Conrad Banks (a pseudonym) lives in New Canaan and operates a web site, ConradBanks.com, devoted to planning & hosting great parties.
The main thing to keep in mind as you plan your Super Bowl party is that most of the men who’ll be attending it, no matter how enthusiastically they gush otherwise when they arrive, would rather be somewhere else. Where that somewhere else is, of course, is in their own houses, on their own Barcaloungers, in some peace and quiet so they pay attention to the darn game already.
But this reluctance can easily be overcome with some adroit planning by you. First: have plenty of beer on hand, make sure it’s cold, and get a bottle of it in your guests’ hands ASAP once they arrive. Second: make sure to provide plenty of comfy places to sit with short, direct sightlines to your television. Third: keep an eye on everyone’s beer/wine glass/cocktail and refill them promptly once they’re empty. If you keep the glasses and bottles full and everyone comfortable, even your most unenthusiastic guests will have warmed up to your event before the national anthem’s even over.
As to liquor, consumption will skew towards beer, but have a full bar ready, in any event. Your non-beer-drinking guests, especially the ladies, will likely opt for white wine, by default. Steer them to something else, if you can, at least to start. White wine reminds me of wakes. One alternative might be an Old Fashioned. My DIY recipe: 1½ ounces bourbon, poured on the rocks into an old fashioned glass along with equal parts orange juice and club soda, topped with a dash of bitters. If she’s not a whiskey drinker, suggest a Planter’s Punch: 1½ ounces Myers’s rum, on the rocks in a highball glass. Add orange juice to near the top and a splash of club soda, then a dash of grenadine. Do not stir. Sweet and refreshing.
For this Super Bowl in particular, Patrick Clyne, who presides over the bar at Gates Restaurant in New Canaan, suggests bleu cheese martinis. The “cheeseheads” in your group will love them: stuff two green olives with small chunks of bleu cheese, skewer them together with a toothpick, and add as a garnish to a conventional vodka or (preferably) gin martini, served up. Reminder: stir, don’t shake. Patrick says Steeler fans might like Black and Tans—the color of the drink echoes the Steelers’ team colors—made with Guinness and Rolling Rock. Be sure to dribble the in stout over the back of a spoon, so the drink layers properly.
Your choice of beer and wine is of course vital. People will be swilling the stuff for hours at your party, so you should serve something they can live with for an extended period. That means it should be flavorful and light at the same time. Matthew Vitti, at New Canaan Wine Merchants in New Canaan, says to stick with the basics. For beer, offer one of the staples, (or try one of our Friday Froth recommendations) such as Heineken, Budweiser, or Narragansett. People can drink them for hours. For white wine, he suggests Chardonnay (such as a Lander Jenkins 2009, at under $15 per bottle) or Sauvignon Blanc (Dry Creek 2009, say, also under $15). For red, go with a Malbec. It’s in the middle of the Cabernet-Merlot spectrum and is very smooth. Matt says the Gouguenheim 2009, at $10, is a great value.
Since kickoff coincides with dinner hour, food can be problematic. I’ve found that the best solution is light hors d’oeuvres (like, chips and dip and nuts; I’m not kidding) for an hour or two before the game, followed by a substantial buffet during it. People can thus eat at a normal hour and still not miss a down. Our typical menu: chili on homemade macaroni and cheese, sliders (brought up from the Burger Bar in South Norwalk), brats and Italian sausage, and (in a nod to the ladies) vegetarian panini and salad. One year I also put out a box of Twinkies, but after that Mrs. Banks put her foot down. As an alternative, ask your guests to bring brownies. Go ahead and serve the meal on Chinet if you feel like slumming, but use metal cutlery and real glasses, not plastic ones.
Allow me to address one topic related to Super Bowl parties that can be ticklish, but shouldn’t be: women’s presence at them. Too many men I know carp that gabbing by the ladies during the game is distracting, and interferes with their enjoyment of it. This complaint is unfounded. I come by this knowledge first-hand. For a few years at my house I was under a similar misconception and assumed, too, that our female guests didn’t care much for football anyway--so we hosted what I called a “Shaker-style” Super Bowl party. The men sat in one room and watched the game while the women all sat in the other and watched a DVD of The Devil Wears Prada. It seemed to work for awhile, except that I quickly realized that the guys provide as much off-topic mid-game yakking as the gals ever did. Then in Super Bowl XLI, Peyton Manning lit up the field against the Bears, to much whooping and hollering by the menfolk. The women, who by now had watched the same damn movie for umpteen years in a row, marched in on us en masse and wanted to know what was going on. They never left and, truth be told, we’ve had our best Super Bowl parties ever since.
Conrad's Super Bowl Recipes
Simple Super Bowl Macaroni and Cheese
1 lb elbow macaroni, cooked and drained
6 cups whole milk
3 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
¾ cup butter
¾ cup flour
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Butter a 4 quart casserole
Combine cheese, butter, and milk and melt together.
When combination is fully melted, add the flour and stir in. I know you’re thinking that the whole thing will turn into a huge, lumpy goo, but it’ll actually smooth out in no time. Don’t ask me how the chemistry works, but it does.
Combine macaroni and the cheese sauce in casserole. Stir until mixed together.
Place in oven and cook uncovered for 45 minutes.
Red onion, cut into ¼-inch. slices
Tuscan bread, sliced
Fresh mozzarella cheese, drained and sliced
Roasted red peppers
Fresh basil leaves
Salt and pepper
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan; add the onions and salt and pepper. Sauté until tender. :
In between two slices of Tuscan bread, place tomato slices, basil, mozzarella cheese, onions, and roasted pepper. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. (You can to make these in advance; they'll hold for a few hours if they are wrapped with plastic wrap and refrigerated).
Heat the panini grill. Brush the top slice of the sandwich with a good quality olive oil. Set the sandwich oil side down on the grill. Brush the top bread slice and close grill. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until cheese is melted.
Conrad Banks (a pseudonym) is a managing director at a New York-based hedge fund that he prefers remain nameless, thanks very much. He operates a web site, ConradBanks.com, that's devoted to planning hosting great parties. Conrad can be contacted at Conrad@ConradBanks.com.