One sure sign of a successful party is guests who are still raving about the food weeks afterward.  “People are still talking about the duck,” Marianne Matheny-Katz says of the response to a surprise 50th birthday bash she hosted for her entrepreneurial husband Howard, nicknamed “the mayor of Patterson Park” for his renovation initiatives there. The hostess, an economist by day and acclaimed jazz singer by night, invited 120 friends, fellow musicians, business colleagues and family to their new, not-quite renovated home in the north Baltimore neighborhood of Lake Manor. 

“The house was built in 1966 by an infamous Baltimore bookie.  When Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra came to town, they partied here,” says Matheny-Katz of the multi-level, mid-century modern home.  Transformed into a jazz club for the evening, the house was the ideal venue because it’s “mid-century, just like Howard,” she says.  In the invitations she designed herself, Matheny-Katz asked guests to bring photographs of her husband, which she then displayed throughout the space.  Some guests even brought announcements for the upcoming off-Broadway show “Howard Katz,” about a man enduring a mid-life crisis.

Though a self-professed foodie, the hostess’ Washington job left her no time to cook for the affair.  And she required a caterer who could work without access to a fully functional kitchen, since the home’s renovations were not yet complete. Charles Levine Caterers and Events created a buffet menu that satisfied both vegetarians and meat-eaters, taking advantage of seasonal ingredients such as fresh fruits and vegetables, gourmet cheeses and fall flavors like maple and apple.  The showstoppers were breast of duck with au poivre sauce and a chocolate macadamia torte, described by Levine as “a very involved dessert with caramelized macadamia nuts, crusty chocolate wafers and a vanilla white chocolate mousse.” 

Levine and his team also coordinated the flowers and the table settings.  A tent over the terrace allowed guests to enjoy the outdoors, and satin jewel-toned linens covered square-shaped tables.  Tuscan-style china and burnt-orange napkins brightened the tables, and flower arrangements were color coordinated to match.

Entertainment included professional jazz musicians, original songs by friends, and the hostess’ vocal talents.  Comfortable and relaxed, guests were neither rushed to eat nor obligated to wear anything fancy, and many lingered long after the party officially ended.  Says Matheny-Katz: “Everyone says my husband leads a charmed life.”  Anything less than a Charm City surprise would not have been fitting. —Laryssa Wirstiuk

the party line

occasion: Howard Katz’s surprise 50th birthday party.

theme: “Fifty Years of Perfecting the Art of Living.”

venue: Renovated vintage ‘60s house on Hollins Avenue.

decorations: Guest-provided photographs, drawings and collages of Howard.

flowers: Vases of jade rose, purple stock and purple lizzies, purple roses, sori roses with orange lilies, delphinium.

guest list: 120 friends, musicians, family, colleagues.

special touch: Vibrant colors (eggplant, burnt-orange, olive, lime) used for linens and serving accessories.


menu: Jumbo crab lumps Norfolk; mushrooms in crepe-tied purses; sushi and sashimi assortment; New Zealand loin of lamb on crostini with spicy plum sauce; French onion soup; pesto and sun-dried tomato torte; filet of halibut with ginger maple sauce; breast of duck with au poivre sauce; baby lettuce salad with dried blackberries, hearts of palm and citrus vinaigrette; chocolate macadamia torte; apple tarte tatin; white chocolate truffles.

drinks: Pear martinis and pear bellinis, wines, liquor, cordials.


catering: Charles Levine Caterers and Events, 410-363-0900

entertainment: Joe Holmes Jazz Trio; bass clarinetist Todd Marcus; saxophonist Craig Alston; harmonica player and singer Larry Boy Pratt; jazz performer and educator Kathleen Kolman; a special Balinese dance performed by New York actress, singer and dancer Judith Caporale; jazz performer and former City Paper columnist Sandy Asirvatham; Marianne Matheny-Katz dedicated the song “My One and Only Love” to husband Howard.

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