Derby fever is here. For Norton Commons residents, Louisville locals and visitors alike, Norton Commons is a place to check all the boxes for the ultimate Derby experience. Within walking or short driving distance is your entrée to horses, bourbon, specialty cuisine, boutiques for dresses, hats and accessories and Derby festival events perfect for families or just friends.
Big hats and bright dresses
After four years designing custom Derby hats for their clients from a basement, The Hat Girls’ owners Rachel Bell and Kate Smith moved to Norton Commons in 2017. Originally a pop-up concept, the pair saw their storefront business double last year and decided to stay on as a year-round establishment.
During this year’s Derby season, The Hat Girls, who are the official hat designers for the Kentucky Derby Festival, said they will create and design about 500 hats.
Bell and her partner Smith said they spend a lot of time with each customer finding the perfect hat for her individual personality and comfort level. “If a woman has a loud personality, she might be more comfortable in one of our louder creations, but on the other hand, she may just want to blend in. It’s like a wedding dress. A lot of times as soon as you put it on, you know that’s the one,” she said.
What is trending for Derby season 2018? “Fascinators continue to get bigger every single year,” said Bell. “They are more comfortable, and don’t give you ‘hat head or hat hair.’” The stylist said fascinators can also fit any age demographic.
This year’s hot hat colors include traditional Oaks pink but also a couple new additions like Breeder’s Cup purple, and surprisingly, kelly green, said Bell.
Breanne Hafling, owner of the boutique Something Blue, said she sees maxi dresses trending this year, and the good news is they are loose and flowing, perfect for those long days at Derby Festival events or at the track. “Fashion first, of course, but maybe comfort a close second.”
Hafling, whose boutique just celebrated eight years in business, said she focuses on “a boutique feel” for an affordable price point. I don’t think there is a dress here over $60, and our most expensive fascinator is $70,” she said.
Eat, drink bourbon and be merry
Kenny Andreozzi, proprietor of Commonwealth Tap Wine and Whiskey Bar, said Norton Commons does a great job extending southern hospitality to visitors and regulars alike. The bar, which will celebrate five years in 2018, will open its doors early on Oaks and Derby to serve up Bloody Marys to racetrack-bound patrons, said Andreozzi.
For the bar owner, though, it’s all about the bourbon, namely Old Forester and Woodford Reserve, the two official Kentucky Derby bourbons. “If your feet are on the Bluegrass, you just have to try bourbon, even if you don’t think you like it,” said Andreozzi. “We make a great mint julep with simple syrup that we serve in an old Derby class from the 70s or 80s,” he said.
A handful of other Derby-themed specialty cocktails will also be available during Derby season, including Andreozzi’s favorite, the Kentucky Colonel, a concoction of Rittenhouse rye whiskey and Benedictine. Not to be confused with delicious cucumber cream cheese sandwiches, this Benedictine is a 19th century French liqueur.
Down the street from Commonwealth Tap, Chef Ming Pu, of 502 Bar and Bistro, is prepping the final touches for the restaurant’s prix fixe Oaks and Derby menu, as well as the new Spring menu. Owner Scott Cheatham, who recommends the bone-in pork chop on a bed of succotash from the new menu, said his award-winning chef makes everything from scratch. For Derby guests, Cheatham offers a versatile casual upscale cuisine and niche. “For families, kids can be their messy selves while on the other side of the house, we have a more romantic scene, with a nice wine list, for date night.”
As one of the official stops of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Chateau Bourbon at Norton Commons definitely has the 4-1-1 on the designated “spirit” of Derby. For bed and breakfast owner Missy Hillock, bourbon is her specialty year-round as her guests are treated to a bourbon happy hour specialty cocktail as part of their stay. Special flourishes for Derby however include red roses in every room, not to mention Hillock’s signature mint julep cupcakes and mint julep ice cream, as well as the iconic drink itself. Her variation features blackberry simple syrup.
And the horses, of course …
For horse lovers, Churchill Downs is a short gallop from Norton Commons. For guests who want a closer look, though, said Hillock, they needn’t travel to Lexington or Versailles for their thoroughbred fix. Ten minutes away in Crestwood, visitors can enjoy a hands-on tour of retired racehorses at horse farm, Old Friends.