There’s plenty to choose from locally that will not only make your occasion, but maybe even have folks talking about it.
Days of the quaint family reception in a corner of the synagogue following the ceremony have become the exception rather than the rule these days when it comes to planning big events in the Philadelphia Jewish community. While cutting costs certainly matter, it seems doing something fun and innovative has become more important.
So, good news! There’s plenty to choose from locally that will not only make your occasion, but maybe even have folks talking about it.
“The trend in events is unique venues,” said Judy Moore, associate vice president of sales and marketing at Garces Events, which will work to accommodate any client’s needs, even providing kosher food. “It’s no longer hosting the party in a ballroom. We’re seeing people want unique alternatives. But there are a few places we cater to we can work into that.”
When it comes to Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, she says Spruce Street Harbor Park is becoming an “in” place, allowing kids to either ice skate in the winter or roller skate in the spring and summer.
Distrito — with locations in West Philadelphia as well as Moorestown, N.J. — is another popular spot. “One of the trends in mitzvahs is restaurant space,” explained Moore. “That way, they don’t have to bring in a lot of décor and don’t break the bank on rental furniture.
“I get a lot of people asking what’s new and trendy and hasn’t been done a thousand times. People are not interested in a square room anymore. Kids walk in and love the look of it. Parents walk and in know they’ll get amazing food from Jose Garces.”
Or not, if they prefer keeping kosher. While Garces is not a kosher caterer, he’ll bring one in if the client chooses for as many guests as needed. They’ll also order kosher wine.
That kind of flexibility is a necessity these days to attract business. Even at the new Logan Hotel, which has been completely renovated from the old Four Seasons, you can choose your kosher caterer among Six Points, Barclay Caterers and Betty the Caterer.
Make no mistake, though: Regardless of the quality, folks aren’t celebrating their occasions here because of the food. “We blend sophistication with modern luxury,” said Sandy Heydt, director of sales and marketing at the Logan, which just opened in December. “We’ve modernized the way the hotel feels. We wanted the Logan to be a place where people won’t feel intimidated. It has an exciting, youthful vibe. But modern doesn’t mean more expensive. It’s more avant garde.”
Among the attractions at the Logan are the various ballrooms, all of which are adorned by some piece of Philadelphia history, including an extensive art collection and a spectacular glass enclosed steel sculpture entitled “Crew” in honor of Philadelphia’s rowing tradition. That’s among the 100 or so pieces in the hotel created by local artists.
“The Stenton Ballroom, which is named for James Logan’s summer estate, has a large window overlooking the Parkway,” explained Heydt. “And the wall and ceiling were built from reclaimed Pennsylvania farm wood. The Grand Ballroom, which can hold 500, has refinished railroad ties made into tables, which give it a rustic look. We’re finding a lot of people like using them as natural tables and putting a flower arrangement on it. It’s the most interesting ballroom in Philadelphia.”
The Logan will also offer a group rate for guests, encouraging them to make a weekend of it, where they can also take advantage of its elegant fitness center and spa.
That’s just one advantage of hosting your Jewish event in what some might see as the perfect place: the National Museum for American Jewish History. Since opening in 2010, the NMAJH has become a hot spot for hosting events.
While the exhibition floors are generally closed during your party, they will permit guests to arrive early and see the place. They also work with a number of hotels and parking garages to make things as convenient as possible.
“I work with the client from the moment they book the place until they leave to make sure everything on site is perfect,” said Ellen Weiss, NMAJH facilities rental and event planning manager. “It’s up to the customer if they want to keep the exhibit open they can do that. Normally, during social events, we don’t keep it open. But if people are in for the weekend and want to come in, we can make arrangements.”
Once you book the museum — which could range from around $3,500 to $5,000, depending on how much space is needed — what you do with it is pretty much up to you. “Normally, the customer will bring in lighting and their own vendors,” said Weiss. “We work with the vendors. They can set up as early as they want. It depends how big the event is.”
The same goes for the food — and drink. “We have a list of approved caterers,” she continued. “Barclay, Betty, Essen and Prestige — and seven non-kosher caterers.
“And in terms of alcohol it’s BYO — they can bring in their own, which is a nice cost saving. We’ll work with the customer about what they should buy.”
The bottom line, though, is that the NMAJH is a unique place to host your special event. “There are so many museums in the city,” acknowledged Weiss. “But we like to think we’re competitive when it comes to hosting special events and we have a fabulous outdoor terrace that overlooks the city, which we keep open year-round.”
Those are just a few of the many new venue options for 2016. Garces also recommends the Cira Centre near 30th Street, where it hosts a wedding just about every weekend. The Starr Catering Group is getting regular bookings at the Horticulture Center in Fairmount Park and the New Liberty Distillery.
But once the event gets underway, once the bar is open and the hors d’oeuvres have been served, what about the party itself?
Sally Mitlas, who’s been performing spectacularly at Jewish weddings and Bar and Bat Mitzvahs for over 20 years, has some ideas how to add an extra touch.
“We’re doing something special in video production for our clients,” said Mitlas, whose documentary, A Hero From Heaven, on Philadelphia native Michael Levin who was killed in battle in Lebanon, has won numerous awards. “Personal messages shown at the affair — very creative videos with scripting and green-screen production.
“I get to know the client very well and create a one-of-a-kind cinema production, which is shown at the affair. I also work with the musicians and vocalist and redo lyrics of a song to tailor it to the bride and groom or the Bar or Bat Mitzvah.”
It’s an intricate process where she applies the personal touch, being involved from the start. That’s apart from the entertainment itself, which includes ranging from a DJ, to novelty performers and character actors, to the band — which can be as large or small as you like.
“With music, what people love about what we do is that I want to stay true to the music forms and don’t want to change,” she explained. “It’s not terribly new, but I don’t think anybody does it like us. With the videos, they come to our studio and I show them different videos, because no two are alike. I produce and direct every one of them. We can do one in four weeks, four months or four years. If they want us to spend a day in New York with them, I’m overseeing it. I have a camera crew, audio crew and editors — six people involved from beginning to end.”
Ultimately, whether you spare no expense like that or are just doing something simple, the show will go on. Whether you book the Logan Hotel or the NMAJH, have it catered by Jose Garces or Stephen Starr or simply have it at the synagogue like old times, there’s only one thing that truly matters: That you’re happy with the end result.
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