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Mansion or Museum
Tristate Offers Special Places for Your Special Day

BY DIANNE GEBHARDT-FRENCH

Winery wedding? Or a ceremony on THE TOP deck of a yacht? On the patio overlooking a four-star golf course? A view of the Ohio River from a private terrace at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center or from high atop Devou Park?

From the sun-drenched atrium of the Manor House in Mason to the classic marble hallways of the Cincinnati Art Museum where guests stroll past the works of Matisse and Degas, the Tristate offers venues to meet any couple's expectation.

All it takes is the time to explore your options and make a choice.

The Vinoklet Winery will serve up award-winning Traminette white wine (a double Gold winner) at an elegant reception on its 30 acres of rolling hills. Rows of grape vines in the background and a pond with a fountain complete the scene.

Destiny Yacht Charters welcomes guests aboard its sleek 110-foot yacht for a cruise past the Cincinnati skyline as the bridal couple exchange vows and then celebrate with a tailored reception. Three decks, extensive menus and a professional crew make it an experience to remember. The most popular weddings on deck are formal and at sunset. Afternoon weddings tend to be a mite more casual, and owner Dawn Krollmann works closely with the bride on timing and details. "A bride should contact us as early as she can, especially if she has a specific date in mind," says Krollmann.

The Manor House offers many amenities brides look for in a wedding site: a stately portico to greet guests, a luxurious ballroom, outstanding kitchen and wait staffs as well as bridal dressing suites are at the top of the list. The atrium, the courtyard and gazebo provide options for the couple to make the day their own.

Kathy Kinane, who owns the Manor House with her husband Bill, says the trend is to have the ceremony and reception at the same location for timing and convenience. The Manor House can host both. Cooler months? Every gathering room has a fireplace as does each entrance. Photo ops? There are pillars, fountains and gardens.

The Manor House has expanded its ceremony options with the addition of a new carriage house in keeping with the property's plantation theme. It offers wood beamed ceilings and two separate rooms, each with a bridal dressing room.

"Every bride wants a beautiful day for her wedding but Mother Nature doesn't always provide that," says Kinane.

The atrium and the courtyard (with a retractable roof) provide options. Once a couple books the venue, they are invited to a tasting event, which also includes trusted vendors so the couple has the option to work with people who know the facility and setup.

What about the unexpected? The Manor House has just introduced bridal hostesses.

"Just when we think it's all perfect, there's always one new surprise," Kinane says.

The hostess is there to help: irons, sunscreen, hairspray, safety pins, corsage pins, Band-Aids, and lots of other goodies kept in what Kinane calls a "bridal box" for the last-minute, unexpected need. When the bride is well on her way down the aisle, the bridal hostess changes gears and acts as the server for the head table.

Every detail of the Cincinnati Art Museum speaks to the grandeur and elegance of the iconic treasure atop Eden Park.

"We introduce the bride from the staircase in the Great Hall. It's a huge wow factor," says Gretchen Mettler, general manager of special events and hospitality at the museum. Forty weddings is an average for a year at the museum, which is already booking in 2014.

Brides interested in a Friday or Sunday wedding have more options.

Exclusive to the museum is the option for brides to have photos done in front of the artwork, says Mettler, and for an additional security fee, guests have access to some of the galleries.

The courtyard provides a more subdued but still regal setting for a smaller ceremony or reception. The architecture is stunning and the fountains add to the scene.

The museum staff prepares the food and also handles all vendors, so the couple can enjoy the day. And, she adds, "Parking is lovely for Mount Adams," with the full lot at the disposal of guests.

Step back in time with the Newport Syndicate's grand ballroom complete with stage, an antique bar and large dance floor. Or take advantage of the beauty of the Legendary Run Golf Course with seating for up to 200 in the new clubhouse. The patio is also available.

Clearly, choice is not an issue when planning a wedding in the Tristate. There are country clubs, elegant restaurants, museums, parks, banquet halls and historic estates offering the perfect location for any couple.

Most venues offer planning services, lists of preferred vendors for services they do not provide (catering, flowers, tent rentals) and experience in creating the perfect event.

Many locations book at least a year in advance.


Rehearsing a Good Time
Informal, Formal or Just Plain Unique

BY SHELLY GREENWAY

Rehearsal dinners have evolved far beyond a fancy sit-down dinner for the bridal party and the bridal couple's families. They are now a big part of the celebration, extending into parties for out-of-town guests, and the Tristate has lots of options from the elegant to the unique.

