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: http://www.pittsburghparks.org/riverviewprojects.
Editor’s note: During this time of quarantine and social distancing, some of the general wedding planning advice we share may not be applicable or possible due to restrictions on events. Please adhere to all current regulations and stay safe and healthy! Learn more here.