How To Host A Grown-Up Pregame

How to host the ultimate party, no Solo cups needed

Thanksgiving is around the corner, which means it's officially Time to Celebrate. All month long we're bringing you recipes, tips, tricks and stories that are equal parts memorable and delicious.

After the party is the after-party, but what comes before a night out? A killer pregame, that's what.

As much as we love a full-on Thanksgiving meal, a huge dinner isn't the only type of entertaining to be done. Between in-laws and large groups of friends, you probably have between one and three already on your calendar, so why not try something different this year? Pull on the reins and learn how to pull off a much simpler party.

Enter: the pregame. No, not your average college slosh fest—we're talking a grown-up mini party. Gather your friends early in the evening, serve your favorite easy foods and beverages, then when the clock strikes 8 p.m., put on your coats and head to your favorite restaurant, fancy rooftop or even dive bar.

Since it's an early party, you don't have to serve a full dinner. Stick with simple dips and crudités or crackers—homemade chips if you must. Invest in a statement piece that makes up in appearance what the food lacks in fuss. But stop trying to perfect your dinner party strategy: Here are the drinks and dip recipes, plus serving pieces, you'll need no matter where you are in life.

In Your 20s

What to drink: You don't have to graduate from the punch bowl just yet. Batchable winter spice punch will start the night off right. The simple syrup, fragrant with cinnamon, star anise and cloves, makes this pear cider-oloroso sherry combo taste special.

What to cook: Do you like cheese and butter, and have working knowledge of how to use a food processor? Spreadable Kentucky beer cheese is your answer. Make it in the morning before you go to work, and the flavors will be perfectly intermingled by the time the party starts.

What to serve it on: For a high-class touch go with an elevated serving dish. Buy one for a smaller get-together, or invest in two and stack them as the party grows.

In Your 30s

What to drink: Test your craft cocktail skills on your friends (we promise your guests will still drink your creations if you overestimate the alcohol ratio). Try a Bronx Cocktail, a classic 20th-century drink that's been called "the Cosmopolitan of its day." It's like a martini with a boost of citrus, and it's simple to make.

What to cook: How many times have you emptied out a package of crispy onions into a dip bowl? Stop—you're getting older, so your hosting skills should show some age, too. It's time to make caramelized onion dip from scratch, complete with a tangy feta-Greek yogurt base that replaces the sour cream and mayo in the version you grew up with.

What to serve it in: The three divots in this tasting tray do all the heavy lifting for you. Place your dip in the center, then flank it with celery on one side and chips on the other. Or chips on both sides—it's your call.

In Your 40s

What to drink: Show your friends just how much you appreciate their years of service by breaking out the fancy hard alcohol. Try Belle Meade's bourbon finished in sherry casks: The nine-year-aged spirit tastes almost like Scotch and is a surefire way to heat things up from the inside out.

What to cook: Adding saffron to creamy spinach dip makes it instantly the classiest starter course around. You splurged on the alcohol, so don't feel bad about sneaking some cream cheese into the dip bowl.

What to serve it on: This plate shines like the sun, so let it be a sign that once it starts to show, it's time for everyone to leave. You have places to be.