For decades, January 1st belonged to the NCAA and the multitude of football bowl games played to ring in the year. Since 2008, however, the day has shared the spotlight with the NHL, as the league has taken the game of hockey back to its outdoor roots. With snowy, picturesque scenes reminiscent of frozen ponds, the annual Winter Classic shares a side of the game not normally seen by wider audiences.
Though television numbers have been in decline since 2014, this year’s game will be the first time the game will be contested between two top-10 U.S. television markets since 2015. The Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks will face off New Year’s Day on the hallowed field of Notre Dame University.
Puck drop is slated for 1 PM, coinciding with the Fiesta Bowl and preceding the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl, setting the table for a long, profitable day of sports-watching and consumption. While sports bar operators should be pushing Winter Classic-themed promotions to all hockey fans (and, to be honest, all sports fans in general), focusing your efforts on Bruins and Blackhawks fans should guide you in the right direction.
Catering to a Boston and Chicago heavy crowd will give you plenty of options for specials. Offering a prix fixe menu for each team offers you a chance to showcase several of the two cities’ signature dishes. As both cities have no shortage of classics, feel free to make your own choices, or check out our guide to hockey wings for more ideas.
To kick of your Bruins menu, it would be a crime to not open with a bowl of New England clam chowder. The time-tested combination of shellfish, potatoes, pork, and cream will do wonders in terms of warming your guests bellies on a cold January morning. Do not cut corners and serve some pre-made bag soup; your guests will know immediately. Using both sea clams and quahogs will prove your kitchen knows what it’s doing and give the dish the authenticity your diners will demand.
On the Blackhawk side, you’re going to want to pack your guests full of meat without going overboard. The Chicago-style hot dog is one of the Windy City’s more famous eats. Scaling it down to bite-size can be a fun way to pay homage without completely stuffing your guests. Wrapping an all-beef dog, with pickles, tomatoes, and pepperoncini in a puff pastry topped with poppy seeds makes a Second City pig in a blanket. A plateful of them is poppable, shareable, and a fun way to start a meal.
Staying on the water for the black & gold crew, we move on to the Maine lobster roll. Its beauty lies in its simplicity: Lobster meat, mayonnaise, spices, and a hot dog roll. There are as many variations as there are different New England accents, so feel free to play with the spice mix to get a flavor all your own. The standard go-tos are celery salt and cayenne pepper, but your options are limitless.
For the Chicago side, a fitting counterpart is the Italian Beef Sandwich. This spiced-up version of the French Dip can be traced back to Depression-era Chicago. The sandwich is composed of slow roasted beef, liberally seasoned with garlic, oregano, and red pepper, served with more of the city’s beloved hot pickled vegetables (giardiniera). Reserve the liquid from the roast to make an au jus gravy to serve with the sandwich. The dipping is the best part of the meal.
Though the victim of a bit of a misnomer, the Boston Cream Pie, invented at the city’s Omni Parker Hotel in the late-1800s, remains a timeless classic to this day. Though labor-intensive, few desserts can match the cake’s decadence. The dessert requires a yellow sponge cake dense enough to support the other ingredients, but still airy as not to overpower them; a silky pastry cream, and a rich chocolate ganache. Your guests will be thanking you that you did not overburden their stomachs earlier when they bite into this dessert.
Chicago has its own classic pastry, that, while perhaps not as highbrow, certainly reaches the upper echelon of signature American food: the Twinkie. Conceptually, the Twinkie is a scaled-down, chocolate-less version of the Boston Cream Pie. It’s a sponge cake filled with pastry cream. This lunchbox treat can fit in on your dessert menu with the easy transformation of egg wash, corn flakes, and a deep fryer. The deep-fried Twinkie is a perfect ending to a blue-collar menu befitting the Midwest.
There are a few non-food touches you can add to make the game an immersive experience in your bar. Of course, you should stock up on Sam Adams and Goose Island beers for Bostonians and Chicagoans, respectively. Goal songs are another great way to get your crowd to interact and feel like they’re in the stadium without the frostbite. The Bruins play ‘90s trance classic “Kernkraft 400” following their goals, while the Blackhawks celebrate to the Fratelli’s “Chelsea Dagger”.
Remember to have your guests, and your staff, pace themselves. New Year’s Day is just as much a marathon as the night before.