We recently called 20 event planners and destination management companies and asked them to tell us about their “hidden gems” — venues they have used for special events that are relatively unknown and like no other. From a church turned art gallery in Dallas to a secret wine cellar in the heart of Manhattan, here's what they came up with.
Tuscany House Hotel and Restaurant and Renault Winery
Barbara Flaumenbaum, manager of Destination A.C. in Atlantic City, has an answer to our question. Although it's not open yet, the 45-room Tuscany House Hotel and Restaurant, in Egg Harbor City less than half an hour outside Atlantic City, is sure to become the area's new “hidden gem” once people realize the possibilities. Tuscany House is next to Renault Winery, the oldest working winery in the United States, with more than 1,400 acres of vineyards, and graceful gardens and streams.
The decor and craftsmanship of the Tuscany House “are fabulous and wonderful,” says Flaumenbaum. “You feel like you are on a back road in Italy.” It is styled after a Mediterranean inn and features an Italian courtyard.
Accommodates: 10 to 270
Contact: Lana Aylwin, general manager, Tuscany House (609) 965-2111
Baltimore Museum of Industry
This museum is popular with Baltimore event planners because it offers a glimpse of “old-time Baltimore.” A wall of windows looks out over Baltimore's historic waterfront promenade.
Accommodates: 250 for a banquet; 500 for a reception
Contact: (410) 727-4808, ext. 119
Lansdowne Street Clubs
Tracy Cassidy, an event planner at Boston-based Creative Gourmet, says the clubs along Lansdowne Street (including Avalon, Embassy, Karma, and The Modern) are the place to be — although few people know about them. First, their location is ideal, since Lansdowne Street is in the center of Boston and adjacent to Fenway Park. Also, each of the nightclubs has its own unique atmosphere and decor.
Accommodates: 250 to 3,000
Contact: Theresa Morris, special events director, Lyons Group, (617) 351-2580
Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
John E. Barry of StarEvents, Chicago, suggested this nature museum for a special evening. For a corporate event, the museum offers innovative, hands-on activities and tours that are sure to bring out the naturalist in everyone.
Accommodates: From five to 1,000 in winter; 2,000 in summer using some outdoor space
Contact: Erin Battison, manager of corporate and special events, (773) 755-5177
Few people know about this classic old church, which has been converted into an art gallery, says Carol Abram, CSEP, president of Dallas-based Amazing Events. The gallery's collection of paintings and sculptures is displayed over two levels. Abram describes the setting as “white on white” with beautiful columns that can be draped in twinkling white lights. Another plus: The gallery is owned by a catering company, The Art of Catering.
Accommodates: 300 for a banquet; 500 for a reception
Contact: John Meyer, owner (800) 741-4351
The Denver Pavilions
Downtown Denver's newest outdoor entertainment and shopping complex is catching on among event planners. The secret? The entire complex or certain sections can be closed down to accommodate corporate groups of a variety of sizes.
Accommodates: Up to 2,500
Contact: M.C. Genova, assistant general manager, (303) 260-6001
Car Rail Museum
Jennifer Neal, event planner for the Detroit Metro CVB, says the Car Rail Museum is her favorite venue for a special event. It features vintage automobiles from a private collection and thousands of toy trains.
Accommodates: Up to 250
Contact: (313) 273-5507
The Crystal Ballroom at the Rice
Although the historic Rice Hotel has been converted to lofts, the Crystal Ballroom has been restored to its original elegance and was recommended by Kathryne A. Moore, CSEP, executive vice president of the Sullivan Group, Houston. Said to be a historically correct restoration of the original 1913 ballroom, it features 32-foot-high ceilings, Venetian crystal chandeliers, and a full wraparound balcony.
Accommodates: 400 for a banquet; 800 for a reception
Contact: Cecilia Kammer, director of sales and marketing, (713) 227-7423
Indiana Roof Ballroom
Kelly Jones, event creator at Indianapolis-based Exclamation Point Events, chooses The Indiana Roof Ballroom for its rich history. The ballroom opened in 1927 featuring the music of Marion McKay's Kings of Tempo. (Admission was $1 for men, 75 cents for women.) Designed by architects Edgar O. Hunter and Preston Rubish, it was heralded as the world's most danceable floor. In the 1950s and ’60s, it fell into disrepair, but it reopened in 1986 after a $6 million renovation.
