Gathering your closest friends and family for your rehearsal dinner is the official kickoff of your wedding celebration, so choose a spectacular, unique venue for this lovely dinner celebration. Here are 10 locations that offer it all—terrific ambience, sensational food and an unforgettable and unique experience.
1. Ninety Acres Culinary Center at Natirar, Peapack-Gladstone. Set against rolling acres of farm, Ninety Acres Culinary Center has an epicurean flair, with a locally sourced gourmet menu featuring such dishes as the Natirar beet salad and steamed Gulf red snapper. The wine list includes more than 1,000 vintages that are sustainably, organically and biodynamically produced. Locally sourced and craft beers also complement the stellar menu. The private dining room is a spectacular, glass-enclosed space overlooking the farm that seats up to 18 guests. The Wine Cellar for up to 40 boasts a full bar and glass-enclosed wine display, and opens onto a private garden. The cooking school seats up to 40 guests for a cooking demonstration or wine class prior to dinner. All rooms have large flat-panel TVs and computer hookups for PowerPoint presentations and separate music and lighting controls. 908-901-9500; natirar.com.
2. Ellis Island Outdoor Lobster Bake, Liberty State Park, Jersey City. Ellis Island’s spectacular views of the Statue of Liberty and the New York City skyline become the backdrop for your open-air rehearsal lobster bake on the grounds of the historic venue’s sprawling lawns with cabanas and couch seating. Guests can feast on a lobster bake and full outdoor bar after a festive ferry cruise to the island. Guided tours of the grounds are available, kids can embark upon a scavenger hunt and all guests can search for their ancestors’ names on the walls of honor for a family-tribute element to your celebration. 212-344-0996; thestatueofliberty.com/events/ellis-island/.
3. Ryland Inn, Whitehouse Station. The elegant Ryland Inn offers several private rooms for your rehearsal dinner. The New York Room has a private terrace, a full audio visual system for your sentimental video montage and enough space for 15 seated guests or 20 guests for a cocktail party. The Washington Room overlooks the gardens and patio and can accommodate 40 guests for a cocktail hour and seated dinner, 60 guests for a seated dinner or more for just a cocktail reception. But it’s the Chef’s Room that has landed the Ryland Inn on this list, with its ultra-luxurious space and a full glass window giving panoramic views of the working kitchen, where 10 guests can be seated for a gourmet chef’s tasting dinner. The menus include farm-to-table, locally sourced, fresh offerings such as goat cheese with acacia honey, smoked trout mousse, seasonal soup shooters and more for an upscale dining experience. 908-534-4011; rylandinnnj.com
4. Avenue, Long Branch. Located beachfront with a gorgeous view of the ocean, Avenue has been called a blend of the Parisian brasserie and the luxurious beaches of St. Tropez. It defines casual elegance, with a spectacular roof deck lounge, where exotic cocktails, superb wines and tasty cuisine are served in a stylish open-air oasis featuring a luminescent pool and a fireplace seating area. Pair that with the moonlight reflecting off the ocean, and your rehearsal dinner takes on celebrity-style flair. Arrange for a private barbecue on the beach, or you can choose the bright dining room as your party space—and enjoy picks from their wine list with more than 200 bottles. 732-759-2900; leclubavenue.com.
5. Renault Winery, Egg Harbor City. Nearly a century-and-a-half old, Renault Winery is a recognized New Jersey State Historical Site and one of the oldest continually operating wineries in the United States. Home to 48 acres of grapes under cultivation, this beautiful setting offers natural splendor. The winery’s Burgundy Room seats 25 to 50 guests, and the Vintage Room seats 100 to 130. Their menu offers classic upscale dining, plus a wine cocktail bar and personalized champagne splits. 609-965-2111; renaultwinery.com.
6. Westminster Hotel, Livingston. Home to the famed Strip House restaurant, the Westminster’s bar area is pure Old Hollywood with vivid-red couches black-and-white flooring, framed photos of 1920s and 1930s starlets and New Jersey-born celebrities. The dining room maintains that glam Old-Hollywood style. The private dining room, seating 20, is theme-set red as well, and features a high-tech plasma television and sound system for a video tribute to start your celebration, after which guests dine on the famed Strip House menu, featuring the chef’s seasonal selections and a luscious 24-layer chocolate cake. 973-533-0600; westminsterhotel.net
7. The Downtown, Red Bank. The upstairs party room at the Downtown offers private space away from the happening bar scene downstairs, with a sushi menu, top-quality bar food—including the restaurant’s stand-out hummus—as well as their pomegranate martinis. They’ll customize your party menu, and they also have a state-of-the-art video system for your rehearsal dinner video montage. 732-741-2828; thedowntownnj.com.
8. The Bernards Inn, Bernardsville. The elegant Bernards Inn offers the upscale Wine Pantry and Silver Vault private rooms, designed to feel as though you and your guests are dining in a luxurious estate home, with Chippendale chairs, fabulous linens and stone walls. The space has a private entrance, hidden projectors and flat-panel televisions, a personal staff and fully stocked bar for a mansion-style rehearsal dinner and equally indulgent menu. This is one of our all-time favorite rehearsal-dinner (and wedding) spots in the state. 908-766-0002; bernardsinn.com.
9. Rat’s at Grounds for Sculpture, Hamilton. Set among 42 gorgeously landscaped acres with hundreds of spectacular sculptures, Grounds for Sculpture is home to Rat’s Restaurant and its intimate setting with fireplace coziness and exposed beams on the ceilings for an upscale rustic feel. Rat’s menu features artisanal cheeses, charcuterie, caramelized scallops and other gourmet fare, plus creative cocktails like Pumpkin Fizz and the Rat Pack Manhattan. There is an outdoor terrace area as well. 609-586-0616; groundsforsculpture.org.
10. Shanghai Jazz, Madison. Named one of the Top 100 jazz clubs in the world, Shanghai Jazz offers live jazz performances in its swanky, sophisticated club. Choose the private party room featuring a fully stocked bar and fireplace downstairs—with the live music upstairs piped in—or the semi-private room with fireplace in the back of the elegant dining room with the performers in view. Your rehearsal dinner guests will feast on Shanghai Jazz’s signature dim sum appetizers, Beijing duck, symbolic prosperity fish dish or vegetarian and vegan dishes all made with the freshest ingredients. A fabulous wine list and fun signature cocktails like the Frank Sinatra Green Apple Martini along with a dessert sampler including red velvet cheesecake and warm brownie sundae treat guests to a fabulous event as toasts are proposed. You can even have a song dedicated to your parents, guests or groom as a surprise. 973-822-2899; shanghaijazz.com.