I spent hours researching various websites, chat rooms, and magazines to compile a list of possible venues in the Baltimore area that looked to be within our price range. Then once I had a list of two dozen or so, I did further Googling to try and figure out what the venues’ websites didn’t tell me: how well each venue performed and what each actually charged. My biggest fear is that I’d fall in love with a so-called “affordable” venue only to discover it was affordable to only the Kardashians.
In the end, those hours of research paid off. We visited five venues that met our three must-haves and were able to quickly narrow down our choices to two.
Everyone in Baltimore has either been married or attended a wedding at one of Martin’s seven Maryland locations. It is truly a wedding mecca that offers numerous all-inclusive packages so you can plan the wedding of your dreams.
Image via Martin’s Caterers
If you want your guests to have a great time, this is the place. They’re eating pretty much from the time you say “I do” until they’re walking out the door. Hot and cold hors d’oeuvres, appetizers, salads, soups, pasta stations, carving stations, dessert bars, sundae bars, international coffee bars, open bars…no one is leaving hungry. There are even two hotels within walking distance, so no worries about drunken guests driving themselves home. Plus, signing on with Martin’s means getting decades of wedding experience. From start to finish, you’ll be working with wedding veterans who know what they’re doing and how to head off any problems. And it’s no slouch in the looks department, either. The massive chandeliers and ornate ballrooms appeal to many tastes. All of this comes packaged at an incredibly reasonable price.
Image via Martin’s Caterers
It’s a wedding mecca, yes, but for us, it also felt like a wedding factory. There are multiple weddings going on at any given time. The staff staggers start times so a ceremony isn’t being held next door to a loud reception, but guests from multiple events could share bathrooms and hallways. As for the look, it didn’t meet our taste. Some people like the ballroom look, but not Mr. Puffer and me.
The Mansion at Valley Country Club
This 1858 Georgian-style mansion was built by the Kelloggs before being purchased by a well known Baltimore sports family. The addition of the ballroom made it a perfect venue for an intimate wedding. Among the mansion’s more popular features are its multiple working fireplaces, sports bar with family memorabilia, and the grand staircase.
The stone steps leading up to the walkway to the mansion. The wraparound porch with hanging lanterns. The finely polished oak table in the foyer. The fireplaces with the gorgeous, candle-covered mantles. And that ballroom, with its draped and lighted ceiling, gorgeous wood flooring, Chiavari chairs, and uplighting. Oh, and the full-size bar, the sitting rooms to take a break from the ballroom, the spacious bridal suite upstairs…and I could keep going on. The mansion has on-site catering and per-person pricing that includes open bar, bridal attendant, banquet manager, hot hors d’oeuvres, appetizers, entrees, and sides. It’s a family-owned business with a good track record for hosting amazing weddings, and its location, hidden off a main thoroughfare, makes it feel intimate while being convenient to local hotels. The mansion hosts only one event at a time.
Price, obviously. You’re going to pay for the charm and intimacy the mansion offers, but the price was surprisingly affordable. Another concern was the limitations the mansion places on brides and grooms. Anything that could potentially damage the mansion’s antiques and floors—from M&Ms to photo booths—was strictly off-limits. Probably the biggest challenge of the mansion was the ceremony space. Unless you want to get married outdoors, as most couples do, having an indoor ceremony means having it in the same ballroom as the reception. A final con: The bathrooms are on the second floor, outside the bridal suite, and they’re a little dated. There is a small, one-person bathroom next to the bar for people with disabilities or elderly guests.
Ten Oaks Ballroom
I’m going to be upfront with you: We didn’t pick this venue. But I wanted to showcase it as an example of why you should never fall in love with a venue based on the website alone.
Image via Ten Oaks Ballroom
That dance floor. Ooh, that dance floor. I can’t tell you how many times I stared at photos of the dance floor while researching local venues. It was the venue I was most excited about visiting. Its simple elegance fit my tastes to a tee.
Image via Ten Oaks Ballroom
Pretty much everything else. The hall is owned by the community fire department, which means fire trucks could be roaring out, sirens blaring, at any point during the wedding. The bathrooms were atrocious, dark, and tiny—always check the bathrooms! There was no bridal suite, but for an additional (and exorbitant) fee, you can rent the firehouse’s conference room—if there’s not a meeting already scheduled. You must use one of the venue’s two contracted caterers, both of which are astronomically overpriced. And every little feature detailed on the venue’s website came at an added charge.
But the biggest con was the manager herself. She had booked three tours that night, allowing only 15 minutes with each couple. And she wasted the first five minutes of our session asking about which venues we were visiting and then bad-mouthing each one. We were shocked but tried to be polite and redirect her to our questions about the venue, but she seemed more interested in telling us about her retirement in two years. Maybe she was just having an off day, I don’t know, but even if we could have afforded the venue after all the nickel-and-diming, I cannot imagine being forced to work with her for 12 months.
After touring these venues and a few others, we narrowed our choices down to Martin’s West and the Mansion at Valley Country Club. So which did we pick—blowout party, or elegant dinner?
Up next: We cross the t’s and dot the i’s on our venue contract.