Accommodates: Up to 2,000
Contact: (317) 236-1870
The Underground House
Dan Nelson of Dan Nelson Productions, a Las Vegas — based event planning company, considers “The Underground House” to be a hidden gem. Twenty-five feet below ground, this 16,000-square-foot mansion features priceless antiques (a legacy from the builder of the home, the founder of the California Perfume Co. — known today as Avon), a swimming pool, a sauna, and a spa with a 15-foot waterfall.
Accommodates: 125 for a banquet, 225 for a reception
Contact: The Underground House is available exclusively through Activity Planners of Las Vegas, (702) 362-8002
Club Fes and Tangier
Madonna Boulos, director of client services for the Los Angeles CVB, says that not enough people know about Club Fes and Tangier in the historic 285-room Hotel Figueroa. Club Fes and Tangier have a Moroccan feel, decorated with kilims on the floor, low seating, Moroccan lights, and pillows.
Accommodates: Up to 400
Contact: Uno Thimansson, (213) 627-8971
Although most have heard of Vizcaya, many are not aware that industrialist James Deering's half-brother, Charles Deering, also had an estate in Miami. Now that's the place to throw a party, says Susan Holtzman, president of Miami's Eventures. The 450-acre property contains buildings dating from 1896 and an impressive Mediterranean Revival — style mansion, The Stone House, that Deering had built in 1922.
Accommodates: 10 to 250
Contact: Leslie G. Williams, event and marketing coordinator, (305) 235-1668, ext. 236
Mississippi Riverfront at St. Anthony Main Event Center
Cheryl Kranz, CMP, president of Minneapolis-based Creative Events, says that groups frequently use the St. Anthony Main Event Center, but few use the riverfront stores, decks, restaurants, bars, courtyards, and the Main Street Park. “This is definitely a real find in Minneapolis. It is the site of the birthplace of the city at the falls, is the historical and cultural center of the city, and offers a wide array of options for event themes and space combinations. And it's one of the few places from which you can view not only the river, but the Minneapolis skyline.”
Accommodates: Up to 708 for a banquet, 1,500 for a reception
Contact: Cheryl Kranz, Creative Events by Kranz, (612) 623-7616
The Ursuline Convent
Samantha Cavell, director of production for The Vega Group, New Orleans, says her favorite hidden gem in this city is The Ursuline Convent. “It's one of the oldest buildings in the French Quarter, with one of the most massive, beautiful gardens, but hardly anyone knows about it.” The convent was built in 1745 at the request of King Louis XV of France, and it is the oldest building in the Mississippi Valley and the only one to survive from French Colonial times. Chef Horst Pfeifer, who owns Bella Luna, a popular restaurant in the French Quarter, uses the herbs that he grows here in his cooking. Bella Luna is also the exclusive caterer for the convent.
Accommodates: 100 to 1,500, including the garden area
Contact: Darcie McKay, catering assistant, Bella Luna, (504) 529-1583
New York City
Prohibition Wine Cellar at the ‘21’ Club
The wine cellar at the ‘21’ Club is certainly a gem of New York City, says Kevin White, CSEP, director of production for New York — based Empire Force Events. Perhaps the most elaborately disguised vault in the city, ‘21’s Wine Cellar was built during the height of America's Prohibition era. Behind several smoked hams that hung from the basement ceiling and a wall shelf filled with canned goods stood a perfectly camouflaged 2½-ton door that appeared to be part of the wall. Opened by inserting a slender, 18-inch length of wire through a crack in the cement wall, the secret door would silently slide back to reveal ‘21’s most coveted treasure: 2,000 cases of wine. Today, ‘21’ also stores the private collections of some of the restaurant's most famous patrons, past and present, including presidents Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon, Elizabeth Taylor, and Sammy Davis Jr.
