Celebrate the Kentucky Derby on Martha’s Vineyard

A classic Mint Julep with a twist.

What do you really know about the Kentucky Derby, aside from the fact that it’s a race celebrated by people in big hats with signature cocktails? I took it upon myself to actually research the Kentucky Derby, and it dawned on me that what the Kentucky Derby is to the South, the Super Bowl is to the whole country. Granted, Southerners tend to dress up a bit more formally for their event, but the food traditions and celebrations around a sports event were the common ties. Sipping on mint juleps while wearing a colorful hat seems to be the go-to during the Derby, making it not only about the horses, but about celebrating Southern culture and a rich American tradition.

The Kentucky Derby is the longest-running sporting event in the U.S. (dating back to 1875), and is attended by more than 150,000 people every year (compare that with the crowd of 103,000-plus attendees at the most-attended Super Bowls). And not only is it a sporting event, but a true fashion show! Guests show off extravagant hats and creative outfits while betting on their favorite horses.

Wondering how you can celebrate “the most exciting two minutes in sports” on-Island? Your best bet is heading to the Harbor View Hotel, which will be hosting its Kentucky Derby Party ($35), complete with prizes for best-dressed and best Derby hat. On race day, Saturday, May 6, from 5 to 9 pm, this 21-plus event is a must-attend before the season really kicks off! Buy tickets online at bit.ly/HVHDerbyParty; if available, they will also be sold at the door on Saturday.

Another option in Edgartown is Alchemy Restaurant. Stop in after 4:30 pm; it will be celebrating the event with craft cocktails and the seasonal menu. You can also watch the Derby at Rockfish, where Vincent Mandarano of Horizon Beverages will be showcasing some great bourbons. Want to keep it casual, and not dress up? Stop by Sharky’s in Edgartown, or Loft and Chowder Co. in Oak Bluffs to watch the race while enjoying some good food.

A quick recap: The two most important things to fully be able to celebrate the Kentucky Derby in style are Southern cocktails and gorgeous, large hats. The ladies of Dreamboat Hats of Edgartown will be at the Harbor View Hotel party before and during the event, to suit you up with your hat, headband, and bowtie needs. Need a hat ASAP? Give them a call at 508-627-0409!

That will take care of your hat needs; now on to the cocktails. Traditionally, a mint julep is the classic cocktail to leisurely sip on while enjoying the Derby. According to the Derby Museum (located on the grounds of Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.), it became the signature drink in 1938, when they sold it at the event in a souvenir glass for 75 cents. During this two-day event nowadays, more than 80,000 juleps are served at the Derby. Some historical documents say there was an Arabic drink called “julap,” made with water and rose petals, which was said to enhance one’s energy and quality of life, and provided inspiration for the julep. Through the years, this transitioned to mint, and the addition of American bourbon came into play. Today, we’re sharing two cocktail recipes you can recreate at your own Derby parties. Greg Fournier, outlet manager at the Harbor View Hotel, shares two of the specialty cocktails the hotel will be serving up at the party this Saturday.


Lighthouse Julep Cocktail

Courtesy of Harbor View Hotel


2 oz. Four Roses Bourbon

½ oz. spiced demerara syrup

8-10 mint leaves

3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters


Muddle the mint in the syrup at the bottom of a highball or mint julep cup. Add crushed ice and the bourbon, and stir well. Add more crushed ice. Top with the 3 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters on top, and two large and plentiful mint sprigs.


Derby Day Cocktail

A Derby Day cocktail from the Harborview Hotel features bourbon, honey, lemon and Prosecco. —Marnely Murray
A Derby Day cocktail from the Harborview Hotel features bourbon, honey, lemon and Prosecco. —Marnely Murray

Courtesy of Harbor View Hotel


1½ oz. Four Roses Bourbon

½ oz. Mathilde Creme de Peche

½ oz. honey syrup

½ oz. fresh lemon juice

1 ½ oz. Prosecco


Shake the first four ingredients very well with ice, and strain over ice into a rocks glass. Top off with the Prosecco, and stir briefly. Garnish with a lemon slice and cherry.