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Last time on Wedding Wednesday I shared some very important tips for venue hunting. This week it’s time to dive into our hunt! This post is all about wedding venue hunting and what we learned along the way.
Living in New York City meant we had tons of venue options. A quick, non-specific hunt for all wedding reception venues in NYC on The Knot turns up over 430 results! It is a wealth of options that borders on overwhelming. As I discussed in the previous post we were able to start whittling down the list of potential venues by setting our general budget and guest list size.
As I became all about wedding venue hunting for a month or so of our wedding planning process, I was able to further narrow down our list by honing in on what Alexander and I wanted out of our wedding venue. We wanted a space big enough to host both the ceremony and the reception. Alex and I wanted to be near the water or at least have views of the water. And if our venue had amazing Manhattan views that would be a bonus!
Another consideration for us was proximity for friends and family traveling to NYC from places far flung. We had guests from flying in from places like Colorado and Spain or driving in from Long Island and New Jersey. We didn’t want to make their trips any harder by adding another 2.5 hours driving to a venue upstate or in the Hamptons. Hotel and parking proximity became important too. So we quickly narrowed in on Brooklyn as our ideal location.
Then as the list got shorter, I became strategic as I was all about wedding venue hunting. I picked a couple of no frills places to show Alex, as well as a couple of full service venues. There were venues at street level and rooftop venues. I selected a couple of venues near us and some not so close to us. Some venues were indoors, some outdoors, and some a mix of both. I made some hard cuts — goodbye, Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, even though you’re lovely and right around the corner from our apartment, you don’t have water or city views and you’re above our budget, so off you go. So long, The Foundry, you look marvelous but parking looks tough and there aren’t really hotels in your immediate vicinity. Plus, the city views are just a peek.
In the end, I narrowed our list down to 7 venues. Come along with us as we visited each of them!
SKY LOFT (GREENPOINT, BROOKLYN, NYC) & W LOFT (WILLIAMSBURG, BROOKLYN, NYC)
Although Alex and I were pretty set on having 100 people at our wedding, he asked to see some smaller and larger venues so we could get a sense of what the space would feel like. I’m not gonna lie; I strategically had us visit the smallest venues first because I hoped we could immediately cross them off the list. Alex is a wise man — I’m sure he knew the game was afoot, but I think it was good for both of us to start with these venues.
As we were all about wedding venue hunting we learned so much about the wedding business! As it turns out both the Sky Loft and the W Loft are on top of buildings with other purposes — one was a residential building and one was an office building. Getting access to both rooms was very awkward for us; at one building the doorman allowed us to go up and at the other building we had to wait quite awhile for the Super to arrive with keys. No one met us upstairs to give us a tour or talk services. We were quite literally on our own.
At some venues we visited it was clear they specialized in weddings or were wedding-exclusive. But at both Sky Loft and W Loft, it was more like a multipurpose room that could be used for any gathering. Nothing wrong with this of course but it meant decoration would be a ground-up process! In fact everything from tables and chairs to food would be a ground-up process. I was not feeling up for that.
When Alex and I arrived at the Sky Loft room (top left photo above), we just laughed. The room was meant for 50 people max and I think that would have been a stretch! In fact the main appeal of the room was the huge outdoor space shown in the second photo down from top. Views of Midtown East sparkled across the East River. That’s great on warm days, but we couldn’t imagine what would happen on a rainy or cold day. At this time in our wedding planning process we hadn’t set a date yet. We didn’t even know what time of year we wanted to get married yet, though we had a preference for Summer.
It took us less than 5 minutes to know Sky Loft was not for us. For a couple looking for a simple or intimate wedding, it would be perfect. We moved on to the W Loft in Williamsburg. This room (seen top right in the photo spread above) was more wedding-ready. It was crisply colored in greys and whites. There was a built-in bar and two outdoor patios. With room for 180 guests (more than we planned by 80 people), it seemed to have potential.
But like Skyloft, we were on our own for the tour. The room came with very little included — we’d be on our own for seating, decorations, food…everything. I’m sure that for many people that’s appealing. You get to choose it all! But I have done event planning in NYC and I know what a logistical nightmare it can be, even when all the vendors are highly respectable. Without a wedding planner (an additional cost we did not want to take on) this room also seemed like an insurmountable task. So, we moved on to our next venue.
THE DUMBO LOFT (DUMBO, BROOKLYN, NYC)
We headed down to DUMBO (that’s down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass) for our next venue visits. The DUMBO Loft is in a very cute and vibrant, albeit kind of dingy area. There aren’t really any subway lines nearby and I could not imagine parking or driving to this area on a busy weekend day or evening.
The DUMBO Loft is located in one of the few historical buildings on its street not to be demolished when the Manhattan Bridge was built. It has a history as a steam-fittings factory and retains so much of the character today. There are huge wood columns, exposed piping and large windows. It’s really a gorgeous building inside and out! Inside, diagonally laid hardwood floors make for a pretty visual juxtaposition to all the metal and brick surrounding. Our time all about wedding venues was starting to impress!
