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Bourbon is synonymous with the Kentucky Derby. Sober Derby omits the alcohol

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Booze, especially bourbon, is a key part of Kentucky Derby weekend. The first Saturday in May always prompts a big liquor-soaked party in Louisville. But where's the party for people who don't drink? Good news - that's also happening this weekend. Louisville Public Media's Morgan Watkins reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRODUCING A KIND GENERATION: (Singing) Take your time, and cry when you need to. Smile when you can.

MORGAN WATKINS, BYLINE: Jesse Hawkins serves mocktails from his mobile bar at a recent concert at Louisville's Waterfront Park. Several taps are built into a tiny, three-wheeled cart that pump out booze-free drinks.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I think we're looking for the alcohol.

JESSE HAWKINS: No worries. I understand.

WATKINS: Some people lose interest once they realize the margaritas don't come with a legal age limit. Hawkins is here for people like himself, people who don't drink alcohol.

HAWKINS: There's always a pregnant mother. There's always somebody in recovery. And the people that tend to find the bar are so grateful and appreciative.

WATKINS: That's his mission with The Mocktail Project - to make community events like this one more inclusive. He was inspired by an experience he had at Churchill Downs about nine years ago. He was at the track on Derby Day just a couple weeks after he stopped drinking.

HAWKINS: And I'm, you know, standing there, and I'm looking around, and everyone's holding up a mint julep. They're embracing their selves. They're, you know, hugging their friends. And I remember holding a bottle of water at the time.

WATKINS: That moment, Hawkins says, sparked the idea for his Mocktail Project. But he knows that for some people in recovery, it's better to skip nonalcoholic cocktails and avoid parties altogether.

HAWKINS: I tell anyone, like, if holding a mocktail or alcohol-free cocktail is a trigger, that's OK.

WATKINS: In a city where Derby Day revolves around drinking, Token 3 Club is a place for people who don't want to be around alcohol at all but want to watch the races. Marc Joos chairs the board that runs this club. He says Derby can be triggering for people who've stopped using alcohol or drugs.

MARC JOOS: It is a party day. For a lot of people, that's a good thing, but for some people that can be a problem. And so it's nice to know that there's alternatives to spend the day away from those temptations.

WATKINS: This year, Token 3 Club is hosting a sober Derby party with a chili cook-off.

STEPHANIE COY: Why, hello.

WATKINS: Hi.

COY: How are you?

WATKINS: Stephanie Coy works at Louisville Recovery Community Connection downtown. She's found an upside to skipping alcohol on race day.

COY: You know, early on when I quit drinking, I just kind of looked at it as, well, you know, I have a lot more money to bet now. You know?

WATKINS: She's with two other women who are in recovery, too. For them, there's still so much joy in Derby Day.

COY: Removing the alcohol does not remove, like, the greatness of the Kentucky Derby.

REBECCA GOODWIN: The fun, the laughter.

COY: Yeah.

ASHLEY THOMPSON: The memory.

COY: It doesn't take away from any of those things.

WATKINS: Now that they're sober, these women made new Derby traditions with their family and the people they met in recovery.

For NPR News, I'm Morgan Watkins in Louisville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Morgan Watkins