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A Place for Love 

A Look at Alternative Wedding Venues

Anthony Lala says the New Orleans' wedding market is booming, and he should know. Lala, a wedding consultant for more than 25 years, feels that although there aren't as many venues to hold the ceremony and the reception -- The Carrollton isn't reopening, the Ritz-Carlton remains unavailable, the Fairmont Hotel hopes to reopen in October 2006, and the Hyatt Regency is closed -- places accepting reservations are doing a thriving business and New Orleans remains a desirable wedding destination.

"Spring came in like gangbusters for me," Lala says. "I participate in most of the bridal shows and the turnout has been fantastic."

Steve Zweibaum, managing partner at Rosy's Jazz Hall at 500 Valence Street on the corner of Tchoupitoulas Street (896-7679), agrees with Lala's optimism. Immediately after Katrina, Zweibaum admits he lost about 25 weddings, but says the hall is now doing at least a wedding a weekend. Zweibaum attributes some of this to the closings; however, he thinks a bigger factor is what Rosy's has to offer. The building, which had been a home and a grocery store, was renovated by Rosy Wilson in the late 1970s and became a Jazz club, hosting such music legends as Dizzie Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Stevie Wonder.

Besides the musical history of the location and a garden courtyard, which can be used for the ceremony, Zweibaum, an executive chef, offers four possible New Orleans-inspired menus.

"It's modern New Orleans cuisine," Zweibaum says. "It's basic, but not red beans and rice. We twist things up a little bit. For instance, we have Oysters Cordon Bleu, which are fried oysters wrapped in smoked ham and topped with a Brie fondue."

Muriel's (801 Chartres St., 568-1885), provides more than 12 options for the menu. The fine-dining restaurant is located only a few steps from St. Louis Cathedral. Jackson Square, with its beautifully sculpted gardens, leaves photographers without any worries concerning the backdrop for wedding photos. Like the surrounding architecture of the Presbytere and the Cabildo, Muriel's is housed in a building more than 200 years old. It was extensively restored in 2000, and the renovators remained faithful to the building's original design as a prime private residence.

Rick Gratia, general manager and co-owner of Muriel's, reports that its wedding business is doing very well. Muriel's is versatile and can accommodate most wedding receptions, including large parties of more than 350 people.

There's no reason for couples in New Orleans, or those from out-of-town thinking of having their wedding here, to ever have to settle for a plain hall. Consider Venusian Gardens (2601 Chartres St., 943-7446). It originally was constructed in 1854 as a church and now houses an art gallery known for its neon and glass sculptures created by owner Eric Ehlenberger. The gallery and studio can accommodate up to 200 people and is decorated with luminous abstract wall designs and Ehlenberger's signature sculptures, the jellyfish series, which hang from the gallery's ceiling.

Debbie McIntyre, manager of Venusian Gardens, says booking availability is currently fairly open. The gallery can arrange for the catering, but McIntyre says the ambience offered is what makes Venusian Gardens so unique.

"I don't know of any other venue like it in the city," McIntyre says.

The New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) in City Park (658-4107) is a much larger site and can accommodate as many as 1,500 wedding guests. Smaller parties are welcome as well, and Marilyn Dittman, spokesperson for NOMA, says couples can get married in the Great Hall by the Rodin statues, or outside in the Sculpture Garden. With so much surrounding art, either location will spark guests' aesthetic senses. As Dittmann rhetorically asks, "where else can you have a party with $300 million worth of art?"

Dittman says the museum has become a popular wedding site post-Katrina, with many of the couples and their guests traveling in from out of town and out of state. Not only is it good for the museum's business, it also helps book hotel rooms in the city, she says.

Dean Pigeon, owner/chef of Pigeon's Catering, organizes the wedding receptions at the New Orleans Board of Trade (316 Board of Trade Place, 262-0412). Pigeon began rebooking the venue in October, and held wedding menu tastings at his house. His innovative strategy worked, and Pigeon reports that business at the Board of Trade now is very good.

