August 8 2005, 4:54 PM
It started as a small gathering. A luau-themed barbeque, like the one we did last summer. But then we told the neighbors about it, and it took on a life of its own. This year, our previously smallish backyard luau grew into a full fledged kegger, with around a hundred of our friends and neighbors. We pooled our resources (and our guest lists) with the neighbors on both sides of our Wash Park duplex, and ended up with a four-house tour for people to hit for different types of food, music, crowds, and activities. It takes a little organizing, but I highly recommend it. You see, there are many advantages to the joint-effort summer party. You can split the costs, the cooking, and the cleaning. You can meet lots of new people without leaving your house. You can have dozens of guests over and still leave the party to wander around yourself. And it's all a very short walk away. The secret to a successful block party? Aside from a few key theme items - tiki torches, lanterns, and flowered leis set the mood - the main challenge is to make sure the guests mingle. Easier said than done, unless you hit 'em where it hurts -- namely, their stomachs. We basically set up food and drink stations at each house, and opened all of our doors and back gates so that guests could roam freely from house to house. (The rows of tiki torches on our front lawns made it easy to see which houses were participating in the way that jack-o-lanterns work on Halloween.) Since I like to cook for company -- on average nights we eat takeout or easy meals -- I got creative and whipped up Hawaiian coconut curried chicken, spicy pineapple-strawberry fruit salsa, and lemon-dill shrimp and veggie skewers with feta-dill dipping sauce. I also played bartender all night while my other half manned the grill, making Caribbean coolers (vodka, Malibu, pineapple juice, Blue Curacao, and Sprite) and rum punch properly garnished with umbrellas, orange slices and cherries. Next door in our duplex, our twenty-something neighbor kept with a college-dorm theme, with cheeseburgers, chips & dips, potato salad, a huge batch of jungle juice (it was in a plastic bin, not in the tub, thank God) and the aforementioned keg. On the north side, one neighbor served champagne and assorted sorbets in her oversized backyard garden, while down the street, my southern neighbor served up trays of finger food appetizers, like her arugula hummus dip with pita triangles. Fortunately, our little plan worked, and people started with the apps, moved on to burgers and beer, zipped through my place for skewers and umbrella drinks, then made their way over to the dessert station next door. By the end of the night, we had a mixed crowd of friends and virtual strangers in every house, leading to plenty of next-day phone number requests by our single friends and many hopeful inquiries as to our next luau event. It was a lot of fun, but after mopping my kitchen tiles twice to clean up all the sticky cocktail sloshings and such, I am firmly convinced that this will never become more than an annual event. We'll just have see how many new neighbors we can rally for next summer.