When you think of the ultimate tailgating experience, the first thing that may come to mind is a group of people gathered around a BBQ grilling hamburgers, hot dogs, and guzzling beers before a football game.
But in Bridgehampton, Long Island, with this year's Bridgehampton Polo Challenge as its backdrop, upscale tailgating has become just as important as the match itself.
"This is tailgating for extremely wealthy people," said VIP tailgater Sophie Thoerner.
Like at football games, everyone tailgates differently. In Bridgehampton, some opted for Tutto Il Giorno's $950 tailgate picnic basket, complete with gemelli pasta salad, orzo and arugula salad, and prosciutto and fontina on ciabatta.
"It's a laid-back atmosphere with a jazzed-up picnic basket," said Alex Apparu, the executive chef of Tutto Il Giorno. The local restaurant also catered the VIP tailgate with passed hors d'oeuvres like prosciutto-wrapped melon, and a bite-size caprese salad consisting of cherry tomatoes stuffed with mozzarella and basil. "It has to be light because it's the middle of the day," said Apparu. "It's a quick nibble, and definitely nothing filling or something that's going to mess up your outfit."
Servers set up the elaborate spread under the shade of crisp white tents that line the field. "It's very upscale," said Kiernan Devenney, tailgater. Devenney pre-ordered the decadent picnic basket for himself and his friends. "It's a sophisticated beautiful afternoon," he said.
Across the country, The Wild Thyme Company does the catering for the VIP tailgaters at The San Diego Polo Club. The à la carte menu reflects fan favorites, like the California Cocktail or Strawberry Bleu Salad. "We offer a weekly special," said Megan Schulte, director of marketing for Wild Thyme. "And we try to change up one drink and dessert to keep people excited and keep them coming back," she said.
But upscale tailgating isn't just for the VIPs. "There are two specifically separate camps," said Chris Del Gatto, a professional polo player at the Bridgehampton match. "All the real polo fans are there," he said, pointing across the field to the non-VIP. "You have families there and kids running around with their dogs and people have beautiful, elegant tailgates," said Del Gatto.
A group of friends in Bridgehampton did a potluck tailgate with "things that are easy to prepare and that can keep well in the sun," said tailgater Nancy Orlowski. "Things like finger foods, crackers, dips, that's the easiest," she said.
At the Sarasota Polo Club in Florida, tailgating helps draw fans to the match. "Polo is all about tailgating. We have thousands of fans, it's always packed," said Maryellen Paterson, the events manager for the club. Five years ago they started holding themed tailgating contests. "For the tailgate competitions, people go over the top,"" said Paterson. This year, tailgaters will compete for bragging rights and awards for the best pasta dish at a Little Italy-themed tailgate, or best Super Hero Sandwich for their Super Hero theme.