"I usually buy about 100 pounds of sausage," Bullard says, "and it all gets eaten."
The party, now in its eighth year, is a real lesson in entertaining: The kitchen is small, the grill is smaller, and the yard is postage stamp-size. It is also a daunting climb down a steep set of stairs from the kitchen door. The space is not particularly well suited to hosting a huge party ― indoors or out. But the generous spirit with which the gathering is thrown pulls even the most timid into the swing of things. As Bullard keeps the sausage supply steady, Wilson makes sure every guest meets someone new.
"I like having this big party every year and seeing everyone and how much the kids have grown," Wilson says. "Friends bring friends, and they bring their friends. One year someone brought a friend who had just moved here from Wisconsin and thought nobody in California ate meat. She was pretty happy to see all that sausage."
The crowd spreads throughout the house and garden. Since the party usually falls during the pennant race, one group congregates around the television in the bedroom upstairs, watching the baseball game and sending out emissaries for food and drink. Older guests tend to sit in the comparative calm of the living room. But most people meander between the dining room and the yard, carrying food to and from the grill, fetching another beer or more salad, bumping into old Oktoberfest acquaintances, and making new friends.
"One year there were so many people that it took me half an hour to get from the yard back into the house," says friend and longtime Oktoberfest attendee Frances Kaplan. "It's amazing."
Although they like the coziness of having the party at home, Bullard and Wilson have also hosted the event in Golden Gate Park, where Ultimate Frisbee and other field games were part of the fun. The wild play is now limited to the kids ― who scamper through the rose garden, climb the apple trees, and swarm leaping and diving into a front room that Wilson lines with futons and pillows ― but the party has kept its raucous feel.
"The first year we had it in our house, someone called the cops about the noise," Wilson says. "That really pleased James. But now we know our neighbors, so they all get invited too."
To follow Bullard and Wilson's example, simply buy an absurd amount of sausages and beer, send out an email to everyone you know, and hold on for the ride. Or you can cook several of the sausages and/or grill a chicken for a smaller group but in a similar spirit. Any of the following sides or salads ― inspired by dishes their guests bring ― would be a welcome addition to a fall potluck.