Where’s the wedding? If you don’t have a venue, you don’t have a wedding date. If you don’t have a date, you don’t have much else. So for most couples, the first step in wedding planning is location, location, location.
Whether your style is “hotel high-rise” or “barefoot in the park,” the Chicago area offers a wealth of possibilities. A glance down this list will tell you how they look – but there are other factors you may not be aware of. Which rooms sound the best? Which spaces make it easy for your guests to get crazy – and which require a slower-paced reception?
Here are 12 Chicago wedding venues our DJs and musicians love to work – and why.
In downtown Chicago:
1. The Knickerbocker
The first-floor ballroom in this ritzy Gold Coast hotel is known for its iconic “glowing” glass dance floor, which might start white and turn blue later in the evening as your party gets hopping. What you won’t know at first glance is that the room sounds almost as good as it looks – lively and rich, but not echoey. At Mike and Jessica’s wedding (at left), a string ensemble rang out wonderfully during dinner. But dance music could be played full-volume later on without noisy feedback issues. (Photo courtesy of Essence Photography)
2. The Signature Room
95 floors above street level, this banquet room at the top of the Hancock building offers some of the best views in Chicago. If you want to see the skyline while you dance, there's no finer place to do it.
3. Grand Piazza
Filling the top floor of the Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in the heart of the Taylor Street Italian district, the Grand Piazza has a “perfectly serviceable” ballroom – big and square, with great sightlines. But the real attractor is a rooftop cocktail space (at left) with stunning views of the Chicago skyline. Get married here and your photographer will insist on taking this picture in the stairwell. (Photo courtesy of Style Unveiled)
4. Pazzo’s 311
Book a wedding at Pazzo’s and you get practically the whole building – the restaurant, the atrium, AND a first-floor vestibule for cocktails. Spanning this much space – dancing is usually in the restaurant, while dining happens in the atrium just outside – calls for a DJ with some experience. We’ve done it by wirelessly syncing two sound systems so all your guests know what’s going on. And the space can really make for some fun with the right crowd: Becky and Mario’s conga line (left) made it all the way up and down the escalator. (Photo courtesy of Edward Fox Photography)
In Chicago's suburbs:
5. Morton Arboretum (Lisle)
Venues come in standard flavors: hotel, banquet center, country club. Then there’s the Arboretum. Couples like Anna and Matt (at left) are often drawn in by the idea of marrying “under the trees” at one of the Arboretum’s many outdoor ceremony sites. But the indoor spaces – the Gingko Room for parties nearing the 200-guest mark, or the Thornhill Center for receptions closer to 100 people – are a great place to dance the night away as well. Thornhill weddings often span multiple rooms – one for dining, another for dancing – so make sure your entertainers know the space, and get a DJ who can tactfully and enthusiastically transition guests from one room to the next. Uplighting makes a nice addition to these spaces as well – see our before and after.
6. Hotel Arista (Naperville)
High-rise hotel class – without the parking, accessibility and budget challenges you might find downtown. The Arista has a high-end modern look and a philosophy of sustainability – and catering director Davina Arceneaux is a treat to work with. (Photo courtesy of Trademan Photography via Elizabeth Wray Design)
7. Heritage Prairie Farm (Elburn)
It doesn't get more natural than this. Couples marrying at the farm hold ceremony, cocktail time, dinner and dancing all in the great outdoors, with guests feasting family-style on incredible dishes that were often grown right on the farm grounds. After dinner, guests can relax around a fire pit behind the reception tent - if they can keep from dancing long enough.
8. Danada House (Wheaton)
This late-30s mansion was bought by the Dupage County Forest Preserve in 1980, and they’ve made a lot of upgrades since then. The most recent are in the garden, which now boasts a brick walk and white ceremony archway. Your walk down the “aisle” will be longer here than in most places, so plan music accordingly. Then head into the atrium for dinner and dancing. (Photo courtesy Lofty Weddings Photography via Elizabeth Wray Design)
9. Meson Sabika (Naperville)
This stunning old mansion gives your guests something to look at - while the tapas-style dining ensures they'll be eating something out of the ordinary all night as well. Hold your ceremony in one of the outdoor gardens for an all-day experience.
10. Riverside Receptions (Geneva)
There’s a charming courtyard out front for ceremonies, and this hall’s close proximity to everything else in downtown Geneva makes it an easy choice for any bride planning a Geneva wedding. But believe the name – it’s the panoramic views of the Fox River that will strike you most about the ballrooms here.(Photo courtesy of Tom Nicol Photography)
11. The Herrington (Geneva)
Down the street from Riverside Receptions – and under the same ownership – you’ll find the Herrington Inn and Spa. Where Riverside’s rooms are conventional in shape and size, the Herrington’s buildings and courtyard slope away toward the river. Its two-tiered reception space – downstairs dining room, upstairs bar for dancing and cocktails – can be charming, but also challenging for a DJ who hasn’t worked here already. Find someone who knows how to use the space right and you’re in for a treat. Consider uplighting as a nice compliment to the plaster and brick in the dining room.(Photo courtesy Jimi Allen Weddings via Elizabeth Wray Design)
12. Hotel Baker (St. Charles)
This old-world hotel on the river boasts a number of intriguing spaces, from the winding outdoor courtyard to a mostly-marble ballroom where strings reverberate beautifully during indoor wedding ceremonies. Our favorite, though, is the Rainbow Room with its glass dance floor that glows in a number of colors. The room’s a little cozy for a big band, but DJs and small jazz or string ensembles shine here. (Photo courtesy Jolie Images)