How many Brooklynites really have a horse in the race, as it were, when it comes to the Kentucky Derby? Not many, we gather, and yet, not only do most of us dutifully drink mint juleps come May 2nd, the ballyhooed thoroughbred sprint has actually spawned a full-fledged, year-round company called Brooklyn Derby, which—in addition to hosting a website dedicated to bourbon cocktails, seersucker suits and Benedictine dip—throws the borough’s most over-the-top party on Derby Day—a 600-strong gathering at Greenwood Park with jazz music, tricycle races, a parade of hats and more.
We spoke to co-founder Creighton Mershon (a fine old Southern name if we’ve ever heard one) about the original impetus for Brooklyn Derby, as well as what to expect from this year’s celebration, and what local bars to hit up for the ultimate julep.
How did the concept of “Brooklyn Derby” come about?
The concept emerged by virtue of my being born and raised in Louisville, KY, home of the Kentucky Derby. Derby was a major tradition in my life, so after moving to New York, I continued that tradition by inviting friends to watch the race, drink mint juleps, and eat southern fare. My roommates at the time, Jessi Arrington and Josh Stewart, were also Southerners, so it was a natural fit to jointly host an event that celebrated our southern culture. As years passed the party grew larger, moving from our apartment to larger venues that could help us serve and accommodate the number of people that wanted to celebrate with us.
Tell us about your day job, WORKSHOP, and how it’s become integrated with your Brooklyn Derby project.
WORKSHOP started as a traditional graphic design and branding studio 10 years ago. Over the past several years we have transitioned into an Experience Design studio, helping companies like Etsy, TED, Cultivated Wit, and Brooklyn Beta bring their online brand into the real world. We can trace this professional move back to Brooklyn Derby as it was clients like Brooklyn Beta that told us “we want our conference to feel less like a conference and more like this (Brooklyn Derby) party.”
Save for the opportunity to drink mint juleps, why should non-horse racing Brooklyn residents care about the Kentucky Derby?
Of course, Derby Day in Louisville hosts a full day of races, but Brooklyn Derby is more about celebrating the culture and spirit of the Derby. That means an excuse to gather with friends, dress up, don a great hat, listen and dance to live music (usually upbeat bluegrass and jazz age sounds), eat southern fare (including Benedictine, a Louisville-original cucumber spread), and drink delicious libations. Yes, mint juleps and bourbon are the traditional drink but plenty of wine and beer are also a big part of the celebration. It’s the perfect way to welcome springtime!
What can we look forward to at this year’s event?
Brooklyn Derby is a proven formula that gets people returning in big numbers each year. We’re not mixing things up too much this year; just encouraging guests to bring their A-game: Wear a great outfit, be willing to dance all day, cheer your head off during the race, and be a proud ambassador of the Derby spirit.
How do you keep the Brooklyn Derby spirit alive year round?
Brooklyn Derby likes to encourage “living every day like the first Saturday in May.” The Kentucky Derby combines all our favorite things: exuberant fashion, sporting tradition, great food, abundant booze, lively music, and carousing. We try to bring this spirit of joy and hospitality to everything we do, both personally and professionally.
Where are some of your favorite places to drink mint juleps (and/or, eat Southern food) in Brooklyn?
A few of our favorite spots: Vinegar Hill House, Char No. 4, Maysville, Dinosaur BBQ, Henry Public, and The Wayland.
Do you have a recipe you could share for the ultimate mint julep?
We think the mint juleps at Brooklyn Derby are pretty darn good. The recipe we use, along with a few other bourbon cocktails, is on our website.
For tickets to Brooklyn Derby at Greenwood Park, visit here.