By Jennon Bell   Published Nov 23, 2005 at 5:40 AM

Even if you love Thanksgiving, you might be happy to forgo the dinner theater. Like clockwork, the family gathers around the table to feast on the turkey and trimmings, and Act One begins.

First, it's a simple meal, next thing you know, Uncle Marv is defending his latest conspiracy theory to Cousin Mike's new girlfriend, while Aunt Sue publicly dissects your personal life choices, and Timmy and Tommy fight for the wishbone, which inevitably makes someone spill the cranberries all over Grandma's nice table linens. Confusion, crying, yelling ensues. Something burns. It's a regular comedy of errors.

Forget the pumpkin pie. What you need is a drink.

Thanksgiving Eve, or as it's often called in these parts, Black Wednesday, is the night out before the familial fracas begins. It is a tradition as old as sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top. After the first couple months of college, Black Wednesday is an excuse to see all your old high school friends home for the holidays, and catch up over a beer or two. It is a no-holds-barred night of drinking and debauchery, all in the name of prepping for the long weekend ahead.

"I like going home and seeing people I haven't talked to in years, seeing what they're up to," says teacher Donna Schnierle. "It gives me something to talk about with my family. The more they focus on other people's problems, the less than can focus on mine."

Many Milwaukee bars understand the importance of a footloose Thanksgiving Eve. The Nomad, 1401 E. Brady St., and The Harp, 113 E. Juneau Ave., are always packed on Black Wednesday. GameTime, 1118 N. 4th St., is having a special where $5 gets you in the door, and drinks are $1 after that from 9 p.m. to close. Milwaukee Ale House, 233 N. Water St., is hosting a Thanksgiving Eve Bash with The Boogiemen, or head over to Mantra, 1905 E. North Ave., for DJ Sativa and progressive house music at the martini bar.

One caveat of Black Wednesday is to make sure you don't over-indulge. Nothing is worse than being so hungover that you can't stomach your favorite cranberry concoction. Black Wednesday is about having a night of family-free fun, not ruining Thanksgiving by regurgitating at Grandma's.

"I stick to beer, and stay away from shots and mixed drinks," says Schnierle. "I'd hate it if I couldn't handle my mom's famous stuffing the next day."

This Thanksgiving, be thankful for your health, your friends, your family and most of all, for Ibuprofen.