Wedding planning isn't just about walking down the aisle; it also means planning a rehearsal dinner just before the big day. Even if you skip out on an engagement party, hate the idea of a bridal shower, and want to swap out bachelor and bachelorette parties in favor of a buddymoon, this is one tradition you shouldn't miss according to event planner Jung Lee, co-founder of New York-based event planning and design production firm FÉTE.
"To me, the rehearsal dinner is the prelude to the wedding. It's a kick off," Lee says. "The rehearsal dinner is where it's more casual: people can share fun stories about the couple in an informal setting, you can have more people on the mic, and it's more intimate than the wedding in many ways."
Casual doesn't mean spontaneous, though—Lee cautions that the rehearsal dinner should not be planned as an afterthought. "It's exciting, but think through it," she says. "Brides and grooms need to make sure they really think through it. This doesn't all just happen naturally."
If you're overwhelmed at the thought of executing two events back to back, you're not alone. "We come into this a lot because the couple will say 'I don't want to have two weddings,'" Lee says. "The idea of the formality of a seated meal and cocktails before that, it becomes a little overwhelming. [Some couples] have actually broken it up when it was a really big wedding; we've done it on Thursday and then given the bride a break on Friday. It's just about having people get together."
Hosting a wedding in New York can add an additional challenge—with so many transplants from other cities and states, New Yorkers could have a lot of family and friends in from out of town, which often implies a larger rehearsal dinner guest list. For this, consider a two-part event.
"When the group gets so big because of people's situations, we'll do a smaller dinner and we open it up for dessert and drinks after for everybody," Lee says. She suggests the couple should start the second part around 9 p.m. (so the additional guests won't expect dinner), then plan to sneak out an hour in. You'll thank yourself in the morning when you're up bright and early for a long day of hair, makeup, and hanging with the bridal party.
As for the venue, it's a gift and a curse to be in New York—there are so many places to go, but the prices can get high. Lee has one major guideline for keeping the bill in budget: "The more [the venue] has there that you don't have to bring in as a rental, the better. The more they have, the less you have to do."
The following list of restaurants run the gamut from casual to quirky to formal, but they each have special touch that will make your rehearsal dinner memorable. Here are 18 of our favorite NYC restaurants perfect for hosting a rehearsal dinner.
Magic Hour Rooftop Bar & Lounge
People often say a couple's wedding day should be magical. We believe the magic should begin the moment you say "yes." What's more magical than kicking off your wedding weekend at the Magic Hour Rooftop Bar & Lounge overlooking Times Square? Lights on nearly every surface mimic the ones shining bright on Seventh Avenue down below—without the stifling Times Square hustle and bustle native New Yorkers (and seasoned transplants) know all too well.
SUGARCANE raw bar grill
SUGARCANE raw bar grill opened just this year in DUMBO, with seating for 600, including an 18-seater bar. The globally-inspired menu features small plates from three distinct kitchens—an open fire grill, a raw bar, and a traditional kitchen. An industrial façade leads the way to an exposed brick-walled dining room, with seating that ranges from high bar stools to low-slung booths to traditional tables somewhere in the middle.
The Rag Trader + Bo Peep Cocktail & Highball Store
If you're really into the history of a space, The Rag Trader is for you—this restaurant, located in Manhattan's garment district, was once a factory. Now it's been converted into a stunning space with three separate areas fit for private gatherings. The main level features a bar area, an open foyer (perfect for cocktail hour), and intimate booths adorned with hat boxes at the back. Tucked away up above is the mezzanine, with its own bar and ample seating. In the basement is the Bo Peep Cocktail and Highball Store, where velvet stools and banquettes harken back to Prohibition.
Cecconi's brings Italian cuisine to DUMBO in the form of handmade pastas and seafood, including main lobster spaghetti and octopus linguine. This Brooklyn outpost—one of six around the world, in addition to its original London location—has a stunning patio that sits in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge. Private events are special here, accommodating 40 guests inside—Venetian curtains can make the gathering more intimate.
The Tuck Room
Under normal circumstances you might not consider a movie theater to be a good venue for a special event, but The Tuck Room inside iPic Theaters will likely make you think twice. iPic is known for turning the movie-going experience on its head with top-notch drinks and bites. They build on that concept with The Tuck Room, a full service bar and restaurant at the same location as their movie theaters at South Street Seaport, offering plates like stuffed avocado and Korean-inspired short rib sliders in a cozy-casual setting.
Spring & Varick at The Dominick Hotel Soho
Art deco meets modern decor at Spring & Varick, The Dominick Hotel's elevated modern American restaurant. Local artwork on the walls rotates regularly, and both private and semi-private seating are available. Enjoy menu items like lobster hash, short rib pinwheels, and scallops with parsnip puree. Flying high 46 floors above Spring & Varick is SoHi, at the top of The Dominick Hotel in SoHo. This more formal indoor space can transform for any kind of event, boasting stunning views of Manhattan with floor-to-ceiling windows wrapping around the entire room.
