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Love in the Big Apple

With the New York skyline as a backdrop, an old lake-side pavilion in leafy Central Park was the perfect location for a 'wedding with a difference', says Mary Novakovich

Saturday, 10 February 2007

Second weddings can be a bit of a problem. If you've been through the big family shindig once, you don't really want to do it all again. Although, you don't necessarily want to steal away without anyone you care about to witness the best day of your lives (Mark II). Beach weddings never appealed to me, but the thought of an intimate, outdoor occasion did. I just didn't want it to be in England. So New York it was.

The plan to get married in one of the world's greatest parks went down well with everyone who mattered: the select group of 15 family and friends who would turn our happy occasion into a glorious long weekend. After all, there are few places more romantic than Central Park.

But where among Central Park's 863 acres would be the perfect place for our wedding? I couldn't ignore the fact that rain was possible, even though we had deliberately chosen the temperate month of September. And for such a vast space, there are surprisingly few areas to seek cover if the weather changes. I was given plenty of suggestions by not one but two wedding co-ordinators from Kuoni Travel: Fred in the UK, whose enthusiasm would send my high level of excitement soaring even further, and the beautifully calming Orysia in Manhattan, in whose hands I instantly felt reassured.

Ignoring our jet lag, we set out for the park soon after our arrival, eager to see the place we had earmarked for the wedding location. Unfortunately, Wagner Cove, charming as it was, turned out to be unsuitable for the rainy day we knew was forecast. We had to start our search again.

The main lake in Central Park is dotted with little coves with attractive wooden gazebos that are used for landing stages. Fine for three people, impossible for 15. Finally we spotted a fancy cast-iron structure with a filigree roof on the opposite side of the lake at Hernshead, roughly parallel to West 77th Street. It was the Ladies Pavilion, which started life as a Victorian trolley shelter at Columbus Circle before it was moved to its permanent home in 1912. Gardens surrounded the structure, which was on the bank of the lake with the New York skyline behind it. It was perfect.

Now that we had the location sorted, we could work on how best to organise the rest of the weekend. We decided on drinks the night before, lunch before the ceremony, champagne afterwards followed by the evening meal. The rest of the time our guests could call their own.

We also had legal matters to attend to, namely getting the marriage licence. Unlike some countries, where it's almost impossible for non-residents to get married, it's a straightforward business in the state of New York. Turn up at the City Clerk's office downtown at least 24 hours before, take along your passport (and in our case, our decrees absolute), pay the $35 (£19) money order and then hand the licence to the person officiating at the ceremony (which was arranged by Orysia). You can even get married there - we saw a few couples decked out in their wedding togs - but it's a pretty soulless place.

Our family and friends were arriving throughout the week, some, including my brother, turning it into a proper family holiday and doing some major sightseeing. My mother and I spent a girlie hour at the make-up counters at Saks, where the staff cooed around us excitedly when they heard a wedding was taking place the following day. Say what you like about jaded New Yorkers: mention a wedding and they all turn to goo. One of the make-up assistants asked who was doing my hair and face for the big day. Alarm flashed in his eyes when I said I was. After he deftly redid my make-up I immediately wished I had thought about booking someone. Then I came to my senses.

The idea of having stag and hen nights was as appealing as a beach wedding, so we had a "hag" night at the Faces & Names bar near our hotel, the Wellington, at Seventh Avenue and West 55th Street. It was the first chance for everyone to come together and get into the wedding spirit. Too much spirit (vodka, to be exact) got into me, and I staggered back to the Wellington in a bit of a state.

I thought waking up with a hangover on your wedding day was a thing of the past. Wrong. I cursed myself as I struggled to get ready, wishing I had been more sensible the night before. Then my wedding bouquet arrived, producing my first moment of real nervousness mixed with awe. I was going to be a bride. And it was raining.

My physical state wasn't helped much by the delay in getting a cab in the rain to West 72nd Street where we were meeting for lunch. However, within minutes of sitting down, my hangover started to dissipate. We had chosen a kosher deli, Fine & Schapiro, on the Upper West Side as our lunch spot, a gem of a place we discovered on our last visit. It's nothing great from the outside, even less so on the inside, but it's authentically New York and the food is incredible. A bowl of chicken soup with a huge matzo ball, followed by hot pastrami on rye, is now officially the best way to start off your wedding day.

As I was beginning to feel slightly more human, I could see family and friends starting to gel as a group. Having lunch first was an inspired idea, my father-in-law told me later. The rain stopped long enough for everyone to make their leisurely and rather ramshackle way along West 72nd towards Central Park West, into Strawberry Fields and through the pretty arbours up towards Hernshead where the Ladies Pavilion was waiting for us.

Orysia was there with the officiant, a pleasant chap called Baron dressed in a distinguished black robe. He had been given a copy of the vows which we had compiled ourselves.

And then we were husband and wife, after a moving ceremony filled with joy and warmth. The heavens had opened again, although no one noticed. We were too busy laughing and hugging. "You're part of our family now," my mother said to my father-in-law. Rather than take fright, he looked pleased and gave her a hug.

The rain persisted, but we made our slightly damp way to the Boathouse restaurant and bar where we were to have champagne. Our guests held up their umbrellas in a makeshift guard of honour as we walked in to applause. And because of the rain, the usual Friday post-work crowd went elsewhere and left us with plenty of seats.

Our luck held out with the evening meal too. We had chosen the Trattoria dell'Arte on Seventh Avenue mainly because it was opposite the Wellington, which sounds rather like a feeble reason. We hadn't even tasted the food. But we did spot its private rooms on its website, and for once the photos didn't lie. Our room was delightful, with a large stone fireplace, candles, terracotta-coloured walls and flagstone floor. It had its own bar and a comfy seating area, and one long table was set up elegantly for our party. The meal started with a cocktail/antipasti hour, which was so generous that we had to warn our guests about the four courses that were to follow. The food was superb, its quality matching the convivial gathering.

The sun reappeared the following day, which suited us fine as a few of us had planned to go to the Festa di San Gennaro, the raucous street festival held every September in Little Italy. After getting our fill of Italian delicacies, we made it uptown in enough time to take my mother on a carriage ride in Central Park, followed by an impromptu picnic graced by the brief presence of Bruce Willis.

We finally got the weather we had wanted the day before, but in the end it didn't matter in the slightest. New York had cast its spell, and the magic worked.



The writer travelled with Kuoni Travel (01306 747 008;, which offers five nights, room only, at the Wellington Hotel on Seventh Avenue from £687 per person, based on two sharing. This includes return flights with Continental Airlines from Gatwick. Kuoni offers a Romantic Central Park Wedding package for £726 per couple, which includes the services of two wedding co-ordinators, minister's fees, welcome pack with champagne and chocolates, a carriage ride through Central Park and passes to the Empire State Building, among other goodies.


Fine & Schapiro, 138 West 72nd Street (001 212 877 2721; Faces & Names, 159 West 54th Street (001 212 586 9311; Trattoria dell'Arte, 900 Seventh Avenue (001 212 245 9800; The Boathouse, East 72nd Street and Park Drive North (001 212 517 2233;


New York City Marriage Bureau (001 212 669 2400; Central Park (001 212 310 6600; Permits are needed for gatherings of 20 people or more. These cost $25 (£13) and can be ordered via the park's website.

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