When John and I first started thinking about our reception, we knew we wanted a space with a lot of room, preferably a lot of outdoor space, and a lot of creative flexibility so we could apply our own aesthetic and themes. We weren’t sure we could get that with a proper reception hall, so we decided to check out rentable homes and bed-and-breakfasts—the potential of a lot of land and a lot of creative control (not to mention a lighter financial load) were tantalizing.
However, upon searching, we didn’t find a lot of viable options. Either the B&Bs weren’t big enough or—honestly—gracious/lovely enough, or the places that were even close enough didn’t have any yards! (Having never lived anywhere near the beach, I guess I didn’t consider the distict lack of lawn space around!) So, we decided to research some reception and banquet halls online.
After looking at quite a lot of websites over the last ten days or so, we narrowed it down to about ten options. We arranged them in order of distance to Belmar/St. Rose, north to south, and took a little day trip today to check them out! Here was our list:
Molly Pitcher Inn-Red Bank (about 20 minutes away from Belmar, the longest travel time we’d allow)
Branches-West Long Branch (15-20 minutes)
Asbury Willows-Asbury (10-15 minutes)
English Manor-Ocean Twp/Neptune (10-15 minutes)
The Barclay-Belmar (Three whole blocks from the church)
Grand Victorian-Spring Lake (5 minutes—the next town over from Belmar)
Breakers-Spring Lake (Same as above—about 3 doors down from Breakers)
The Mill-Spring Lake Heights (10-15 minutes)
Lobster Shanty-Point Pleasant (15 minutes)
Crystal Point-Point Pleasant (15 minutes)
(The following is a bit of an overview of each place and how we came to our decisions about it—it’s a bit long, but it’s a good insight into the process.)
We decided to skip Molly Pitcher and catch it on our way back north, so we started with Branches, which was a really strong and pleasant start. To preface, today is Mother’s Day, and wasn’t the most opportune time to get one-on-one service, which we expected. We just wanted to take a ‘first-impression’ visit and grab a packet, get some prices and use that info to further narrow our list. We took a notebook and listed points we liked, plus concerns and eventual questions we’ll want answered.
Branches had a really lovely outdoor garden with a waterfall that we thought would be perfect for cocktail hour and for anyone just looking to get some air. The inside was full of guests, and the office was empty, but they had some info out for us to take down, which I was grateful for. The pricing was good, and the information they had available suggested that they’d be really accomodating regarding our own vision. The biggest drawback of Branches is that it’s the farthest away, save Molly Pitcher Inn!
As far as Asbury Willows, Google misled us a bit on location—we THOUGHT it was located in Asbury Park, about ten minutes from Belmar, but it actuality it was located waaaaay far out in WEST Jersey. So we crossed it off the list. (I didn’t mind—the website photos weren’t thrilling me.)
The English Manor was actually our last stop—since it’s solely a hall that opens only for events, no one was there, but it’s a pretty building that looks like a—yes—manor home with lots of foliage and woods surrounding it (which is what I REALLY had in mind when we were thinking about renting a house). Plus, their website advertises that they only concentrate on one wedding at a time, which is a very reassuring promise of personal service. Definitely worth making an appointment to go back and check it out.
We were looking forward to checking out Barclay because of its proximity to St Rose—how easy it would be to have guests walk to the reception hall! However, we were a bit disappointed. The all-white building was in desperate need of a power-wash and a new coat of paint, and on top of that, no one was there to show us around inside to change our minds. Our view through the windows showed a nice space though, and they just came out of off-season, so maybe a facelift is on the way for the building? Not a ‘no’ yet.
The Grand Victorian was another one we were excited to see—the website showed a really promising venue—but we were again disappointed. It was clearly popular: there were a ton of families eating there, but the space seemed a bit cramped and shabby—not exactly the charming, spacious place we imagined. The outside looked like it needed a wash and the white fire escapes were rusting. But we gave our info and expect they’ll call us. Looking like a no.
Breakers was suggested to us by John’s mom, who had her second wedding there. John was hesitant because it’s pricey and the only room that could accommodate our guest list was on the basement floor. (Besides, he wasn’t that interested in having a reception there since his mom and her second husband are now divorced. Bad juju!) We skipped it.
The Mill was another one we got a high recommendation about, and we were really pleased to see that it was well-deserved. It was busy with people having brunch, but we still got a price packet and got to look around the modern-but-still-warmly-decorated rooms and garden, which was not as well-laid-out as the one at Branches, but still very pretty. Plus, it has a really pretty view of the lake it sits on and the trees beyond. Definitely one of the top on our list so far.
The Lobster Shanty was another one John’s mom suggested—she brought back a packet after going there for dinner last week. The price is among the steepest, and the location is not ideal—sandwiched among three or four other restaurants and a motel, basically on a dead-end road surrounded by parking lots. It boasts a ‘deck’, which is really more of a wraparound walkway that can barely fit two abreast. The rooms themselves were expansive and pretty and full of windows, but I’m not sold on it (or on the name ‘Lobster Shanty’, for that matter). Probably a no.
Crystal Point was one of the first names I heard, and the website was full of good reviews. However, upon arrival, I was incredibly underwhelmed. Imagine a sort of Marina-Motel stripmall with an empty, extensive parking lot, right off the highway. That’s about what Crystal Point was for me. It is literally connected to the Crystal Point Motel, which I’m sure spells ‘convenience’ for some, but spells ‘low-rent’ and ‘tacky’ to me. Plus, the motel office staff didn’t even seem to notice that the Hall was closed for the day. Serious disconnect there. A no.
We headed back north toward Red Bank to see Molly Pitcher Inn, whose website really convinced me to check them out despite the distance. However, apparently there is more than one 88 Riverside Ave in Red Bank, because John’s GPS took us to Ft. Monmouth Military Base. We’ll have to do a little more research and go back when we have the chance, because I don’t really want to take it off the list just yet!
All these visits were super-short, mostly because we didn’t get any grand tours, which was fine by us. We were glad to narrow down the list pretty significantly—we’re only considering about half of the names we drove down with. We hope to narrow it down to two or three final choices before we get to the nitty-gritty details. (Our top three so far are The Mill, Branches, and English Manor.)
Next course of action is to call the places whose packets weren’t available in person (or online) and get the info over the phone. From there, we’ll look at prices to see what’s possible and what isn’t, and then make some appointments to talk to a representative of each place. I’m pretty excited to see what they can offer us, and I’m glad we’re getting this done early!
The map above shows the locations we’re still considering–just click on the little flags to see which is which!