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You know what’s fun? Standing in line in downtown Pittsburgh with about 1,000 other people at 7:00 on a Saturday morning, vying for a coveted ticket to be allowed inside city hall for a shot at booking the park venue of your choice.

To backtrack a bit, Tim and I spent the first six or seven months of our engagement trying to find a venue that had a) outdoor space, b) ceremony and reception location in one, c) flexibility on catering and alcohol, and d) did not cost thousands upon thousands of dollars. I genuinely did not think it would be as challenging as it was. We looked at vineyards, barns, parks, lodges, and conference centers, and contacted no fewer than 25 venues. One barn we looked at was very pretty, but cost $4,000 and included nothing more than the facility rental and ice! There were gorgeous, perfect venues that we didn’t even tease ourselves by going to visit because they cost in the neighborhood of $8,000 for a weekend rental, not including catering or alcohol. Some venues simply did not return our emails, and others were OK but made us feel like we were settling. I recommend getting pricing, availability, and complete information on what is included in venue fees before visiting a venue. You save yourself a lot of time and potential disappointment if you only visit venues that are within your budget.

Pittsburgh is by no means the most expensive city to find a wedding venue in, but we were surprised to learn it was not even close to one of the cheapest. We stumbled upon a picture of the Chapel Shelter in nearby Riverview Park on Pinterest–I had never even heard of the park, even though we live only 25 minutes away from it. We quickly looked for rental fees online, and seeing that a permit for an eight-hour rental cost only $345 and included an alcohol permit, we wandered up to the park on a snowy day. Even with bare twigs and snow where flowers and lush trees should sit, we thought it looked just perfect.


It has a huge wraparound porch, big grassy flat areas where we can set up games, is surrounded by woods, and has indoor restrooms. We later found out that it used to be an actual Presbyterian chapel, which felt like a sign. After calling the city, we learned that all city park pavilions and shelters are rented on a first-come, first-served basis, starting on a Saturday at the end of March each year. We were hesitant to risk waiting so long to confirm a venue, but decided to take our chances after being unable to find anything we liked nearly as much as we liked the Chapel Shelter. So at 6:45 AM on March 29, we were on our way downtown to stand in line for an hour and half and try our luck at getting the date of our choice (September 27). Over 1,000 people were in line for only 300 tickets, which allowed us to enter City Hall and be one of the first 300 people to choose their date and pavilion. I lucked out and got #67 (the tickets were completely handed out at random, so it didn't matter whether we were first in line or last), and we walked away the permit for our venue in hand. We are so excited to get married there and throw a big party for our friends and family.

When looking for your own venue, don’t be afraid to consider spots that aren’t specifically advertised as wedding venues. Local parks might have a great option for you, and in my experience, they are less restrictive about caterers and (best of all!) you can bring your own alcohol, as long as you have a permit. It’s a bit more work than an all-in-one more traditional wedding venue, but you may find that it’s worth it for the cost savings. Renting our venue and purchasing an alcohol permit cost less than our invitations did!  More info about the Chapel Shelter can be found here:

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About Laura

I'm Laura. I'm 27 and I live in Pittsburgh, PA, with my fiance Tim and our two obnoxious cats. Tim proposed in August of 2013 after a little over two years together, and we are getting married on September 27, 2014, in gorgeous Riverview Park in Pittsburgh.

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  • Laura W

    So glad you got a ticket! This venue looks so quaint and unique. I can’t wait to see your wedding pictures!

  • What luck! And what a price-yowza! That’s an incredible steal, no wonder there was a huge line.

  • So lucky! The place looks great – I can’t wait to see how it all comes together.

  • Victoria

    Thanks for this, Laura! (And congrats, by the way!)

    So that’s definitely still the case? I read an old blog that was dated back in 2007 or so that said you had to wait in line to try to secure this venue, but I just called the permit office this week and the guy on the phone said it was a “first come, first serve” basis and didn’t know anything about this March lottery deal. So I got my hopes up since he said you filed for the permit and they’d notify you if it was granted or denied. Then he said just the payment was due in March if your permit was approved beforehand.

    Is this completely false information?

    Thank you for your info! 🙂

  • Hi Victoria,
    When we did the March lottery, they did claim that the system was going to change for this coming year (2015), but they said it was going to go online, so the info you were given seems a little mysterious!

    I would suggest talking to Bob Lackey at 412-323-7209. He may be out of the office but he will call you back. He can also show you around the venue and maybe tell you a bit more about the process, but he is very knowledgeable (at least he was for us).

  • Victoria

    Thank you so much for your response, Laura! It helps so much to have a contact name and number now. I ended up in some random loop of phone extensions and menus the other day when I called!

    I have a few questions about the space:
    1) did you see the inside of the building? I can’t seem to find any online and was curious how it looks in there.
    2) are you planning on renting outdoor tents? Or are you only planning on utilizing the covered porch and inside area?

    Also, I love all your blog entries! GOOD CALL on the Trader Joe’s tip! I can’t wait to see more as your wedding unfolds! 🙂

  • Thanks Victoria! Where are you in Pittsburgh, out of curiosity? And when are you looking to get married?

    To answer your questions:

    1)We actually booked it without seeing the inside–took a leap of faith. BUT it’s quite lovely. Laminate or hardwood-looking floors, white and blue walls with little info posters about stuff in the park, really clean too. It gets a ton of light when you open the doors and windows. And there are 6 long tables and about 35 chairs inside (they stay inside). There is a bathroom inside, as well as a bathroom that’s handicapped accessible on the ground level. There is a kitchen, which isn’t huge but has a fridge, oven, etc. and was totally OK with our caterer.

    2) We are not renting tents. Our wedding is only about 65 people, so the porch and inside is plenty of room for us. We will use the concrete patio and grassy areas for lawn games and dancing and cocktail hour.

  • Victoria


    I am in the Regent Square/Point Breeze area of Pittsburgh. I am not even really super familiar the area where the Riverview Chapel is, but it says it’s only about 25 minutes from us. So not bad at all.
    We’re completely flexible on dates, however, I personally would rather have it in either May or early September to not run the risk of having it be blazing hot outside so everyone melts. But I’m honestly open to anything.
    This venue seems amazing and I’m basically obsessed with it at this point! Haha. I’ve only found a few sites with pictures of weddings that were held there and it seems PERFECT for the insanely low price. Everything else in Pittsburgh/surrounding areas seems to be thousands just to rent, not including food or drinks or anything. So, I’m zeroing in on this place!
    Thanks for the updates on the inside. It’s great to know it’s usable space.

    Are you having to rent any additional tables or chairs to supplement the ones provided?

  • Victoria

    Sorry to blow up your post! Just to update: I called Bob Lackey and was given another contact at the permit office who I called. As it stands, it’s still the same system you went through. It could change to an online system for 2015 but it’s a slow moving process according to them. But THANK YOU for your help! I appreciate it! 🙂

  • Hey Victoria! Glad you got some info.
    I’d be glad to talk more about all this via email, or even to meet (after the wedding) to talk about this more. Try emailing me at [email protected] and we can chat if you’d like.
    I definitely agree that prices are crazy expensive and the park pavilions, especially Chapel Shelter, are the way to go! I found it by luck via a picture on Pinterest!

  • Leah

    Were you happy with your choice? I’m looking into Riverview park as well.

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