Non-Traditional Venues for Urban, Modern Weddings

What's So Modern Anyway?

These days, you can really get married anywhere. Just ask the couple who said “I do,” on the ocean floor or the one who enjoyed the first zero-gravity wedding. One New Hampshire based couple, amid the pandemic slew of Zoom ceremonies, even decided to get hitched in the metaverse.

But even for those who aren’t quite so adventurous, pushing the boundaries of the traditional wedding venue can help you find a location that better suits your vision, your vibe. Perhaps it’s a place you pass every day en route to work but never really stop to consider.

When we think “modern wedding,” we think convenient and casual, yet packed with singular style. Surveys report a record number of destination weddings slated for 2022, perhaps a response to the confinement of pandemic lockdown, but the trend also nods to an increasing desire for a wedding that feels unique, singular.

Unfortunately, those far-flung destinations often impose an immense financial burden on guests and create a massive carbon footprint. But you don’t have to leave your city to find a magical, distinctive locale — some of the very best modern weddings are repurposing urban space in a stylish way, while allowing the couple to connect to their community, beyond their immediate circle.

A non-traditional urban venue can also align with progressive values — places you’ll be proud to give your money to. Who says your wedding venue can’t be an under-resourced community space, allowing you to hit two birds with one stone by putting your budget toward securing and supporting a stunning location?

Many modern couples are ditching the churches, the hotels, and the pricey venues for locations of personal significance — places that, with the right touches, can be transformed into the perfect wedding venue. Here are just a few of our favorites:

Find an Urban Community Garden

Have you ever stumbled across a truly magnificent plot of green in the middle of your city? A place of solace and quiet, natural beauty with the backdrop of the city landscape. If so, you know how romantic these locations can be: a romance that draws both from the pastoral and the urban, creating a distinctly modern blend.

Many community gardens in your city are likely available for rent and private events, though many won’t advertise that openly. If you have a specific garden in mind, we recommend you stop by and ask a volunteer for contact information for the outreach coordinator whom you can then reach out to directly.

If you don’t have anywhere in mind, find an aggregator of community gardens in your city and pick a few in a neighborhood that you’ve always loved or which has personal significance to you as a couple.

If you’re NYC Based, Green Thumb offers an interactive map with photographs and contact information for many of city’s gardens. One notable omission is our favorite New York City garden, Elizabeth Street Garden, a stunning local landmark which is also open for parties and weddings.

Another benefit, beyond the sheer wonderland beauty of these gardens, is the assurance that most or all of your proceeds will go towards keeping these urban gems alive.

Find a Local Farm or Vineyard (Just Outside the City)

One great way to compromise between the costly destination wedding and a more low-key, local affair is to opt for the elusive “day trip wedding” — somewhere just outside of the city where you (and, perhaps, the bulk of your guests) live.

Finding a local farm or vineyard within a two hour drive of a central city location is a great option for a modern wedding, minimizing financially and environmentally costly air travel and helping to support local agriculture. To further facilitate travel, you can rent an elegant vintage bus or two to shuttle people to the property, then back after the festivities (hiring multiple will make it easier to have an early and late departure option).

In terms of wedding etiquette, we consider this option to be a bit more modern, because it allows your guests to customize their stay according to financial and personal considerations. If they want to make a weekend trip of it, they can always book a room at a local inn. But folks who want to head back into the city to minimize costs or relieve their babysitters can do so as well. Everyone wins.

And aesthetically, you can combine rustic elements with a more urbane design sensibility to get that photogenic farm chic we can’t help but love.

Look Up

It’s hard to beat. A wedding on a rooftop at sunset can serve as a heartfelt and scenic tribute not only to your partnership, but to your city — perhaps the one in which you fell in love. We’ve seen some truly stunning rooftop weddings that go for a minimal aesthetic and let the view do all the talking.

Start scoping out restaurants, bars, and venues in your city that offer rooftop access, and contact them to see if they’ve done weddings in the past. Bars and restaurants can often offer a “buy-out” — at a fixed cost, they will provide the food and drink for your event along with the venue.

Some modern couples are keeping things super casual and opting not to rent a space at all, but to throw a wedding on the roof of any friend whose lease and building rules allow access for gatherings and parties. Not only does that strip away a massive cost,  but it’s an incredibly modern way to reimagine the use of urban space. Who says a Williamsburg rooftop should only be for Fourth of July fireworks and New Years parties?

From an etiquette perspective, we recommend warning the in-building neighbors (and even inviting them up to the roof for the reception). After all, the whole spirit of the thing is rag tag and communal.

I Think I Saw That ... In A Book?

The inimitable Carrie Bradshaw said it best... “Big and I would be married in the classic New York landmark that housed all the great love stories.” While we can’t all have her extravagant New York Public Library wedding (though, if you can swing it, it looks absolutely stunning), many smaller public libraries are also available to rent.

Transforming these often historic, architecturally striking locations into wedding venues presents another exciting option for a modern wedding venue. The bonus is that you get to financially support an important (and dying) community resource.

Local community theaters follow a similar logic, stunning architectural locations that are deserving of your dollars. If you’re a couple for whom literature or performance has been formative or bonding, these locations can also communicate something about your identity and values.

Have a Block Party

In the pandemic, we saw a significant uptick in the trend of the “stoop wedding,” a casual affair in which the couple gathers a small group of friends to watch them make things official (while also staying distanced and outside). As things continue to open up, why not enhance and embellish the concept by having your reception be a block party?

Cities like New York allow you to apply for permits to host a block party, for which your city block will be shut down for the day. Then, music and games can be played, and food can be served (but not sold). Hosting a carnival-like celebration on the block, with all of your friends and family, along with your neighbors, is another way to use the occasion of your wedding to connect with your larger community. And if you’re covering the cost (and bringing in the bouncy house), you can probably get the whole street excited.

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