Imagine Paul Brown Stadium, for example. Not just the home of the Cincinnati Bengals, the stadium is a venue with a twist. It offers a unique alternative, with views of the playing field, the Ohio River and Cincinnati skyline with rooms that can accommodate from 25 to 1,000 people.

The dinner rooms offer elegant and stunning architectural detail, with African wood accents.

At the Celestial Steakhouse, high atop Mount Adams, why not host cocktails and appetizers in the two-story bar amid glimmering crystal and brass as well as an incomparable view of the Cincinnati skyline? The service is excellent and private dining rooms seat up to 55 guests.

Jag's Steak and Seafood in West Chester will tailor the event to the couple's tastes with six individual dining rooms accommodating as many as 55 people. Choose a roaring fireplace in the Library or the sleek Florida room.

Across the river, the Newport Aquarium offers a distinctly unique destination.

"Picture your guests eating dinner in our newly renovated theater with a backdrop of sharks, exotic fish and sea turtles swimming by," suggests Aquarium Sales Director Elizabeth Webb.

Cincinnati's finest caterers, including Elegant Fare Catering, Funky's Catering and Chef's Choice Catering, provide the food for events at the Aquarium. There's plenty of parking and the chance to walk through exhibits makes the evening more memorable.

"Exciting exhibits, delicious food, and impeccable service will make your rehearsal dinner an evening to remember," Webb says.

Couples who thrive on the outdoors will love the atmosphere of the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens. The Zoo offers indoor and outdoor venues that can accommodate groups of any size. The beautiful gardens and exhibits provide breathtaking backdrops for any rehearsal dinner, wedding or reception.


Brides Enjoy Many Options for Reception Dining

BY CINDY KRANZ

Traditional sit-down wedding dinners are facing tough competition as guests feast on a smorgasbord of other options.

From small tapas plates of appetizers to a mashed potato bar or food stations featuring international cuisine, brides have more choices to make their reception memorable.

"They are all at an age where they're going to so many weddings, and they need something to set theirs apart from everybody else, so they're looking to the caterer for guidance," says Jeff Thomas, owner of Jeff Thomas Catering in Ludlow, Ky.

Food stations are hot in the world of wedding receptions.

Most brides who hire Vonderhaar's Catering in Reading still do a sit-down dinner or buffet, but food stations are becoming more and more popular.

"You're going to go with one direction or the other," says owner Don Vonderhaar. "Either you're going to go with three to four light appetizers that go into a dinner or replace dinner with your heavy hors d'oeuvres stations, and carving and pasta stations to go along with that."

Station to Station

Guests walk from station to station, filling small plates with whatever strikes their fancy. In some cases, the "plate" offered is a pre-filled martini glass that contains protein, starch and vegetables. The reception takes on more of a party atmosphere with all the mingling.

"I think some brides like that their guests can get up and mingle and can be more interactive at the reception," Vonderhaar says, instead of sitting at a table.

What's nice about the stations, Thomas says, is brides can offer something more eclectic, such as Thai and Indian food. It's OK to have one or two stations that are a little more exotic, he says, as long as you also serve a meat and potatoes dish or Italian.

Don't Forget Favorites

Then again, familiar foods can also score points, too.

"I don't care how sophisticated the wedding is, when we do a slider bar, we know that we have to bring enough for everybody to have two or we're going to run out, because it's popular," Thomas says. "Fun food always goes first."

Other trends:

Seated, plated meals with a choice require a card indicating the dinner the guest has chosen.

A macaroni bar of baby penne noodles with a dozen toppings, including warm cheddar cheese, bacon crumbles, grilled chicken and black beans.

Late-night food stations offering small buffet of LaRosa's pizza or a Skyline chili buffet "” so very Cincinnati.

So how does a bride wade through the multitude of caterers to find the one that's right for her?

Reputation is the No. 1 consideration, both caterers says.

"These days, it's easy to Google a name, and there's plenty of information that brides have given in reviews," Thomas says.

"Looking at caterers' websites often gives you an idea of the food they prepare and the pricing. It's a good place to start."

Vonderhaar recommends brides have a price point in mind when searching for a caterer.

"Not every caterer can meet your price point whether it's high or low," he says.

"The other thing is coming out and meeting with the caterer directly. We do a lot of tastings and consultations, more than we have ever done. It's basically an interview process."

And it's not just about the food, they say. Service is important, too. That's where recommendations from friends are invaluable or taking notes when you are a guest at someone else's wedding.