The leaves are changing colors and there’s a chill in the air, which means it’s hockey season in Chicago. The Blackhawks might be in for a rough season, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy getting together with other fans to watch the games. Half the fun of being a Blackhawks fan is the community around the team.
But what if you don’t want — or can’t — go to the stadium? Introducing: homegating.
What is homegating?
Simply put, it’s tailgating from the comfort of your own home. It’s the fun of meeting up with friends and family to enjoy a sporting event with all the conveniences of a house party. You’re still tailgating, just with more comfortable seating. And, maybe the best part — no lines for the bathroom! Or maybe that’s just me.
The thing about homegating is there isn’t a right or wrong way to do it, but here’s a guide to get you started for that next Blackhawks homegate opportunity.
Homegating centers around the home, but there are two distinct possibilities when it comes to the setup of the party: inside or outside.
Inside is the most obvious because that’s where the TV is. Plus, there’s nothing better than sitting back with friends in a living room or den, yelling at a TV about how awful the refs are, from the comfort of a big couch. It also gives you the closer access to the kitchen to make serving food — and especially cold beverages — super easy. I’m lazy, so this is extra appealing to me. There’s also the option of setting up multiple places with TVs so that the party can spread out if needed.
Being outside is closer to a traditional tailgate experience and often has more of a party vibe. The grill is there, and it’s easier to spread out, move around and mingle. The seating is less comfortable — patio furniture or those folding chairs seem to have their own gravitational force that makes getting up awkward — but that’d be true tailgating too. For the watch party part, you can move a TV or two outside, but the best option is setting up a projector, especially if you have a side of the house to use as a screen. Unless it’s raining or snowing, nothing quite beats being outside while watching hockey during sweater weather.
Whichever you decide — inside or out — it’s a great call to throw up some Blackhawks decorations just to get everyone into the mood. Throw up a banner or get some decorative plates. My favorite hockey watch party I’ve ever been to was actually for the Atlanta Thrashers — a team I had to like due to proximity and Marian Hossa — and they hung up jersey around the living room for some flair.
The Guest List
Watching hockey with other people is more fun than alone, but it’s really about the type of people you invite that really can make or break a homegate.
Whether it’s family, friends, or whomever, the people you invite to a homegate need to be the right mix. The gathering can be kept more simple with close relatives, more of a house party vibe with friends, or even a full-on block party with those people down the street you’ve wanted to get to know better.
The first two require less work, but there’s something to said for the latter: you can get some of the best conversations from those acquaintance-friends. Blackhawks hockey is a great common interest, but opinions will always vary and it can be exciting to hear new perspectives. It’s also an awesome way to introduce people to the Blackhawks for the first time.
Just make sure it’s people you can tolerate for a few hours at a time. Leave the fisticuffs for the players on the ice.
There’s several of approaches you can take when it comes to the food.
You can’t go wrong with serving up the traditional home/tailgating fare of burgers and hot dogs. And the latter is especially a good idea at a Blackhawks party, where Chicago-style dogs could easily be the star of any menu. Add in a variety of chips and dip for munchies between the main meals and you’re already set. Go ahead and toss in a few stadium favorites, too. Nachos are a quick, cheap favorite of many. Load up on pretzels. Have buckets of popcorn ready to share around. Wings can’t be beat (pro tip: stock up on wet wipes).
If that all seems like too much, just order pizza. Whether it’s Chicago-style (deep dish or thin-crust, tavern-cut) or not, it’s a universal party favorite for a reason.
The great thing about homegating is how diverse the menu can be — and it’s especially a good idea if you’re homegating regularly. Lean into takeout sometimes, for example, like Indian or Chinese. Personally, I love ordering from a local taqueria for a variety of tacos, and guacamole is something I could devour by the spoonful. You’re not restricted by what can be grilled in a parking lot or ordered in a stadium.
Don’t forget dessert — and this is where you have the potential to get thematic. It’s a great call to celebrate the Blackhawks with cookies or cakes in the team’s colors. I’m partial to cupcakes with lots of frosting and then eating them like a sandwich.
Let’s start with the non-alcoholic variety: nothing is better for a homegate than having a nice, cold pop (or soda if you’re from outside the midwest). My favorite soda of choice is Coca-Cola Cherry Zero, so it’s always going to be in my refrigerator no matter what, but the best bet is to have an assortment on hand. Regular, diet, root beers, a clear or yellow kind, even one with a doctorate — it’s good to have choices. Everyone loves choices. And what’s awesome about those soft drinks is they can immediately be combined with alcohol if needed. Honestly, soda should be the No. 1 staple of any homegate beverage.
Water is also a must, though a less fun option. Some people just don’t like flavor, but we won’t make fun of them too much. It’s also not a bad idea to have the water handy because, remember: hydration is key. Especially for the next paragraph.
Alcohol! Look, if you’re an adult and going to be watching the Blackhawks this season, alcohol might be necessary. Whether it’s beer, hard seltzers, wine, or mixed drinks, there’s nothing wrong with taking the edge off. Plus, drinking games can add another level of entertainment with the right crowds. Bingo card games are usually a hit at the homegates I’ve been to in the past. As long as you party in moderation, it’s all good fun.