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This must be the place, part II

When my fiance and I started investigating potential wedding venues, we weren’t really sure what we were looking for.  We knew that we wanted something more unique and less sterile than most hotels and banquet halls, but once we had eliminated the Park West and Garfield Park Conservatory, our venue hunt was stalled because we ran out of ideas.  We did realize that we wanted a venue where we could hold both the ceremony and reception though – we’ve been to too many weddings where the guests had to kill a couple of hours between the ceremony and reception, and that’s just no fun.  (Well, sometimes we’ve gotten rollicking drunk in those few hours, so fun has definitely been had during that interval, but we would have preferred to celebrate with the rest of the wedding guests immediately!  Plus, as the bride, I wouldn’t be too amused to see my friends stumbling into the reception because we’d given them too much time to drink on their own after the ceremony.)  So, back to the internet I went for a second round of research!  

The Knot was actually quite useful as a springboard for venue research – if nothing else, it was instructive to see that when I tried to search for Chicago venues in the “one dollar sign” price range, I found nothing. And there wasn’t a whole lot in the “two dollar sign” price range either.  Note to self:  Planning a wedding in Chicago is expensive.  (Duh, Sarah!) 

One of the most unique places I discovered was Catalyst Ranch, in Chicago’s West Loop.  It’s technically a meeting conference center, but as they say on their website, it’s definitely “the funkiest conference center you’ve ever seen.”  Catalyst Ranch is full of vintage furniture in bright colors, neat oriental rugs, and retro art and collectibles, including a collection of vintage hats and wigs!  

Their rooms are named after dances – Polka, Tango, Cha Cha, Mambo, Jitterbug – how cute is that?!  We had to check it out.  I showed up at the end of a long day at work, and was immediately endeared to the place by the fact that their staff directed me to a refrigerator full of complimentary soft drinks.  Hey, it’s the little things.  I loved the general look and feel of the place, and they have thrown some cool weddings there in the past...but on the one hand, it was hard for us to imagine our wedding there, especially the ceremony, which we felt should happen in a place with a certain solemnity, despite the fact that we aren’t having a church wedding.  On the other hand, it almost seemed like too obvious of a choice for us – like being the casual, quirky people we are, of course we would choose the funky venue that most of our older relatives probably wouldn’t appreciate.  We didn’t particularly care what those relatives thought, but we certainly didn’t want to be predictable.  So in the end, we moved on, although I will jump at any excuse I might find in the future to have a party at Catalyst Ranch!

The last two venues we visited became our finalists.  The Grand Piazza, aka the Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame in Little Italy, was a fabulous surprise.  I was immediately drawn to it when I saw this picture:

What Chicago bride wouldn’t want that spectacular skyline view in her wedding photos?  We wanted somehow to incorporate the city into our wedding anyway, and a rooftop ceremony with a view of the skyline seemed like a great way to do it!  We visited the Grand Piazza in December, after the weather had gotten pretty chilly, but we were still impressed with the view from the rooftop.  We also loved the people who gave us the tour – Danielle from the Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame, and Becky from Levy Events.  They wee young and energetic, but also knowledgeable and professional.  It was the first time that we sort of “clicked” with venue staff, and we were confident that they would do an excellent job helping to plan our wedding.  

Before we even went in, my fiance was struck by the statue of Joe DiMaggio across the street:

“How cool would it be to have some wedding pictures in front of this statue?”  Hmm, maybe for you and the groomsmen, honey – I actually love baseball, but I didn’t see myself hanging with Joltin’ Joe before the wedding.

The venue has three floors, plus the rooftop terrace, and each floor is rented separately.  The ground level is the exhibit gallery, full of lots of interesting paraphernalia from Italian-American sports heroes, and they offer the option of making your own “exhibits” in their cases for your wedding. The second floor or “Sports Room” contains more sports paraphernalia; the third floor is a great ballroom with a built-in dance floor and AV capabilities – they had a table set as it would be for the wedding, which I thought was a nice touch for our first tour – and of course the fourth floor is the rooftop terrace. 

First floor gallery:

Third floor ballroom:

We figured that we would want at least two floors – the terrace for the ceremony, and the ballroom for the reception.  However, the rooftop didn’t really offer a backup plan in case of inclement weather, which made me a little nervous.

