The best way to ensure a successful Super Bowl party—and I say this with the most wholesome attitude in the world—is to pack as much vice into it as you can. First, offer your guests plenty of opportunities for gluttony. (Here is a suggestionfor a delicious, non-heart-healthy game-day menu. Suggested portion sizes: extra large.) And have more alcohol on hand, and in all its glorious variety, than may be strictly necessary. A Super Bowl party is one of those times when some wives let their husbands slip the leash. You never know when one of the men will find himself on a binge.
But nothing adds interest to watching football quite so much as gambling. Give your guests the chance to bet their brains out at your party—and not just via the standard ten-by-ten grid that’s by now offered at every saloon in the country. At our house last year, we all threw money into a pot that funded payouts on every football-related eventuality you can think of: blocked punts, lost fumbles, onside kicks, you name it. Make your own list, put a price on each item, then cut the list up and have guests draw the events out of a hat. People will have a great time, and stay glued to the TV every single down. The children in particular will be so well-behaved you’ll think someone slipped them some Benadryl. After Drew Brees threw two touchdown passes (which paid $20 a pop) against the Colts last year, our neighbors’ 11-year old son walked home with $40 in his pocket. He said it was the best party he’d ever been to.
I mentioned before that I like to keep pre-game snacking on the light side and then go all-out with a bodacious mid-game buffet. But some people prefer ample grazing opportunities before, during, and after the game. That’s entirely reasonable. If you’re one of those people, you might make some chile con queso ahead of time and have it out when your guests arrive. The recipe couldn’t be simpler: cut up a brick of Velveeta cheese, put in a saucepan along with the contents of a can of Ro-Tel tomatoes (none other) and melt and stir together. Pour into a bowl and serve with tortilla chips. It’s so darn good some of your guests will forget there’s a game on. (I noticed some of you blanch at the mention of the word “Velveeta.” Please. This is the Super Bowl, not National Artisanal Cheese Day. Go ahead and try the dip this once. Your guests will love it—and will admire your broadmindedness.)
And as long as you have the chips out, make some guacamole, too; it’s delicious and festive. Guacamole happens to be a Mrs. Banks specialty: she scoops out two avocados and mashes them, and then mixes in some fresh lemon juice, a chopped, seeded plum tomato, a bit of chopped red onion, some chopped fresh coriander, and salt and pepper. As I say, it’s terrific.
I also like to have a can of beers nuts out during the game. They make me feel like I’m at a bar.
Speaking of bars, you might prefer watching the game at one rather than at home with your friends. A number of chains cater to this very activity. But if you want something more local and intimate, here are five places to consider, in my order of preference:
Gates Restaurant in New Canaan has a long bar, comfy stools, and a pair of large, accessible flat screen televisions. Even better, the menu has lately gone a much-needed overhaul, to great improvement. Gates's cheeseburger is especially worthwhile, as is the lobster bisque and black bean soup. Try the fried calamari, too. If you get there early enough that they're still serving brunch (and there's no reason why you shouldn't) have Le Beaux. It's eggs benedict, only with withsmoked salmon rather than Canadian bacon. Fabulous. And by all means have a Bloody Mary. Gates also has a creditable bar menu now, which is bound to come in handy. Patrick Clyne, the closest thing the New Canaan bartending corps has to an eminence grise, will be on duty on game day.
Cherry Street East, also in New Canaan, consistently has the top-ranked burger in the county. Happily, it also has a comfortable, intimate bar with a large flat-screen right behind that's ideal for game-day televiewing. You'll also find two smaller TVs off to the side. The crowd at Cherry Street is consistently friendly, as are the folks behind the bar. If you're not in the mood for a burger, try the pulled-pork sandwich.
Pine Social in New Canaan has only been open a few months, and has the most comfortable bar in town--with a large TV to go with it. The menu is wide-ranging and eclectic. Try the spicy tuna tartare in egg roll wrappers, off the bar menu, and the kobe corn dog. You'll find a burger on the menu, of course, but also a skirt steak sandwich that's terrific. Also: Murray's chicken, a semi-boned chicken half that's poached then broiled, is incredibly juicy and flavorful. I still can't get over how good it is.
North Star, just over the border in Scotts Corners, New York, is not the kind of place that first leaps to mind when you're deciding where to watch a game. But the bar there is welcoming and comfortable, and the TV above is large and well-placed. (The bar's not especially large, though; you may want to call ahead.) The staff is friendly--and the food's really, really good, with plenty of variety. Yes, you'll find burgers and wings--but also, for instance, a soy glazed Chilean sea bass that's to die for and, among the appetizers, wonderful duck confit dumplings. And whatever you do, don't miss the macaroni and cheese with truffle oil.
If your prefetence tends more to customer bedlam, head over to Ash Creek Saloon in Norwalk. The bar is long and rectangular, and faced by several TVs. Ash Creek is of course a barbecue place--on of the top-rated in the county. Not surprisingly, the crowd tends to be rootin' and tootin'. The Gingerman in Norwalk would also be a solid destination for an excellent beer selection and good Super Bowl action.
The main drawback of Super Bowl parties is that, because the game is played on a Sunday night, people usually head home as soon as it’s over since they have to work the next day, rather than linger and savor its highlights. That’s too bad; the early exit takes away added enjoyment of one of the most fun days of the year. My suggestion: play the game on Saturday night so people can stay up and then sleep in the next day. I have contacted the league, and will keep you posted.
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 and hosting great parties. Conrad can be contacted at Conrad@ConradBanks.com.