Superlative Spaces

Congratulations—you’re engaged! Now put down that second glass of bubbly and pick up the phone. Boston’s top wedding venues book up one year to 18 months out, says Tasha Bracken of SD Events. What’s the best way to pick a site? We can help. With advice from planners, newlyweds, and other matrimonial pros, we’ve compiled a list of 10 truly distinctive locations in Greater Boston (and a backup for each, in case someone else gets there first). Whether you’re a gourmand, an art enthusiast, or an environmentalist, your perfect spot awaits.


Intimate
The Herb Lyceum

With its manicured gardens and post-and-beam carriage house, the Lyceum is the antithesis of a wedding factory. Owners Cathy and David Gilson personally work with couples to create unique receptions on their family farm. Although you can gather up to 125 people outdoors, capacity for sit-down meals—for which the Lyceum is famous—is limited to 60 outside and just 30 inside. The menus highlight herbs, of course, with dishes like grilled bruschetta with goat cheese and basil, and Dijon mustard and lavender-encrusted rack of lamb. Many brides incorporate herbs into their receptions in nonculinary ways, too: Potted plants make attractive centerpieces, and herbal posies make good bridesmaids gifts. This is a site for anyone looking for an intimate gathering—and something a little different than a ballroom (and the big price tag that comes with it).
Info: 368 Main St. (Rte. 119), Groton, 978-448-6499, gilsonslyceum.com.

Capacity: 30 (indoors); 125 (outdoors)
Fee: $1,000–$2,500
Catering: In-house
If it’s booked, try: Kelleher Rose Garden, Back Bay Fens (capacity is 50; apply for a permit through the City of Boston), cityofboston.gov/parks/wed dingpolicy.asp.


Exclusive

The Harvard Club of Boston

Usually only Harvard students and grads, their families, and affiliated staff can meet at this exclusive Back Bay gathering place, but weddings are the exception—if you know the right people. The stately club houses the four-story Harvard Hall, with stone fireplaces and three ornate silver chandeliers. Some brides light the hall’s balconies with votive candles, giving the historic locale a soft, romantic touch. Its sister site, the Downtown Harvard Club in the Financial District, is also open to weddings and has panoramic views of the ocean and the Harbor Islands from the 38th floor of One Federal Street. Both clubs offer a custom-tailored menu. But be warned: they book up quickly for the peak fall season.

Info: Harvard Club, 374 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-536-1260; Downtown Harvard Club, One Federal St., Boston, 617-542-2070; harvardclub.com.
Capacity: Main Club holds 285; Downtown Club, 200
Fee: Main Club is $1,800; Downtown Club is $1,500–$2,000, depending on
the season
Catering: In-house
If it’s booked, try: The Algonquin Club, 217 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-266-2400, algonquinclub.com.

Scenic Views
Pier 4 at the Courageous Sailing Center

Haven’t heard of the Courageous Sailing Center? You’re not alone. The nonprofit center usually functions as a family-focused recreational facility, but it also hosts weddings year round. The seaside digs have one of the few unobstructed views of Boston Harbor and the city skyline—from Zakim Bridge to the Boston Custom House— yet somehow, only a handful of couples hold their receptions here each year. During daytime wedding events, guests can earn their sea legs sailing rented boats under the guidance of instructors, while landlubbers play croquet or volleyball on the shore.

Info: Pier 4, One First Ave., Charlestown Navy Yard, Charlestown, 617-242-3821, courageoussailing.org.
Capacity: 1,000
Fee: $3,500 for the pier; tents range from $7,500 to $10,000
Catering: Open to select caterers
If it’s booked, try: Boston Harbor Hotel, 70 Rowes Wharf, Boston, 617-439-7000, bhh.com.

 

Go on to the next page to find out about historic, cultural, and non-traditional reception sites…


Historic
The Lyman Estate

The Lyman Estate in Waltham, a National Historic Landmark dating back to 1793, is steeped in history. Shipping magnate Theodore Lyman built the Federal-style manse as a summer home. He and his kin were botanical enthusiasts and, over generations, built a series of greenhouses that are now among the oldest in the United States (they’re open during receptions for an additional fee). Couples that wed at this estate have the run of the air-conditioned mansion—with its Victorian library and oval-shaped parlor—and 37 acres of landscaped grounds. Many twosomes reserve both the indoor and outdoor areas, with a cocktail gathering in the garden and dinner and dancing in the ballroom.

Info: 185 Lyman St., Waltham, 781-891-4882 x235, lymanestate.org.
Capacity: 150–175
Fee: $1,000–$4,600
Catering: Open to select caterers
If it’s booked, try: The Codman Estate, Codman Rd., Lincoln, 781-259-8843, spnea.org/visit/homes/codman.htm.

Cultural
DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park

Photo by Ashley O’Dell

This art museum in Lincoln has a bold modern wing, a stellar permanent collection of regional works, and some of the most beautiful grounds in all of Massachusetts—even New England. It’s a great choice for both art aficionados and couples seeking a chic canvas and spectacular views. Many choose to have their wedding ceremony and cocktail reception on the roof or sculpture terrace, where guests can watch the sun set over nearby Slints Pond. Inside, the Dewey Family Gallery creates an ideal backdrop for dining and dancing on a floor designed by artist Thomas D. Osborn. The icing on the cake: A vast, 35-acre sculpture garden, filled with a rotating display of contemporary pieces, turns staid wedding party photos into works of art.

Info: 51 Sandy Pond Rd., Lincoln, 781-259-3638, decordova.org.
Capacity: 130
Fee: $5,700–$7,600; additional fees for use of roof terrace
Catering: Open to select caterers
Special note: No children under 15; exceptions possible if children are in the bridal party
If it’s booked, try: Larz Anderson Auto Museum, 15 Newton St., Brookline, 617-522-6547, larzanderson.org.