Around the same time, we visited the Newberry Library.  Despite the fact that I’ve always been an avid reader, I had only been to the Newberry once during my nine years living in Chicago, and that was for a work-related charity Christmas sale.  I really didn’t even remember that when I visited with my fiance, so it felt like the first time I had seen this place:

I was immediately impressed by the exterior of the building, and the grand marble staircase coming down into the lobby when we walked in!  This would be the "aisle" I would walk down to the ceremony:

Pictures courtesy of the Newberry Library.  None of these shots truly captures the grandeur of the staircase, but at least you get an idea.

We met with Karen Skubish, who has been working in their Special Events department forever.  It was funny, because we had discussed the fact that we liked the young staff at Grand Piazza because they weren’t jaded from working a million weddings – and then we met Karen, who has worked a million weddings but still seems enchanted by her work. 

The Newberry Library was founded in 1887, and it houses a fascinating collection of old books, manuscripts and maps related to the history and culture of Western Europe and America.  I’ve never browsed the collection, which includes illuminated medieval manuscripts, historical sheet music, and the personal papers of Midwest literary figures and Chicago politicians, among other things.  I did become more interested in the Newberry when I read The Time Traveler’s Wife – one of my favorite books of the past few years – because one of the main characters works at the library.

Karen showed us around while describing the décor that they usually provide for weddings and the function of the different spaces.  She painted a beautiful picture of a tasteful, romantic wedding that we could easily personalize.  The ceremony is often held on the stairs, and I just love the idea of coming down a grand staircase instead of walking down an aisle!  And then the guests move down a hall to Ruggles Hall for the reception.  Ruggles Hall is beautiful.  Wood paneled floors, lovely chandeliers, nice opera chairs, and tall windows along two sides of the room, one side looking over the park in front of the library. Here are a couple of photos of Ruggles set up for weddings:

 by Tricia Koning Photography

by Peter Thurin Photography

And here are a few pictures of the park in from our return visit with my future in-laws this weekend - we can only hope it looks close to this beautiful in April!


We were attracted to the Grand Piazza and the Newberry for different reasons, but once we had seen those venues, we knew that we would be happy having our wedding at either one, and it just became a matter of comparing value for money.  The Newberry rental fee included some nice amenities, like a private parking lot, security, and some décor, including lots of votive candles for every nook and cranny, and a garland for the banister.  All of those things would cost extra at Grand Piazza, making the total venue rental expense fairly comparable.   

I had no idea when we started looking at venues that we needed to be thinking about caterers at the same time, but our final decision pretty much revolved around the catering situation.  At the Newberry, we had a choice of any caterer, and even the option to bring in our own alcohol.  On the other hand, Grand Piazza is exclusively catered Levy Events.  Although I’ve read good things about Levy, and I absolutely adore Spiaggia, which is a Levy restaurant, we weren’t that excited about their event menus.  Well, we weren’t impressed by the selection of appetizers – we thought their chef stations looked awesome, but we quickly learned that buffets and/or stations can quickly add up to cost more than a plated dinner.  Who knew?  It made sense after it was explained that the caterer has to provide more food at stations or a buffet, but we just had this idea that buffets must be cheaper – one of the many misconceptions shattered in my first few months of researching the details of planning a wedding in Chicago

So the Newberry definitely had the catering advantage, and a few other nice features – by its very nature, the Newberry would require less additional décor than Grand Piazza, and the location was more central.  Finally, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that if we planned an outdoor ceremony I would be anxious about the weather up until the wedding day.  So we’ll be inside at the Newberry, but as I mentioned, there’s a nice park out front, so I hope to have some wedding pictures with trees in them! 

So finally, almost six months after our engagement, the first crucial decisions were made: our wedding would be on April 26, 2008, at the Newberry Library.  Hooray for decisions!

I can't tell one from another
Did I find you, or you find me?
There was a time before we were born
If someone asks, this where I'll be . . . where I'll be

Talking Heads, "This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)"



( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 20th, 2008 10:12 pm (UTC)
I was doing some googling on wedding venues and found your journal. I am also really interested in holding my wedding at newberry library (grand piazza is the other venue I really loved) and havent really started looking into catering costs yet. I was just curious if you wouldnt mind sharing any caterer info you've found(prices would be awesome).
Jan. 18th, 2011 12:48 pm (UTC)
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Sounds like a great product. It would probably be a great gift for grandma at Christmas time
Feb. 12th, 2011 08:45 am (UTC)
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( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


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