Of all the themed wedding ideas, one has the potential to be among the biggest crowd pleasers: a cocktail-centric celebration. Some might read that and picture an overindulgent open bar and guests performing an overzealous rendition of "YMCA," but a true cocktail-focused reception celebrates the ways wine and spirits can bring people—and couples—together.
Enter Jenna and Dave Kaplan. The couple got married in June 2017, and their celebration was spirited to say the least: They had mixologist friends create five custom cocktails, which were all listed on a separate drink menu that featured custom illustrations. This was the part of their wedding that they wanted to get just right, because they share a professional and personal love for cocktail culture.
Dave owns a collection of bars that have attained cult status among mixology-inclined imbibers, to say the least: Death & Co and Nitecap in New York, and Walker Inn, Normandie Club, and Honeycut in Los Angeles. And Jenna handles PR for Bacardi brands.
“For me and for both of us, cocktails are the basis by which I feel like I impact people’s lives,” Dave says. “Maybe it’s not of world-changing importance, but it’s the one thing that we do in our careers that allows people to stop for a moment of human connectivity.”
The Kaplans met in New Orleans in late July 2014 at Tales of the Cocktail, an event for professionals in the wine and spirits industry. At the time, Jenna was handling public relations for Grey Goose Vodka, and Dave was working on a partnership with the company. He was immediately interested, but he didn’t know how to approach Jenna.
“I kind of forget I work in the booze industry,” he said, “but I kind of thought dating anyone on the team would probably be a bad idea.” When another member of the Grey Goose team encouraged him to talk to her, they immediately hit it off. They stole away in a cab to get alone time on their way to another event and continued their effortless conversation.
Even though they worked with the same company, theirs would prove to be a long-distance relationship. Jenna was based in New York, and Dave was mostly working in Los Angeles. When an opportunity came up for Jenna to transfer to L.A., she mentioned moving there to continue the relationship, but she planned to get her own place. Instead, Dave suggested she move in with him. For the next year, they lived together, with plans to move out of California in the near future.
“Dave is from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in this cool little mountain town,” Jenna says, “and we’d always talked about moving back here. We still travel all over the place.”
Jenna and Dave visited his parents’ home in Jackson Hole in December 2015. His Christmas gift to her was a trip to Napa, but little did Jenna know, Dave planned to propose early the following year in California wine country. (Even their engagement would revolve around wine and spirits!) He worked with a close friend, artisan Derek Cruz, on designs for a custom ring. The weekend before the intended proposal, Dave got word that some of the sapphire baguettes had broken off the ring. In order to pull off the plans—which all their family and friends knew about by then—Derek would have to ship the ring to the hotel.
On the morning of the proposal, Dave was still waiting for the package. “I was just so transparently a wreck,” he says. “It was supposed to be our relaxing day, our spa day, and I woke up at like six in the morning.” He claimed he wanted to go to the gym (a ploy to check for the ring at the front desk), so Jenna went with him. But when he finally snuck away, the package was waiting for him. At that point, all he had left to do was propose.
Dave had arranged for himself and Jenna to have the orchard all to themselves that day. “The weather was perfect,” he says. “The view was amazing—you could see all the way to San Francisco—and I was trying to psych myself up.”
Somehow, through the nerves, he showed Jenna the box and told her to open it. As Dave puts it, she “started smile-crying” and he knew he’d pulled it off.
As it turned out, the biggest feat (aside from actually getting married) was still ahead: to plan a wedding that adequately demonstrated the love they have for cocktail culture—and each other, of course.
Two years after that proposal plan was set in motion, Jenna still works in PR for booze brands, but she’s added a major client: Dave. So, it’s safe to say their lives still revolve around the beverage industry.
“Since the moment we started planning, we knew we wanted to have cocktails involved,” Jenna says.
Dave chimes in, “My coworkers are a huge part of my life; they're my best friends, they’ve become our best friends, and they’re some of the most talented people we know.”
They assembled a dream team of mixologist friends: Natasha David of Nitecap, Tyson Buhler of Death & Co; and Alex Day and Devon Tarby, both from Walker Inn and Normandie Club. As an added touch, Jenna and Dave commissioned original artwork by Tim Tomkinson for an illustrated beverage menu.
While the couple had a range of drink options, they found themselves gravitating to Room Service, a light-pink vodka cocktail. “I drank quite a few of them,” Jenna adds with a laugh. “Devon is one of my best friends, and she knows what I like to drink.”
While Dave describes Room Service as “deadly,” he also drank it the most that night, which he attributes to the nature of the occasion: “People ask, ‘What’s your favorite drink?’ and it depends on my mood. It was a martini moment.”
Looking back on their wedding, Jenna and Dave are still very happy with their choice to highlight cocktails. If you absolutely love this idea, here’s their advice on how to plan a cocktail-centric wedding.
Keep your guests in mind
“Have the cocktails tell a little bit about your story,” Dave says, “but remember that you need to play a bit to your guests as well. Make sure that you have a well-rounded list so there’s a drink for every person and style.” Using their list as an example, there was a mix of gin, tequila, vodka, vermouth, and rosé on the menu—something for every mood and taste.
“Make sure the list isn’t too crazy,” Dave advises, referring to the number of featured cocktails. “We did four drinks and a rosé. That’s kind of pushing the limits of what most caterers would suggest, so expect that there may be a little bump in price.” Jenna and Dave hired a bar manager to add to the catering staff, which ensured one person was focused on the cocktails all night.
Take a moment to toast each other
Jenna recalls “a piece of advice that was given to us: At some point in the night, just sit down together and look at what you created. Dave and I just sat down at our table and, over a cocktail, just looked out at everything happening. That was the most important and memorable part of the night.”
Jenna and Dave’s reception goes to show that alcohol can be emphasized tastefully for a wedding celebration—not as an excuse for everyone to go wild, but instead as a focal point to share intimate moments with the people you love.