, and for the famous Hot Brown, which dates from the 20s and combines turkey, bacon and a Mornay sauce for an extraordinary sandwich.www.brownhotel.com
Cunningham’sIf you are in the city for more than a day, make a point of eating at one of the great Louisville institutions, Cunningham’s, whose 130-plus-year old building -- a former bordello and saloon -- hosted everyone from construction workers to the Budapest Quartet. The key was wonderful food at astonishingly low prices and a whole section of private rooms with swinging doors. Cunningham's was destroyed by fire in 2001, and recreated miraculously, complete with historical photographs and the famous waiters with unbelievable memories. The one improvement is that it is now right in the heart of the downtown area; try the Hot Brown or the wonderful Bean Soup and mingle with the residents and visitors in the know.
Pegasus ParadeDon’t miss the Pegasus Parade on May 6 from 5 pm, traveling from Campbell to 9th Street on Broadway; spring for a bleacher ticket at $9, chair seating at $11, or see the best performances at review stand seating for $26. The floats and marching bands are popular, but the stars of the show are the equestrian groups.
Derby event ticket sources are listed at http://kdf.org/tickets.html
Brown Hotel // (c) 2010 Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau
Brown Hotel Lobby Bar // (c) 2010 Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau
Steamboat Race // (c) 2010 Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau
Seelbach Hotel // (c) 2010 Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau