Twenty-seven years ago, Billy Rapaport was really hungry, but still wide awake after working all week as NBC’s field producer for its Kentucky Derby coverage. The wiry, energetic Rapaport took his film crew to Zena’s downtown for some beer and blues, only to find its kitchen was closed after midnight.

Starving and eager to stay, Rapaport convinced Zena’s owners he’d do the cooking for his crew—and anyone who wanted food—if they’d let him, and they did. Thus began what became known as Billy’s Burger Bash, a late night post-Derby party for anyone with the energy after that long week.

Though he’s from New York, Rapaport became such a fan of Louisville over the years that he bought a home in Clifton, and spends a good deal of his time there with his wife when both aren’t traveling. Living there eventually led him to become friends with John Varanese, owner of Varanese.

So, when Zena’s closed several years ago, Rapaport asked Varanese if he’d take up the cause and host the Burger Bash at his place. Ever the partier and shrewd businessman, Varanese said, “Why not? I’ll be awake anyway,” and the handoff happened. The ensuing parties have been dandies.

This year, everyone is invited as usual to what now has become the 27th-annual Billy’s Burger Bash on Derby Day, May 4. It begins at 11 p.m. and runs in to the wee hours of Sunday, May 5.

It’s free to attend, and Lamont Gillispie and 100 Proof will provide the tunes.

Expect drink specials and a simple, late night menu (see below). If you’d like to know more, call (502) 899-9904, email or log on to

Billy’s Burger Bash Menu

  • Billy’s Burger, topped with American Cheese, Lettuce, Tomato and Onion served with house-made chips or fries
  • Crispy fried calamari tossed with assorted peppers, accompanied with sweet chili sauce and citrus ponzu
  • Pulled pork on sweet potato biscuits served with an apple butter
  • Baked beef tenderloin crostini topped with caramelized onions and Boursin cheese
  • Artichoke, spinach and mozzarella cheese spheres lightly fried served with tomato-herb dipping sauce
  • Meatball French bread pizza

As we mentioned, Rapaport is not only a neat guy, he’s a real talent. A two-time Emmy award winner, his work as an independent producer and director includes time as feature producer for NBC’s figure skating, horse racing and gymnastics coverage, and he’s assisted with several theatrical efforts including “Grace and Glorie” and the off-Broadway hit, “Other People’s Money.”