Fun Ideas for a Last-Minute Kentucky Derby Party

Because if you can secure a pretty sun hat and mint julep fixings, you’re basically there.

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The Kentucky Derby is this Saturday, May 6, which means there’s still time to host your friends for mint juleps, party games, a little friendly horse betting, and a very exciting two minutes of TV. There are five key parts to a successful Derby party, all of which can be accomplished with a quick trip to your big box store of choice and some easy DIYs.

Part 1: Find your Derby hat

The tradition of women donning their Sunday best hats, which veer from the elegant to the wild to the practical (a wide brim keeps sun out of the eyes!), dates back to the Derby’s origins in 1875 and continues to be the most colorful part of the day for many Derby goers.

Offering Derby-style hats will add miles of style to your own Derby soiree. You’ll be able to find a selection at any major department store, or hit up your local Target for some cheaper options. No time to shop? Fasten some fresh flowers to your favorite beach hat.

Part 2: Deck the halls

Keep party decor simple and spring-focused, with a color scheme that nods to the tradition of the Derby (think red, white, and black, or blue and white with red accents). Throw a gingham tablecloth down and top your tablescape with fresh flowers, such as hydrangeas or red roses, and bunches of fresh mint in mason jars.

A mix of silver serving dishes and clear glassware is perfect for an elegant afternoon soiree, but for an on-the-fly version, swap in plastic options—Party City has you covered for faux silver, but your local grocery store will have a selection of clear cups and plates. Party City also has a fun selection of paper banners and prize ribbons.

Part 3: Put your game face on

The actual Kentucky Derby race is only two minutes long, so you’ll want to have some fun things planned to keep guests entertained before and after the event. The Derby Hat Game is an easy option, and you can consider setting up a DIY Derby photo booth area with a polaroid camera or collecting your guests’ bets (here are some printable betting cards available for instant download). If you’re outside, play a classic lawn game like horseshoes or cornhole.

Derby Hat Game Directions: Put all of the names of the horses in a hat and mix them up. Everyone pays a designated amount, say $1, to pull a name out of the hat. When the race is over, the person with the winning horse collects the pot. Or, offer a percentage of the pot for the first place horse, a smaller percentage to the second place horse, and the smallest percentage to the third place horse.

Part 4: Master the mint julep

A Derby party just isn’t a Derby party without the classic mint julep. They’re best served in a chilled Mint Julep Cup or Old Fashioned Glass. (But for variety, have a few bottles of rose on and or consider a pretty spring cocktail).

Classic Kentucky Mint Julep via Camille Styles

The Mint Julep is the traditional drink of the Derby and is best served in a chilled Mint Julep Cup or Old Fashioned Glass.


– 2.5 ounces bourbon – 25–30 mint leaves – 1 ounce simple syrupice cubes – crushed ice

For mint simple syrup: – 1/2 cup sugar – 1/2 cup water – 1 large bunch mint leaves


1. First, make the simple syrup. Combine the water and sugar and bring to a boil. Stir until the sugar has completely dissolved. Place mint leaves in an old mason jar (or other heatproof container) and pour the syrup over the leaves. Place the jar in the fridge and let the leaves steep in the syrup for at least one hour. Strain the leaves from the liquid and set the syrup aside.

2. Place 25–30 mint leaves in a cocktail shaker and pour in the 2.5 ounces of bourbon + one ounce of simple syrup. Add ice and stir. Fill chilled cup halfway with ice. Strain the liquid from the cocktail shaker into the cup. Pack crushed iced on top of the liquid to the top of the glass. Garnish the drink with a sprig of mint leaves and a straw.

Part 5: Don’t forget the snacks

A springtime afternoon party calls for a lighter mix of sweet and savory options that are easy for guests to eat while mingling or playing games outdoors. Easy, one-hand snacks are best: deviled eggs, creative toasts, asparagus baskets, mini crab cakes, cornbread bites, and fancy fruit cups are a good starting place.

Read more:

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