Louisville during Derby week offers a plethora of options when it comes to filling our social schedules, and sometimes it can feel a bit overwhelming. From brunches to galas to late night parties, it seems as though there’s something happening every hour of the day. That’s why it felt a bit ambitious to curate a new, flagship event in a month’s time that would take place just two days before the greatest two minutes in sports, amidst all the chaos. All my doubts went out the window, though, when my friend Aaron and I descended upon the Bulleit Frontier Fair at the Stitzel-Weller Distillery last Wednesday and, really, I should have known. Event coordinating is no easy feat for your average Joe, but for some of the heaviest hitters in Louisville — such as Dennie Humphrey (Jimmy Can’t Dance), Bobby Birk (Proof Media), Larry Rice and Susie Hoyt (Silver Dollar and The Pearl) and more — the Bulleit Frontier Fair came together seamlessly. And these folks have high hopes that it’ll become a Derby week staple for years to come.
“Basically the whole idea was put together in about one month’s time through Bobby Burk and Proof Media,” said Dennie Humphrey, co-owner of Jimmy Can’t Dance and formerly The Monkey Wrench. Humphrey also shows off his event planning skills each year with the Louisville staple celebration, GonzoFest, an ode to our hometown literary hero Hunter S. Thompson. “Josh Durr, Larry Rice, Marie Zahn and Susie Hoyt work very close with Proof Media, and I have a catering license which brings me into the equation … I was really just honored to work with them.”
So, what did this seemingly epic meeting of the minds look like?
The first power play was clearly the venue, the beautiful and historic Stitzel-Weller Distillery that’s just five miles from downtown in Shively. The drive down the seemingly unassuming industrial boulevard that leads up to the distillery is almost unattractive — I knew we were on the right track because of the looming black buildings (filled with aging bourbon, perhaps?) wearing the Diageo logo (the producer of Bulleit Bourbon). But, this unassuming drive turns classic and beautiful as a quick left turn leads you to the entrance of the distillery, where an Old Fitzgerald tower looms over a busy lot, draped with ambient string lights and encircled by vendors and pop-up bars. We dropped our keys with the valet attendant (tickets included free valet and a $25 Lyft voucher, score!) and meandered past the beautiful Bulleit “tattoo wall” to the first satellite bar we could find.
The bar had several specialty cocktails for the evening, surely crafted by Hoyt and Zahn and the like, and they were absolutely delightful. Of course, the classics were available and neat or rocks pours of Bulleit products, but Aaron and I enjoyed sampling The Darkside (Bulleit, Bulleit Rye, Bonal, lime, simple syrup, seltzer, mint) and the BLT (Bulleit Bourbon, lemonade, tonic). The clear favorite, though, was the Bulleit Pina Colada (Bulleit coconut cream, pineapple, orange, lime), a delectable frozen concoction that I’d prefer as my daily smoothie. That cup of joy could be dangerous, though, as Aaron and I both drank ours in about four seconds flat.
On the perimeter of the event space were local vendors, all related to bourbon or Kentucky Derby season in some way, which gave the evening the “fair” vibe. This allowed patrons to not only eat and drink but to peruse pop-up tents for treasures, snacks or even Derby hats. Vendors included Commonwealth Cure, Drunkwood, Griffin Hatters, Revelry Boutique and more. Many of the owners of these shops were also enjoying the event, socializing or cutting a rug to the musical stylings of Tony and the Tanlines. It seemed to give the evening a truly organic Kentucky feel that can sometimes get lost amidst the ball gowns or ice sculptures of other Derby week events. That’s what impressed me most about the Bulleit Frontier Fair — although it surely took careful curation and lots of work to put such an event together, all the aspects worked effortlessly and it was incredibly budget-friendly. It may have felt most authentic while dancing to “Raspberry Beret” with my friend in the middle of a lot within a venue soaked in bourbon history, Bulleit Pina Colada in hand. That’s a damn near perfect Derby Week moment if I do say so myself.