Dilettantes do Derby
Derby’s come and gone, but the residual liver dysfunction remains. The weeks following begin the reflective period when Louisvillians question the direction of their lives: “Did I spend that much money?” “Whose underwear is this?”
Hunter S. Thompson found his greatest truth writing about Derby. The debauchery of Derby leaves none unscathed. I would like to tell you that I made it through Derby uncorrupted, but I must be honest.
I did Derby. I spent too much money, drank a lot of very alcoholic things, flirted (I kept it friendly, I’m married), and danced in pointy shoes until I could barely walk. That’s a bit hyperbolic, but I did dance until it really hurt to walk. It was days before I could feel my toes. The best part of celebrating was that I got to discover some wonderful new spots and rediscover some old favorites.
I started Derby rather quietly at a friend’s Hat and Tie Exchange, but ended up with my big head photographed and in The Voice-Tribune — so much for anonymous party-hopping. I didn’t really get into the swing of Derby this year until I hit Market Street for dinner on Thursday.
The first part of the night was a great (if expensive) prix fixe at Wiltshire on Market, followed by an impromptu dance party at Decca. Decca had a DJ spinning in its basement, and when our group of 10 walked in, the few patrons in the lounge were at the bar, no doubt nursing hangovers.
My friends and I are not a crowd to waste good dance music, so we politely moved some furniture and danced, holding a drink in one hand while finger-popping with the other. The DJ won me over with Shelia E.’s “A Love Bizarre” — God bless him for that, a girl needs some Shelia E. After dancing, we crawled to our cars — certain heels are not for dancing — and went our separate ways. I was a bit unnerved because it was only Thursday, and the pain in my feet was just a prelude to the next night of Derby partying.
The Friday before Derby is the big night for getting fancy and trying to finagle your way into a black-tie shindig. My friend Bryce and I made a pact: If I promised to be cute, I could be his plus one to the Derby Hat Party and to the Honky Tonk Black Tie affair. I’m not a fancy girl most days, but if someone gives me a ticket for a night of being cute, I cannot say no.
The moment I walked into Bryce’s, a drink was immediately pushed into my hands. It wasn’t strong enough — needed more vodka. After our pre-party sip, we fell into Bryce’s fancy ride and left my “mom car” at home for the night. The Hat Party was alive, splendid and crazy. We met some new friends and enjoyed some old ones.
The Honky Tonk party was in an old church on Main. It was gorgeous, filled to the corners with people in gowns and tuxedos, dancing to the band. Typically, Bryce and I waited for the DJ so that we could dance to songs we knew; it’s hard for us to fake it to honky-tonk music. The DJ didn’t play much in the way of solid dance music. After waiting for more and enjoying the food, courtesy of the Li’l Cheezers and Grind trucks, Bryce and I gave up on dancing. We opted instead to have more bourbon, and got the chance to speak with Congressman John Yarmuth, with whom we gushed about what Louisville is now: a city alive and growing.
It’s a city where, for a night, a poor black child can play dress-up and rub elbows with real fancy folk. It’s a city big enough to host something as amazing as the Derby and small enough where a congressman can shake your hand — not as a politician, but as a person — and have a real conversation with you. In the end, while Derby is a time to reconcile your humanity with how easily you dismiss your morals, it is a chance for Louisville to show the world what it’s like to be a part of something mythical. Sore feet not included.
Erica Rucker is a freelance weirdo, writer and professional wedding/portrait photographer at eElaine Photography.