Like the W Loft, the DUMBO Loft included a bar. What was nice is that the bar at the DUMBO Loft cold move around! We got a guided tour of the wedding space at the DUMBO Loft. That was so great! Our sales manager showed us pictures of different wedding arrangements and explained different layouts we could use for our ceremony and reception. Seeing those photos was so helpful for visualizing our own wedding.
Our wedding venue hunting journey was a learning process. In just a couple of hours we’d quickly come to realize that the “room fee” charge NYC wedding venues share is the bare bones of what a wedding needs. Sales managers at these venues will smile and tell you that the room fee is $5,000 on a Saturday or $3,500 on a Friday evening or $2,500 during the week, and you think, ‘great deal’! While a venue can look affordable if you only consider the room cost, once you start adding other necessities (i.e. chairs and tables, food, DJ, etc.) in, the cost rises considerably!
Not only that, but even in venues were things like tables and chairs were included, the final price still didn’t reflect things like alcohol, service fees, required tips, or many more charges. We ran head on into this reality at the DUMBO Loft when we started thinking about how much it would cost to have our wedding there. Although the room fee started at a very affordable sounding $2,500 in 2018 depending on the day of the week, once we started adding in all the fees we realized a 100 guest wedding would easily be around $30,000 there, and that’s without food considered.
One other thing we immediately didn’t like about the DUMBO Loft was that there only two bathrooms. With 100 guests that could become challenging. In fact we attended a wedding there about 3 months before our own. The wedding itself was amazing; the wait for the bathroom was at times bladder-challenging.
26 BRIDGE ST (VINEGAR HILL, BROOKLYN, NYC)
From the DUMBO Loft the sales manager walked us up to 26 Bridge St, located in nearby Vinegar Hill. Though the LOFT was near the water it didn’t have a view and part of being all about venue hunting was finding a view. Sadly, 26 Bridge St didn’t have a view either but it did have a lot going on for it inside!
A former metal factory, 26 Bridge is thoughtfully renovated into quite a grand space! There are so many beautiful skylights. The single-height entrance opens into a grand, three-story high space with modern chandeliers and beautiful floors and walls. There is also a balcony above the main space where we were told many couples make their married entrance. And I can see why — I was having total Princess Kate visions as we looked down upon the room from up on high!!
Amusingly there was a photo shoot going on when we visited so we weren’t allowed to see parts of the back area. But this was the first venue we saw with large guest bathrooms. And the main room really felt like it would be roomy enough for both our ceremony and our reception.
Again, the pricing brought us to pure sticker shock. While tables, chairs and cocktail tables were included in the $9,000 room fee for 2018/19, we laughed when we were told alcohol would be an upcharge. Yes, the venue with the built-in bar charges more for alcohol — and most NYC venues do. Very few people want an alcohol free wedding, and in being all about wedding venue hunting we were quickly learning the ways venues made their money.
We politely thanked the sales manager, and crossed 26 Bridge off our list. The DUMBO Loft was still in contention! In a single afternoon we’d visited 4 venues! Our remaining venue visits were one a day over the rest of the week.
THE GREEN BUILDING (GOWANUS, BROOKLYN, NYC)
Several of our friends encouraged us to check out the Green Building. Being all about wedding venue hunting, we couldn’t help but giggle at the idea of a venue located on the, ahem, scenic Gowanus Canal. You know, a Superfund site? But the Green Building is so lovely! You immediately forget about the canal as soon as you walk inside. (It’s pictured above and also in the photo topping this post.)
Another large, open converted factory awaited us. Beautiful chandeliers, a balcony overlooking the main room and a spacious private patio area lent the Green Building a very chic vibe. The sales manager eagerly told us how many couples hire food trucks to pull into the backyard and cater the wedding. (Very Brooklyn.) We saw photos of ceremonies with string lights galore. This was the kind of building that would need very little decoration.
Now on the 5th venue tour of being all about wedding venue hunting, I had prepared a better list of questions to ask. We learned that the Green Building has a facilities operator, an event manager who would help us with our wedding up until the day off, and a front-end manager who would be onsite on the wedding day. This all sounded fantastic! We were getting closer to the level service we expected. The room price, which was around $10k, did not include much of anything but the building at least had things like chairs and tables available on-site to rent. Alcohol was amusingly expensive here. If you ever want to offend a NYC wedding venue, ask if you can bring your own alcohol to your wedding.
Hilariously, like all the venues we visited so far, the Green Building didn’t work very hard to win our business. The friendly sales manager laid the (incomplete) pricing out to us, we asked lots of questions, and that was it. No, ‘we really hope you choose us!’ or anything like that. Alex and I both commented on the disconnect on our Lyft ride home. It didn’t seem like any of the venues we’d visited cared about whether we chose them or not. With so many venues to choose from, how do these places stay in business???
Yet despite our misgivings, we’d learned the Green Building was already booked for much of Summer 2019, our preferred time frame for getting married. And this visit happened in March of 2018!! Over a YEAR beforehand!!
