Dana Karwas had two images mind as she set about planning her 30th birthday party. It was to be the first grand celebration of her life. One image was the scene at the end of Fellini’s 8½, when a small brass band does a brief march on an Italian beach. Another was a persistent daydream about holding her friends hostage.
“I really wanted to kidnap some people and take them out to Coney Island,” she said.
So she did. On her birthday, a group of 15 people met in downtown Manhattan. At 8:45 p.m., three black cars showed up. Everybody was blindfolded, handed a bag containing a musical instrument and some drink, and then shoved into a car.
“The cars were instructed to zoom as a procession towards Coney Island,” said Ms. Karwas.
The blindfolds came off when they arrived. The late-October night was chilly—a wind blew and a slight rain had started to fall. The group was instructed to play their instruments, march along the beach and recreate the ocean-side scene that Ms. Karwas, who grew up in Missouri, had long dreamed about.
“It made me so happy, I think I cried,” she remembered.
They marched down the beach to Tatiana’s Russian restaurant, where, said Ms. Karwas, a table laden with “trays and pyramids of food” awaited them. They ate. After a performance that Ms. Karwas describes as a sort of Russian Cirque du Soleil—techno, trapeze artists, contortionists, neon lights—the evening evolved into an all-out dance party.
“And that’s when it kind of felt like a wedding,” she said.
As more people hit 30 unmarried and without children—without any real emblem of their now undeniable adulthood—the 30th birthday party has become an increasingly elaborate affair. For some, it becomes a sort of second bar (or bat) mitzvah—a full-on party with the celebrants focused wholly on the honored guest, and an atavistic return to the unencumbered joy of childhood parties. For others, the 30th is a pre-emptive declaration of elderly gravitas, where accomplishments and experiences thus far are elevated to epic proportions by a youth-obsessed culture. The 21st birthday is an amateurish bacchanal, a mere permission slip, usually memorable for the next morning’s ailments. The 40th is so far off as to be unimaginable. The 30th is where the real party is.
As a result, there’s been a proliferation of a different kind of save-the-date, like the email we received last year, subject heading: “new year’s birthday / get your face melted.”
“I am turning 30 in December,” the email read. December, at the time, was seven months away. “I know it’s a big commitment to trek out of the country for a 5-7 day party,” it continued, “but shit, when have we been known not to throw the parties that melt your face off.” More such emails followed.
“I am turning 30 in August (!), and I’m planning a birthday dinner at a restaurant in Carroll Gardens,” said another. “Let me know if you’re around, and if so, I’ll send you an invitation (yes, I printed invitations because I’m obsessed with my birthday).”
When the paper version arrived, it was lovely, like a wedding invitation, with an embossed green bicycle and elegant font on creamy paper. The card was as much a special occasion as the party, and we were reluctant to even throw it away. We sent our reply, put on a nice dress and were treated to a lavish dinner in a very nice restaurant that felt, well, like a wedding reception without the drunken uncles.