Seven Kentucky Derby Secrets Only The Locals Know!


Free Hotel Shuttles

Parking at Churchill Downs can be both expensive and hard to come by. The race track is surrounded by residential properties, and it’s very common for residents to offer their driveways and yards to park your vehicle. Typical price ranges are from $40 to $120 a vehicle, so you can save some coin by parking in Downtown Louisville and taking a complimentary shuttle to the track. Porsche is a brand that has partnered with Omni Hotel in the past to offer services like this to Derby guests. And no… they don’t check key cards to ride!

Hidden Bourbon Bars

It wouldn’t be the Kentucky Derby without incredible Bourbon that’s made from distilleries surrounding the track. Most tourists and travelers will experience their first Mint Julep at Churchill Downs… but that doesn’t mean it should be your last. Hell Or Highwater is a hidden speakeasy located downtown near the KFC Yum Center. Look for a white sign that says “Hello Curio” on the backside of Whiskey Row and Main St. This will lead you into a small art gallery, but a sales associate can guide you behind a false-wall and into a velvet cushion paradise that’s cozy and refined. The cocktails here are decadent, and you’ll want to explore their hors d’oeuvres that feature local cheeses, breads, and jams.


Secret Parties

You’ve likely heard about the long-running Oaks night party, Barnstable Brown; a residential bash that attracts celebrities like Aaron Rodgers, Travis Tritt, Kid Rock, and plenty more. Hundreds of Derby goers will line the neighborhood streets to catch a glimpse of guests walking the red carpet. Meanwhile in downtown Louisville, there are several other parties that are equally star-studded. The Trifecta is a gala that has featured acclaimed music performers like Stevie Wonder, Miguel, and Sinbad while raising money for Autism Research and under-privileged youth. One of the newest additions to the party scene is Esquire Magazine who has presented events featuring more divergent entertainment like Kimbra, Maggie Rose, and Sucre. Rabbit Hole will also throw its closing party on Saturday May 4th featuring a farm-to-table dinner series. Attending guests can roam an operating Bourbon distillery with cocktails, elaborate installations, and live music scattered throughout the property.

Reservations, Reservations, Reservations

If you are a regular attending the Kentucky Derby, you will know how difficult it can be to have a nice sit-down dinner without reservations. Louisville is known for it’s culinary scene - with National Geographic recently naming it one of the Top 10 cities for food in the world! So it’s no wonder that guests will gobble up the reservations to ensure they can do the same with the amazing food. Always be sure your group has reservations as early in advance as possible to avoid eating from a bucket at our acclaimed fast-food chain, Kentucky Fried Chicken. Our favorite new restaurant picks for 2019 include Ostra, Proof on Main, and Hammerheads.


Airbnb Can Save You Money

A cursory search of hotel accommodations during Derby weekend will lead you to an astonishing realization… Derby Ain’t Cheap! Luxury properties like 21c Museum Hotel and Omni will set you back roughly $2,500+ per night, with a three night minimum. Although these properties offer incredible amenities, restaurants, and pop-up activations to experience - an Airbnb can save you money and offer some real charm. Locals offering up their homes typically take extra care and attention during Derby, and there are some incredible stays ready to be booked. Expect to pay 30% to 50% less than the 3-star and up hotels in the city. If you’re looking for the best neighborhoods to relax in between races, we recommend Nulu, Highlands, Germantown, and Old Louisville north of Magnolia St. which is the third largest Victorian district in the United States.

Mint Julep vs. Old Fashioned

You heard it here first… Mint Juleps are for tourists, while Old Fashioned’s are for connoisseurs. Yes, it’s tradition to sip on minty Bourbon drinks while wearing opulent hats and seersucker suits at the track - but one or two of these are enough. Bourbon is a complex and dynamic spirit that is covered up with all that sugar, so we recommend switching gears after leaving the track. An Old Fashioned made with bitters, demerara, orange peel, and an excellent Bourbon is much more satisfying and refined. We recommend checking out some of the local bars and restaurants that make exceptional versions of this cocktail: Garage Bar, Jimmy Can’t Dance, and RYE on Market.

The Best Distillery Tours

Did you know all Bourbon is Whiskey, but not all Whiskey is Bourbon? Locals know that the best Bourbon distilleries aren’t an hour away from downtown Louisville, and you can learn about Kentucky’s native spirit before heading to the big race. Although Bardstown, KY features some great properties and tours like Jim Beam and Willet - there are several experiences Downtown that can save you significant travel time. Stitzel-Weller is a beautiful property that is mere minutes from Churchill Downs, featuring Bulleit Bourbon. In addition, you can find private guided and hands on tours with Whiskey makers at Rabbit Hole, Angel’s Envy, and Evan Williams… all within walking distance from the major hotels!

Regardless if the Derby is new to you or familiar, these are tips from locals that are bound to make your trip more memorable! The Kentucky Derby is the sixth largest sporting event in the US, and there’s plenty to experience when you visit Louisville, Kentucky.

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