Accommodates: 12 to 22
Contact: Julie Sawitz, associate director of private dining, (212) 582-1400, ext. 514
Fantasy of Flight
“There are so many unique locations to have events in Orlando,” says Jami R. Thompson, president/event manager at Orlando's Event Planners International. A gem just outside town is Fantasy of Flight in Polk City, which houses a collection of vintage aircraft and a full-scale diorama of a World War II bombing mission aboard a B-17 Flying Fortress. The Compass Rose Restaurant is available for group dining.
Accommodates: 50 to 5,000
Contact: Shannon Steinfurth, sales and marketing representative, (863) 984-3500, ext. 232
“Many are astonished to learn that the original Carpenters' Hall, which was built in the late 1600s, is available for special events,” says Peg Mahoney, president of Philadelphia-based Showcase Associates. The building, constructed by The Carpenters' Co. (still its present owner) to host the meetings of the First Continental Congress, sits in Independence National Park.
Accommodates: 80 for a banquet; 125 for a reception
Contact: Ruth O'Brien, executive director, (215) 925-0167
For an event that feels like Phoneix, Ginnie Fowler, president of Phoenix, Ariz. — based Corporate Events Organizers, suggests the Boulder House in nearby Carefree, Ariz., a private home built in and around a cluster of boulders. When architect Charles F. Johnson visited the site, he advised, “To do other than build within the enormous pile of boulders would be grim.” The owners heeded his advice. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.
Accommodates: Up to 50
Contact: Ginnie Fowler, president, Corporate Events Organizers, (602) 867-1900
Urban Wine Works
“Because Oregon is well-known for its wine country and beautiful vineyards, many groups visiting Portland look to have a dinner at the wineries. But the approximately one-hour travel time to and from [the city] is not always desirable,” says Kate Porter, partner of Portland-based EWE-ME and Co. Urban Wine Works is in a converted warehouse lined with oak barrels of Oregon Pinot Noir, many decorated with hand-painted art. The entire venue can be closed for a private event. In addition to wine tastings, they also offer wine blendings, where guests can blend several varieties of wine to create their own personal blend.
Accommodates: Up to 200
Contact: Karen Sanderson, (866) 467-4668
One of San Diego's best hidden venues is in the heart of the city's Gaslamp Quarter. “The Culy Trucking Warehouse, named for the building's original owner, is certainly not something you would find on the average city tour,” says Ed Smith, associate director of sales for San Diego — based PRA Destination Management. “But … this lofty warehouse provides the perfect backdrop for theme parties.”
Accommodates: Up to 700
Contact: Ed Smith, PRA Destination Management, (619) 234-9440
San Francisco Maritime Museum
“I love history, especially the maritime history of San Francisco,” says Gordon Thompson, partner of Cappa & Graham, San Francisco. As a result, he has a soft spot for the Maritime Museum, with its hundreds of artifacts of West Coast seafaring history as well as historic ships. The location is ideal, right in Aquatic Park with a marvelous view of the bay. The museum is also a short walk from Ghirardelli Square.
Accommodates: 150 for a banquet; 450 for a reception
Contact: Rachel Short, special events associate, (415) 561-6662, ext. 18
“It's spectacular. Unbelievably serene and peaceful,” says Jackie Ludwig, CMP, director of sales for Convention & Group Services, Tucson, about Sunset Point. This site rests atop one of the Tortolita Mountains overlooking Tucson. Ludwig uses it frequently for nighttime events, such as an evening under the stars. Groups are transported via Jeep, with the ride over being an experience in itself, since the area is home to wild mustangs and coyotes.
Accommodates: 150 to 400
Contact: Jackie Ludwig, Convention & Group Services, (520) 529-3103
National Gem Collection, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
“The real hidden gem in Washington, D.C., will surround your group with gems,” says Dana Marie Smith, director of national incentive accounts for D.C.-based USA Hosts. On display are the historic Hope Diamond, the Napoleon Diamond Necklace, and Marie-Antoinette diamond earrings.
Accommodates: Up to 50 for a banquet in the Harry Winston Gallery (Home of the Hope Diamond); up to 300 for a reception in the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals; up to 800 for a reception in the Rotunda of the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals
Contact: Ted Anderson, manager of special events, (202) 357-1650