There sometimes comes a point in life where the bar scene gets tired, or you just get tired of putting on things like makeup and shoes. But if you don't want to rock another solo Saturday night with bootleg Korean DVDs of True Blood and actually want to interact with humans, the perfect low-key and easy party to throw at your house is Game Night. Put on your comfy pants and glasses; add games, booze, and snacks; and you'll soon be a legend among your friends.
FOOD: Don't sweat the food. This is not some dinner party where people are supposed to show up and feed themselves at your expense. (You also don't want food prep and eating to steamroll the games.) Start the party at 8 p.m., so it's just past dinner time but not too late, because your friends will be an hour late anyway. Make a couple cheap 'n' easy dips like hummus, and put out some crackers and cheese and you're good to go. If you're short on time or effort, store-bought hummus is fine, but please for the love of god put it in a real bowl! Yes, you have to wash them at the end of the night, but to not have plastic containers with freshness flaps blowing in the wind makes all the difference. Hummus: whirl chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic in a food processor, mix in fresh herbs or top with zaatar spice if you want to be fancy, or sub white beans (no tahini) for a twist on hummus. Grab a wheel of brie, goat cheese, gouda, Parmesan, or bleu (whatever you like), stab it with a knife and put it on a wooden board. Set out a plate of crackers/chips/crudite (for your vegan and gluten free friends) and scatter some teacups filled with olives and mixed nuts. Cute huh? Cloth napkins and pretty (clean) dishtowels can decorate your coffee table spread.
DRINK: Make your friends bring the drinks (and they'll always bring too many), but have a little something on hand for when you're cooking/getting dressed/waiting for them to show up/right when they show up. A big bottle of wine, a bottle of liquor of your choice, and a mixer — plus some club soda and juice — make a good base. Game Night feels a little retro, so a fun activity is a Make Your Own Manhattan station. Here's a foolproof poor man's (lazy man's?) homemade Manhattan recipe that I've, um, perfected. No chilled martini glasses or cocktail shakers for this lady. Toss some ice cubes in a glass/tumbler/jar and pour whiskey or bourbon to just cover the ice. Add a dash of sweet vermouth, a dash of dry vermouth, a few shakes of bitters (old fashioned or orange, you crazy cat), a maraschino cherry and a dash of cherry juice if you like it sweet. Stir with a chopstick and sip. Try subbing dark rum for whiskey or bourbon, delish! And if you invest in vermouth and bitters, they'll serve your home cocktail needs for a long, long time. You know, for when you rock a solo, Manhattan-fueled Game Night (not that I would know anything about that).
GAMES: Allow for drink making, snacking, and mingling as your guests arrive, but as soon as it looks like everyone's settled into their cocktail party chitchat, be assertive about starting a game. It doesn't have to be with everyone, just a few can start and others will join in when they see HOW MUCH FUN IT IS, or they'll start their own game. The kinds of games that succeed at Game Night are interactive, team based games. The ones that don't are checkers-type games or card games that don't involve teams and are therefore boring to watch. Games like BS, Go Fish, or Crazy Eights could be fun, but Texas Hold 'Em or Gin Rummy (etc.) are too serious/involved for the fluid and silly nature of Game Night. And no Monopoly unless it's a smaller group (fewer than 6) — you want to be able to pick up and abandon games at will. Games I suggest: Taboo is fun, team based, and easy to set up and execute. I'd start with this, since not everyone has to participate at first but people can join in easily. Apples to Apples is also a great group game, and if you don't have Apples to Apples cards, just play it in your head, which is what my friends and I did one summer, many many times. (One person thinks of something [anything!], the other people name random things, the first person decides which is closest to their thing, and that person goes next. Fun!)
Once everyone is good and warmed up, introduce a little Pictionary onto the scene. Use your kitchen whiteboard (or just a bunch of paper) and divide into teams. For instance, Boys vs. Girls Pictionary is an awesome way to start creative shit-talking and inspire team spirit. And then if you get sick of using the cards, make up your own themes like "Rolling Stones Songs" or "Middle School Slumber-Party Movies." Or just let those creative juices flow! I made up a great game during a tequila fueled happy hour called "Sexual Fetish Game" where everyone writes down one real sexual fetish of theirs and one fake one and puts them in the bowl. Go around the circle picking out fetishes and trying to figure out who wrote it and whether it's a real or fake fetish of theirs. Dirty and enlightening! The Manhattans will help.
EXIT: When the first person falls asleep on your couch, it's time to start cleaning up and sending subtle messages for everyone to get the hell out (12:30, 1 a.m.-ish).Toss the empties, pile the dishes in the sink to do in the morning and off to bed you go, you hostess with the mostess!
Katie Walsh used to live in Brooklyn. Now she lives in St. Croix where she throws and goes to a fair amount of parties.
Photo via Flickr