The building displays an architectural opulence of New Orleans past, when the city was a major player in the coffee trade. The main room of the Board of Trade features an eight-section mural on the building's dome, which was completed by local artist Alvin Sharpe in 1932. The Plaza, an outside courtyard in the style of smaller Parisian parks, is paved in pink flagstone with four planters arranged around a fountain.

Pigeon says he can design a reception menu to fit most couples' budget. "We can do red beans and jambalaya, or we can do lobster and filet," Pigeon says.

Another option for those searching for a historic location is the New Orleans Public Library's Latter Branch (5120 St. Charles Ave., 596-2604). Built in 1907, the mansion was donated by the Latter family to the public library as a memorial for Milton Latter, who was killed in Okinawa in World War II. Although the second floor is currently being renovated, the first floor, a covered porch and the landscaped grounds can be rented.

The two front rooms have frescoed ceilings signed "de Rudder, Paris 1858," which were imported from France and originally graced a mansion in the French Quarter. There is a Louis XIV French parlor that is lined with wall panels of cherry-red brocaded damask and a crystal chandelier imported from Czechoslovakia. The larger reading room speaks of meticulous attention to detail with the fine woodwork of its Flemish-style mantel, as do the onyx and tile fireplaces and ornate light fixtures throughout the house. Interested couples will have to arrange for catering, but the library will provide security and maintenance.

If the betrothed couple has desires for grandeur, the Castle, just outside Franklinton (455-8700), can bring the fantasy to life. The Castle is a replica of an English Norman Keep Castle, and is located on 10 secluded acres. Ceremonies are held outdoors, and an option of having it take place in front of a landscaped pond with a fountain. The bride walks down 46 steps to a decorated gazebo at the front of the pond, while rose petals flutter down from the castle's balcony.

The South's own version of the royal estate, the plantation, is another romantic setting. There are several -- Destrehan Plantation (985-764-9315), Southern Oaks Plantation (245-8221) and the Ormond Plantation (985-764-8544) -- within 30 minutes of downtown New Orleans. Buses can be hired to transport out-of-town guests staying in the city to the desired plantation.

For those who wish to keep the celebration within the city limits, the Columns Hotel (3811 St. Charles Ave., 899-9308) allows guests to leave the reception, walk up a few stairs, and be back at their hotel room.

Lala believes New Orleans will always outshine many other cities when it comes to hosting a wedding. While it's true that some of the city's venues aren't presently available, most will return and much of what makes New Orleans a memorable wedding setting can still be found.

"Look at the history of the city, the beauty of the French Quarter, the Garden District, and Uptown," he says. "New Orleans just has so much to offer than your modern concrete city. You can't beat it."

click to enlarge The stairs in the front gallery of New Orleans Museum of - Art is a breathtaking entrance for a wedding party. - NEW ORLEANS MUSEUM OF ART
  • New Orleans Museum of Art
  • The stairs in the front gallery of New Orleans Museum of Art is a breathtaking entrance for a wedding party.
click to enlarge New Orleans Museum of Art has become a popular location - for weddings and sit-down wedding dinners. - NEW ORLEANS MUSEUM OF ART
  • New Orleans Museum of Art
  • New Orleans Museum of Art has become a popular location for weddings and sit-down wedding dinners.
click to enlarge A bridal couple and their guests enjoy a few moments of - candlelight at a recent wedding at Rosy's Jazz Hall. - JEFF POUNDS
  • Jeff Pounds
  • A bridal couple and their guests enjoy a few moments of candlelight at a recent wedding at Rosy's Jazz Hall.
click to enlarge Muriel's Jackson Square captures the beauty and elegance - of the French Quarter, making it a popular choice for - weddings. - MURIEL'S JACKSON SQUARE
  • Muriel's JAckson Square
  • Muriel's Jackson Square captures the beauty and elegance of the French Quarter, making it a popular choice for weddings.
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