Sunday in Brooklyn
Inspired by the most relaxing day of the week, Sunday in Brooklyn boasts a super-fresh menu and a restaurant with copious amounts of natural light. The bright space is sliced into a few areas: a bar, a rooftop garden, and intimate dining rooms for smaller gatherings. In all, the restaurant can accommodate groups from 9 to 200 guests, depending on whether you want a single table or the whole space.
Old Rose overlooks the Hudson River from the first floor of The Jane Hotel in Manhattan's West Village. Known for its fresh Italian offerings, including killer pizza and pasta, Old Rose's interior is just as fresh, with natural light, hanging plants, and a banquette that hugs a long edge of the restaurant, creating an open, almost communal feel to the dining experience.
Rice & Gold
With culinary influences from China, the Philippines, Mexico, Bangladesh, Iran, Jamaica, India, and more, Rice & Gold is all about showcasing the diversity and culture of the nation and globe. To that end, each wall of the nearly 200-seater restaurant is covered in a custom graffiti art installation that contributes heavily to the vibrant atmosphere of the space. This is only heightened by the restaurant's surroundings: it sits at the base of the Hotel 50 Bowery, adjacent to Chinatown, Little Italy, and the Lower East Side.
A self-described "full-service, inauthentic Italian restaurant" located inside Koreatown's Arlo Nomad Hotel, Massoni captures a similar vibrancy to its sister restaurant Rice & Gold (owned by the same restaurant group). The menu includes expected items like meatballs and a caesar salad, but surprises with a South Asian-influenced rice ball. Exposed brick and bright collages on the walls add to the whimsy of the space.
With an entrance that stands between two lemon trees, Avra Madison aims to quiet the noise of the Upper East Side before you even step off the street. Its Greek menu highlights fresh seafood, as evidenced by the raw bar across from the lounge on the main level. Between the lounge, the dining room, and the wine cellar, rehearsal dinners there can accommodate anywhere from five to over 80 people, depending on which space you choose. Have your fill of fresh fish, from sole to snapper to sea bass, all prepared using traditional Greek flavors and methods.
Legasea at Marriott's Moxy Hotel in Times Square is all about local, sustainable seafood prepared and served in a nautical-themed space. The lobster bake is a favorite, but the lemon chicken and pork chop schnitzel cater to those who like turf more than surf. A second-floor dining room looks out over seventh avenue and has seating enough for an intimate gathering of 20 guests—but the main dining room is also up for grabs, with space for 120.
Junoon, which translates to "passion" Hindi, is also the name of a Michelin-starred restaurant just off Madison Square Park. Their modern take on traditional Indian flavors has inspired a delicious food and drink menu in the bar, main dining room, and more intimate Patiala Room. The restaurant's unique spice blends are created in an enchanting spice room on the lower level.
You might recognize the man behind this restaurant—it's Scott Conant, chef, restaurateur, and Food Network regular (Chopped fans know all about his surprising opinion about onions). Fusco, Conant's first solo New York restaurant in over a decade, is named for his grandmother Carmelita Fusco, who inspired the old-world hospitality embodied in the Gramercy space. The menu showcases delicious pastas and seafood poised to be paired with selections from the extensive wine list.
The name of this bar is deceiving—it's not a hotel, and it's not attached to one, either. That tidbit is just one of the quirks about Hotel Delmano, whose interior sports vintage-looking framed photos, a curvy bar, and multiple rooms for more intimate dining. The Williamsburg hangout has a slate of cocktails that include thyme infused gin, pineapple infused tequila, and chipotle infused mezcal (all in separate drinks, of course). Their food menu include four types of charcuterie and cheese platters, as well as small plates like house deviled eggs and vegetable crostini.
Across the street from Lincoln Center sits Daniel Boulud's most expansive restaurant concept, Boulud Sud, which showcases Mediterranean flavors from the French Riviera to North Africa to Turkey. Private dining options here can accommodate anywhere from 10 to 65 guests. Bar Boulud, adjacent to Boulud Sud, offers a French countryside-inspired menu, including artisanal French charcuterie, raclette, and steak frites.
Capturing the vibe of a European bistro in New York's West Village, The Loyal's menu features bar snacks, raw bar items, and an substantial dinner menu. Dessert offerings truly capture the whimsy of the approach, with ice cream sundaes and candy sets to be shared with the table. Sip on easy drinking wines and a collection of cocktails that add special touches to all the classics.
If you want to fully embrace the fun, casual atmosphere Lee encourages for all rehearsal dinners, FISHBOWL at Dream Midtown can offer just that. With a bingo area, skee-ball, and two lanes of bowling, you'll never have to wonder if your guests are having a good time. Fun isn't all that's on the menu though; the underground game room is also a lounge complete with a full slate of cocktails and bar snacks on the menu, which is designed to look like a Galaga screen, of course.