A Kentucky Derby in September is disorienting, to say the least. Staging the event during a pandemic represents another level of challenges.

As we write, the race itself is still scheduled to be run, albeit with a prominent series of asterisks explained in a 62-page Health and Safety Operations Plan released by Churchill Downs, which will limit attendance to around 23,000 in a venue where more than 170,000 can be accommodated.

Prior to 2020, the Kentucky Derby’s most recent postponement came in 1945 when World War II was drawing to a close. America in wartime 75 years ago was a far different scenario than our pandemic-stricken nation is experiencing today, although there are certain parallels and similarities, too.

How did rationing during WWII affect the bills of fare at restaurants, diners and eateries in Louisville? Specific to the Derby, what was being served before and after the race on June 9, 1945, and where were the city’s dining hot spots? 

A sentimental journey to the Kentucky Derby, 1945

Returning to 2020, the owners, managers and culinary teams at Louisville eateries are knee-deep in guesswork as they try to determine the extent to which a displaced Derby during a public health crisis will resemble (or not) the usual bacchanalia that has occurred in late spring for as long as anyone can remember.

We have just the link to survey this scene, but first, as an aside, join us in giving a well-deserved round of applause to restaurant writers Haley Cawthon (Louisville Business First) and Dahlia Ghabour (Louisville Courier Journal). Both journalists have been doing consistently excellent work during a crazed, trying time. As with the city’s restaurateurs, Cawthon and Ghabour are improvising without a script as this strange new reality unfolds. 

Today’s link takes us to Ghabour and the CJ for her pre-Derby Louisville restaurant roundup: Kentucky Derby 2020 will be ‘a different world’ for Louisville’s struggling dining scene.

You’ll want to read the whole piece. Here’s a snippet to whet the appetite.  

Dallas McGarity, owner of The Fat Lamb, 2011 Grinstead Drive, and Portage House across the Ohio River at 117 E. Riverside Drive in Jeffersonville, said he’ll have to put together a high-dollar menu for Kentucky Derby weekend to attempt to make up some money from the loss of seats due to social distancing measures. While Portage House is a decent size, social distancing at The Fat Lamb means just about 30 people can dine inside the modern restaurant in Louisville’s Highlands neighborhood.
Normally, The Fat Lamb has 80 seats, and between 135 and 165 diners — two full seatings — on Kentucky Derby weekend.
And even though he’s willing to put in the extra work to prepare for the special event, “I wish we wouldn’t have it,” McGarity said about the Kentucky Derby. “Having that many people come into Louisville for an event is insane. We already have reservations on the books, but I don’t even know what I’m doing menuwise. They will think they can treat it like a normal Derby, and it’s not at all going to be.”