Nontraditional
The Barn at Gibbet Hill

Photo by Michael J. Charles

If you (or your mother) can’t come to terms with the idea of having your reception in a barn, then you haven’t seen the Barn at Gibbet Hill—a completely restored, open and airy structure that dates back to the 17th century. Although the barn held cattle until 2003, it’s now a beautifully renovated, bovine-free space. Some couples serve low-key, casual barbecue fare in the barn; others elect to have gourmet, five-course feasts in a tent nearby. If you plan in advance, you can reserve an area among the photo-friendly ruins of an old hunting lodge—referred to as “the castle” because of its turret—perched high on a hill. This poetic (yet pricey)
option offers views of acres upon acres of rolling hills.

Info: 61 Lowell Rd., Groton, 978-448-3233, gibbethill.com.
Capacity: 225
Fee: Minimum $8,000 Friday and Sunday, $19,000 on Saturday
Catering: In-house
If it’s booked, try: The Milky Way Lounge & Lanes, 403–405 Centre St., Jamaica Plain, 617- 524-3740, milkywayjp.com.

 

Go on to the next page to learn more about green and surf side sites…


Green
Habitat Education Center and Wildlife Sanctuary

This 88-acre Shangri-la in Belmont is a prime place for brides and grooms conscious of their ecological footprint. To rent the Habitat, you must become a member of the Massachusetts Audubon Society (a mere $58), which runs the property; so from the start, you’re making a green gesture. During the reception, guests can amble through the wildlife sanctuary, home to deciduous and evergreen forests, meadows, and a vernal pool. Wedding ceremonies are usually held in the formal gardens—or at a brick Georgian house on the grounds, complete with a living room and fireplace, a solarium, and three walls of floor-to-ceiling windows that mean nature is always in view.

Info: 10 Juniper Rd., Belmont, 617-489-5050, massaudubon.org.
Capacity: 100
Fee: $2,800; additional $1,000 for tent rental
Catering: Open to select caterers
Special note: Daytime events only
If it’s booked, try: Artists for Humanity EpiCenter (voted one of the top-10 sustainable buildings in the nation by American Institute of Architects), 100 West Second St., Boston, 617-268-7620, afhboston.com.

Surfside
Steep Hill Beach

Photo by Bryce Photography

If you’re looking for formal tradition and an ocean view, the Great House at Castle Hill in Ipswich is (literally) tops. But if you’d prefer to wriggle your toes in the sand and feel the breeze in your hair while saying your “I do’s,” Steep Hill Beach, located just down the hill from the Great House, offers a casual setting and laid-back ambiance. The property’s private, rolling lawns with giant shade trees are just a pebble’s throw from one of the most picturesque swimming beaches in all of New England. Many couples hold their ceremonies right by the water—and then head up to the lawn for a more traditional reception.

Info: The Crane Estate, 290 Argilla Rd., Ipswich, 978-356-4351, thetrustees.org.
Capacity: 200
Fee: $800–$2,395; additional fees for tent rental
Catering: Exclusive caterers only
Special note: Weddings on the beach must be standing ceremonies, and no alcoholic beverages are permitted by the water
If it’s booked, try: Emerson Inn by the Sea, One Cathedral Ave., Rockport, 800-964-5550, emersoninnbythesea.com.

 

For an over-the-top reception site and an epicure’s choice, go on to the next page…


Over-the-top
Opera House

Photo by Amanda Ambrose

Put your own production on the Playbill while you and your groom take center stage at one of New England’s most magnificent theaters. The Opera House, built in 1928 and reopened in 2004 after $39 million in renovations, is available for receptions. That includes the entire theater, stately lobby, mezzanine promenade, Walnut Room, and the stage. It’s got all the ingredients of one of the most lavish wedding receptions imaginable: regal beaux arts–style architecture, 200 twinkling chandeliers, gold-leaf ornamentation, and original carrera marble columns. If you’re looking to impress, this site will more than suffice. Just make sure you line up an evening of entertainment that can hold its own against the ghosts of performances past.

Info: 539 Washington St., Boston, 617-259-3415, livenation.com.
Capacity: Up to 300 per level; 500 on stage; 1,800 in the entire theater
Fee: $3,500 for the first level; $2,000 for each additional level
Catering: Exclusive caterers only
If it’s booked, try: The Boston Public Library, 700 Boylston St., Boston, 617- 536-5400, bpl.org.

Epicure’s choice
Oleana

Photo by Heath Robbins Photography

As Boston foodies well know, Oleana chef Ana Sortun creates exotic eastern Mediterranean–influenced fare like nobody else. When planning a nuptial repast, couples sit down with Sortun (who was named best chef in the Northeast by the James Beard Foundation in 2005) to customize their menu. Most opt for a family-style meal, which is social, festive, and—most importantly—allows guests to sample many mezze (small dishes). Recent wedding menus have included Sicilian-style swordfish skewers with tomato, oregano, olives, and currants; and grape leaves with figs and fried lemon. In the summer, the restaurant’s garden offers a magical setting; in cooler months, the crackling fireplace creates a cozy atmosphere. Brides can customize either setting with flowers and music, and personalized menus are printed in-house for guests to take home.

Info: 134 Hampshire St., Cambridge, 617-661-0505, oleanarestaurant.com.
Capacity: 45–70
Fee: $1,000 for up to 45 people; $1,500 for up to 7o people; price per head ranges from $50 to $75
Catering: In-house
Special note: Daytime functions only.
If it’s booked, try: State Room, 60 State St., Boston, 617-854-5000, longwoodevents.com.