If you can believe it, a legendary Derby Day party doesn’t even begin until 11 p.m.
In its 26th year, Billy’s Burger Bash begins that night at Varanese after the real dining crowds are gone and the people who’ve worked all week—restaurant servers, news crews and many others—summon a bit more strength to party and let off some steam.
The annual event began when Billy Rapaport, an Emmy-winning freelance field producer for NBC’s Kentucky Derby coverage, wanted some place to relax with his media pals after a long week at the track. (If you’ve watched an NBC telecast of the race since 1986, you’ve seen the fruits of his remarkable efforts. Seen the 360-degree movie, “The Greatest Race,” at the Kentucky Derby Museum? He produced that as well.)
The inaugural bash began in 1986 at Zena’s Bar and Café, where the ever-energetic Rapaport went in to the kitchen to grill burgers and let the cooks have a rest.
Since Zena’s closure a few years ago, the party moved to Varanese in Clifton, not far from where Rapaport owns a house in Crescent Hill. (The New York native fell in love with the city years ago and divides his time between here and other homes in the U.S.)
“My wife and I were driving down River Road a couple of weeks ago, and I looked at her and said, ‘Who would ever have thought 20 years ago we’d be doing this?’” Rapaport said. “This is such an amazing place to be, especially now, in the spring.”
But back to the party: What happens is the restaurant’s dining room tables up front are cleared out to make way for Lamont Gillispie & 100 Proof, which will perform that night. Dancing usually follows once the drinks start to flow.
The party begins at 11 p.m. and will run until the wee hours of Sunday, May 6. There’s no cover charge, and a simple, late night menu of burgers and fries will be served—along with and drink specials, of course.
The party is open to anyone who’s got the energy left to make it!