New Year’s Eve party inspiration and tips from local social mavens

Throw your own New Year’s Eve party with tips from two lake-area residents.
For Kay Martin, the first step in party planning is to pick a theme. This year, their New Year's Eve party has a Turkish vibe, as they had visited Turkey earlier in 2012.

Kay and Jerry Martin love to entertain. Kay attributes it to her genetics: Her mother was a natural entertainer and “the self-appointed social chairwoman of 510 Groveland,” the upscale hotel-turned-residential property near Minneapolis’s Loring Park where she lived. Kay also inherited her mother’s grand Eastlake dining room table, which has the regal bearing of an important and storied guest, and can handily expand to accommodate 22 people. The 1973 courtyard twin home in Shorewood in which it resides has been gutted and remodeled by the Martins themselves to stunning effect. When you see the house, parties make perfect sense. Entertaining is practically a moral obligation with such an exquisite setting.

Kay is, in fact, the appointed social chairperson for the Amesbury development in Shorewood, and Jerry is a passionate cook from a long line of passionate cooks. Together, they make the perfect party team: He shops and cooks; she designs the invitations and décor.

According to Kay’s daughter Steph Opitz, “My mom and Jerry make you feel like royalty when you arrive.” Opitz also gushes about Jerry’s culinary prowess: “He has a party-appropriate menu for every occasion. He’s the kind of chef that makes it look all too easy, but like getting a good haircut, you just know you can’t execute it the same when you’re back at home.”

Kay and Jerry have a New Year’s Eve club of five couples, and every year all 10 of them have a party together. For Kay, the first step is to pick a theme. One year it was “Forever Plaid,” so Kay used plaid tablecloths and asked her guests to dress in plaid attire. Another theme was “reflections.” Mirrors and safely compiled shards of broken mirrors adorned the room, and guests took turns sharing their reflections on the past year. Another year was about clocks, and Kay used old watches to make napkin rings.

“Really, you don’t need to spend lots of money, just build on things from around the house,” she says. “Open a cabinet and see what you find.”

Whether the food is served buffet-style or as sit-down dinner, the Martins’ open kitchen is an inviting place for guests to linger. People always seem to gather in the kitchen, so Jerry enlists their help for small culinary tasks, because people also love to pitch in, and it keeps everyone together. Jerry often makes dishes that he can prep the day before and that taste better after a bit of time, like braised lamb shanks or short ribs.

But the Martins’ parties aren’t just about food and decoration. Kay also thinks of the perfect fun activity, often using her guests’ talents. For example, her amateur magician friend might contribute a performance for the occasion. There’s also music in every room, and dancing after dinner. “We’re in our 60s,” she says, “so we like music from the ’60s.”  It’s a great way to work off the incredible dinner, too.

It’s clear that Kay’s party-throwing prowess is instinctive and personal. Asked about her style philosophy, she clearly wasn’t keen to limit her entertainment aesthetic with a brand. Rather, the Martins’ parties are an organic unfolding, a pure expression of creativity, hospitality and resourcefulness. The key to their success? Each gathering is uncontrived, generous and utterly from the heart.

We hope we’re on their next guest list.



-         Pick a theme and plan the invitations, décor and food from there.

-         Station the bar away from the kitchen to encourage guest flow.

-         Work with what you have around the house.

-         Mix fake and real as needed.

-         Use vases in unexpected ways—for example, filled with stones.

-         Enlist guests to help in the kitchen.

-         Include an activity to get people talking and/or moving.