Throwing a surprise party is not for the faint of heart. All the planning and subterfuge is exhausting, particularly when you’re virtually incapable of asking for help. I had planned to go all out with a huge party for Bobby’s 30th, but then realized that I had neither the money nor the will to pull that off, so I changed tack – I threw him a surprise dinner with all of his closest friends. It was easy to switch since I realized this early enough, and a small gathering fit his personality better than a giant blow out would have anyway – thank goodness for my sanity.
I made a dinner reservation at The Smith in Penn Quarter, DC, which is an incredible spot. It’s got a very bright, lively atmosphere and the decor is all subway tiles and huge, open windows. It’s very New York cool. The food and drinks are great too – for cocktails I like the “Smoke ‘Em if You Got ‘Em” because I’m a mezcal fan – it’s fruity and smoky and perfect for a warm summer evening. I didn’t take a lot of photos at dinner because I’m just plain bad at remembering to do things like that. I get caught up in the moment and somehow always regret not having photographic evidence – there’s got to be a sweet spot between living in the now and capturing it for later, but I haven’t quite found it yet.
I had our friends go to the restaurant and get seated, and then I brought Bobby a few minutes later. We walked in, and I made a bee-line towards them. Bobby followed, confused of course, because we hadn’t even asked for a table, and then realized what was going on. If you’ve ever thrown a surprise party, you’ll know what a pleasure it is to see all the planning finally come together. I turned around to watch Bobby’s face break into a huge grin as everyone shouted “Surprise!” Or, more accurately, I think they shouted “Bobby!!!” – I was a little distracted at that point, overwhelmed with sheer relief that we’d pulled it off. There was lots of hugging and Bobby shouting “Holy shit! You guys tricked me!” Some of our friends live a few hours away, so it was especially nice to be reunited with everyone for such a fun occasion.
After dinner, we went to the hotel suite I’d booked, so that we could have a few more drinks – and cake! – without spending all of our money. Spending all of your money on drinks at bars in DC is absurdly easy to do if you start too early – pre-gaming is the only way to avoid it. We toasted to Bobby, and to turning 30, and to all being able to celebrate together, and watched him blow out the candles on his birthday cake. The cake I made was always going to be a Reese’s cake, because as far as Bobby is concerned, there is no other flavor profile worth his time. When you’ve been with someone long enough, and made a good number of peanut butter and chocolate birthday cakes, you have to stretch a little to make the concept seem fresh and exciting. Thankfully, there are more than a few ways to cake a Reese’s, and the internet led me to this beautiful cake from Life Love and Sugar.
The issue with making the cake was that, although I’ve made plenty of cakes in the past, I am in no way a professional at decorating them. I don’t think I understood crumb coats at all until about two years ago. Two days before the party I was at Michael’s buying a cake turntable so that I could attempt to frost this all-important 30th birthday cake with those pretty, intentionally textured, Instagram-worthy sides. After a little trial and error, and a batch of peanut butter frosting that separated for some frustratingly unknowable reason, it was done, and I’m definitely not mad at how it turned out. It’s gratifying to know that the hours I’ve spent watching cake frosting videos on Insta have contributed to my life in such a tangible way. I’m not including the recipe here because I didn’t change anything about it – follow the link above for directions!
We did a little bar hopping later in the night – checking out Cuba Libre to make fools of ourselves attempting to salsa dance, and then heading to a couple of much quieter places near Chinatown. Our friends are all in that stage of life where they’re getting married or buying a house or getting a new puppy, so we had a lot to catch up on. A little after one we all piled into an Uber to pay a visit to Mr. Abe Lincoln. The DC monuments at night are breathtaking in a way that they never are during the day. There are little-to-no crowds, and everything is lit up with spotlights. It’s incredibly peaceful, and a perfect way to wind down the night, after you’ve spent a lot of time in noisy bars. You can walk down along the reflecting pool to the WWII memorial, and revel in the warm summer air – sans the sun making you all sweaty and 8,000 other tourists hurrying you along. If you’re like us, you’ll bring a “water bottle” with you to keep your buzz going – just a suggestion.
When we were all too hungry and tired to continue our impromptu tour, we returned to our hotel to stuff ourselves with pizza (shout out to Papa John’s for being open until 4am) and more cake, and eventually pass out. The surprise went exactly as planned, and the whole night was relaxing and fun, and about as unpretentious as you can get in a city full of hipsters and politicians. Bobby has said over and over that he truly had no idea that the surprise was going to happen. I never realized I was so sneaky. Even if you don’t have sneaky plans to throw a surprise dinner/party anytime soon, make sure you check out that Reese’s cake – and definitely see the monuments at night if you’re in town.