Working in the service industry during the week of our beloved Kentucky Derby is both the most outrageous, high-volume, stressful series of shifts of our lives, and the culmination of everything we work for behind the stick. Derby week in bars and restaurants will bulldoze many of us into submission and leave others bathing in wads of cash for weeks to come. Some of us may not make it to next year. Others live for the long hours, the simple-syrup fingers, the rows of patrons still clamoring for a libation long past the last race. Each year, we can’t wait for the fruition that is the week of Derby, and we breathe a deep sigh of relief when it’s over. Over the years, I’ve taken note of a few different types of patrons who make their way into Louisville bars after betting on the ponies, and just so my service industry folks are fully prepared, I’ve outlined these individuals so that you can spot them upon arrival — for your readiness and enjoyment.
The molting drunk girl
The molting drunk girl is, quite frankly, not a rarity during Derby week. I’ve tended to her, and I’ve actually been her. By the time she makes it into an establishment, she’s abandoned all of her ensemble accouterments, but it’s evident that, when she arrived at Churchill Downs that morning, her friends most definitely gazed upon her outfit and exclaimed, “yaaass, kween!” in unison. She’s pulling bobby pins and pieces of grass (she took a spill walking to the Uber, duh) out of her hair at the bar and yanks her hat off. Feathers and fake flowers are falling about — one of the larger feathers lands on her newly-shattered iPhone screen. Her purse is a sequined owl that opens at the top, and she’s rooting through it, searching for a misplaced credit card. Molting drunk girl almost always orders a cheese pizza and may, or may not, cry on the phone while holding one shoe.
The ‘high roller’ dude-bro
The “high roller,” is a special kind of race attendee douche-du-jour. I put this term in quotations because he may, or may not, have actually won much or anything at all, but he feels the need to tell each and every bar patron about his so-called winnings. “Superfecta box on race 4,” he says, hoping to be congratulated on his money and masculinity by everyone. “Let’s just say, drinks on me tonight, baby!” He frequently uses the hashtag, #MAGA. He is most likely wearing pants with tiny whales all over them and tips horribly. His name is probably Chad or Austin.
‘I’ve lost everything’ guy
“I’ve lost everything” guy, bless his heart, put time and energy into learning about racing, odds, specific horses, wet dirt, turf conditions, etc., yet the day just did not end in his favor. He aims to get as drunk as humanly possible, and drown in the sorrows of betting and losing far too much, and, as a barkeep, you may feel compelled to give him a bourbon on the house just to keep him from crying. He’s clutching his race program, occasionally mumbling about his various bets. “It just doesn’t make sense,” he cries. He’s intriguing until he falls out of his bar stool.
The confused out-of-towner is easy to spot, as she’s glazed over with sensory overload, sleep deprivation (from bar hopping the night before) and a belly full of bourbon. She’ll order a Mint Julep far too late into the evening, and is still astounded that some of our watering holes are open until 6 a.m. She’s Facetiming her friends back home. “You all are coming next year!” she exclaims loudly into the phone. She’s in a state of both wonder and confusion. She makes friends with a boisterous group of locals sitting behind her, and they invite her to their table for some shots and banter. Only then does she understand the true essence of the Kentucky Derby.
To all my industry brethren, whether you have to call for security back up when Chad-bro and some New Yorkers get into a pissing contest over their winnings, or drunk girl is vomiting into her fedora, or you get to see someone have one of those magical Louisville experiences as they find familiarity and friendship at the bottom of a bourbon, keep this in mind: You will make it through. And it will all be worth it when you wake up Sunday morning (or afternoon, rather).