We put it on the potential list along with the DUMBO Loft.
BROOKLYN GRANGE (NAVY YARD, BROOKLYN, NYC)
You may remember me mentioning earlier in this post that I strategically put our wedding venue visits in a certain order. I saved the venues I was most excited about for the end of our tours! By the time it was time to visit the Brooklyn Grange, I was super excited! The Brooklyn Grange is a rooftop farm located in the hip Brooklyn Navy Yard near downtown Brooklyn. It’s actually almost a straight shot north from our apartment.
The Navy Yard has lots of hip things like a sit-down Russ & Daughters restaurant and a Wegman’s. I highly recommend you visit it if you come to Brooklyn! It also has the Brooklyn Grange, which may be the coolest place of all.
Now keep in mind that we visited in late March, which is pretty much the greyest month possible in NYC. Picture it in April and beyond. In the Spring, Summer and Fall the Grange is in full bloom! Imagine the rows of soil sprouting with veggies, sunflowers, or bursts of blooms depending on the time of year.
In my all about venue hunting mindset, I felt like the Brooklyn Grange married a lot of what Alex was looking for in a venue with a lot of what I was looking for. Having grown up in FFA, I was big on farming. Alex is a city kid. The grange has amazing views of the water of Manhattan, and while it’s strictly an outdoor venue there was a large covered area for eating. I couldn’t wait to see it in person!!
A very friendly staff member gave us a tour. I’d already looked at several wedding albums from the Brooklyn Grange online (seriously, go check out their galleries RIGHT NOW) so I could imagine what it would look like come Summer. We also found their pricing to be very fair — and most of the meals were cooked using food right from the farm!
Unfortunately, some logistical issues prevented us from choosing this venue. Firstly, in order not to damage the crops, all guests would have to stand during the ceremony. And while there were very large bathrooms they were located down one flight of tight stairs. Our wedding would have about 20% older guests, and I was concerned especially for my mom who is legally blind trying to navigate a trip to the bathroom around dusk or after dark.
If our wedding was going to be all our young, fit friends, we would have chosen this place in a heartbeat. And I hope to attend a wedding here someday! Alas, it wasn’t going to work for us, so we crossed it off the list.
THE LIBERTY WAREHOUSE (RED HOOK, BROOKLYN, NYC)
Our final venue visit took us down to Red Hook, which is one of the former industrial areas of Brooklyn. This area flooded very badly during Superstorm Sandy in 2012 (when I was living on Wall St camping out on the 35th floor with no power!!) but has recovered nicely to be a center of amazing restaurants and less amazing trustifarians.
I’d saved the best venue for last in our week all about wedding venue hunting. The Liberty Warehouse is a full-service wedding venue located on the water with incredible views of downtown Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty! This place is white glove. Top notch. Frank Sinatra would probably rewrite “New York, New York” to be about this place if he’d had his wedding here.
Pardon me while I gush about the Liberty Warehouse a bit. Firstly, it has a port cochere to beat all port cocheres. Guests would literally drive their cars into the warehouse to get out before a valet takes their car off their hands for the duration of the wedding. Upstairs, a humongous bridal suite (and semi-spacious groom suite) await for the bride and groom to get ready on their big day. Downstairs, a spacious room accommodates as many as 300 people with a 175 person minimum. Upstairs, a separate room awaits for ceremonies only in case of rain on the wedding day. For Winter weddings, the venue had several fireplaces for ambiance. Have I mentioned how much Alex and I love fireplaces?
The Liberty Warehouse does food, tables, chairs, just about everything in-house! We’d only be responsible for decorations, DJ and flowers. THAT is how I wanted our wedding to be. No stress or fuss. Additionally, an in-house wedding coordinator would take care of all the planning with us. (Me, mostly me.) Being all about wedding venue hunting led me to immediately love this place!
After the tour, Alex and I sat down with the sales manager. We knew this place was expensive before we visited it but we wanted to see it for a comparison. Now fully in love with it, we wanted to talk pricing. By this time Alex was an expert in asking for the “complete” price after fees and such are tacked on. Pleasantly, the sales manager made no fuss and happily agreed to give us full numbers.
With plates at about $210-$275/person depending on the time of year and day of the week, we played around with the numbers to see what the best deal we could get would look like at The Liberty Warehouse. If we got married later in 2018 (we visited in March 2018), like in November or December, we could do the wedding for around $65,000 before DJ, flowers and decorations were factored in. For our preferred Summer 2019, we were looking at closer to $80,000 and dates were quickly being snapped up.
This was the first venue where I felt the sales team truly wanted our business. The sales manager spent a good deal of time with us, answered all of our questions thoroughly, and seemed motivated to make the numbers work for us. But we couldn’t make a decision that day. We had to think it over, especially since this venue was so far above our agreed-upon budget. We just loved it so much!
So, after 7 venue visits, our final list was down to the DUMBO Loft, the Green Building, and the Liberty Warehouse. Which venue did we choose? I’ll reveal the answer in the next Wedding Wednesday post!!