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Urban Legends: Milwaukee Warehouse Weddings

Megan McCarty Jordan Dechambre

When Paul and Mackenzie Orth began planning their June 5, 2010, nuptials, their wedding ideas ran the gamut. But there was one aspect the Minneapolis couple knew for sure: The space had to be unique.

“We did not want a typical hotel ballroom as a venue,” says Mackenzie. “They can be stuffy, and result in a cookie-cutter wedding. Instead, we were drawn to the warehouse/loft spaces because they are like a blank canvas. You can transform them to fit almost any type of theme or décor you decide.”

Photo by Anna Page PhotographyAfter perusing a few of the plentiful historic venues available in Milwaukee, they ultimately decided on Cuvée, a lounge and event space that features more than 100 varieties of champagne and sparkling wine. The lofted space is nestled above an Asian artifacts gallery in the heart of the Third Ward, a chic downtown Milwaukee community that’s chock-a-block with converted warehouses, trendy boutiques and lively nightlife. It offers a 3,100-square-foot loft-style private event hall with eco-friendly bamboo flooring, exposed beam ceilings and windows overlooking the Third Ward. The event hall and Champagne Lounge can host up to 250 guests.

“Cuvée has rustic elegance—the Cream City brick, hardwood floors and floor-to-ceiling windows are beautiful in their simplicity,” says Mackenzie.

The couple decided to celebrate the classic aesthetic of the loft with a vintage garden theme. Mackenzie’s mother scoured estate sales and antique shops for bell jars, vintage trays, books and mason jars and, before long, the décor was complete.

“In any venue like a loft or warehouse, it can be easy for your space to feel vacant or cold,” says Mackenzie. “We worked hard to create a soft, romantic ambiance through our theme, and I think we were successful.”

Milwaukee's Cuvee, photographed by Anna Page Photography.

Rich in tradition
“A wedding marks the beginning of a new era in a couple’s history together,” says Cuvée owner Kris Gorski. And Milwaukee is home to a plethora of historic sites perfect for celebrating “I dos.”

Across the river, the recently renovated Pritzlaff (circa 1875) showcases stunning arched windows, massive wooden columns, 16-foot-high wooden ceilings, brick walls and vast open space, accommodating up to 375 people seated or 500 for cocktails.

Head to the east side of the river and the recently opened Hamilton for a throwback lounge aesthetic. With lots of light, brick walls and a high barrel ceiling, The Hamilton’s lounge evokes a bygone era, complete with velvet curtains, handblown glass and plush seating, while the event space is more urban and contemporary with large skylights. Rental of the entire building can accommodate 300.

Otherwise, go west to the Iron Horse Hotel, a 100-year-old warehouse converted into a modern luxury boutique hotel. “The Iron Horse Hotel is a perfect fusion of industrial-era form and modern-day function,” says Danica Potier, director of sales. “Much of the original building is still intact, including hemlock and heart pine posts and beams, exposed Cream City brick walls and fire doors, resulting in a rugged design and loft-style atmosphere.” The hotel offers three unique, private areas for wedding rental: the quaint Library (up to 80 guests), lower-level Gallery (up to 200) and outdoor Yard (up to 400 revelers).

Rounding out Milwaukee’s loft and warehouse wedding venues are the Garage at the Harley-Davidson Museum, Swig, The Wherehouse, MOCT and Palms Bistro.

Wine and dine
While many historic spaces don’t offer in-house catering, on-site coordinators at venues like Cuvée, Pritzlaff and The Hamilton provide a list of preferred caterers to their clients. The Iron Horse Hotel, on the other hand, offers catering by its nationally acclaimed executive chef, Jason Gorman. Wedding menus range from passed hors d’oeuvres to carving stations to plated dinners and buffets.

At Cuvée, the Orths opted for a sit-down dinner of steak, potatoes and green beans, accompanied by a vegetarian polenta dish, created by Lee John’s Catering of Waukesha. “Paul and I opted not to have a cake,” says Mackenzie. “Lee John’s came up with a mini dessert bar for us instead, the main feature being a variety of cheesecake pops.”

Milwaukee's Cuvee, photographed by Anna Page Photography.

All in the details

According to David Caruso, president and creative director of Milwaukee’s Dynamic Events, it’s important to remember that historic spaces often require a few extra tasks for your to-do list.

For instance, old buildings that haven’t been thoroughly updated may lack sufficient power requirements for catering, specialty lighting and music. It’s important to consider all of your plans and inquire about the power arrangements at the venue.

“It might be necessary to rent a power generator to ensure the party doesn’t have any power interruptions,” Caruso says.
Also keep in mind that both guests and vendors need easy access to the venue. This includes appropriately sized passenger elevators and freight elevators to accommodate special rental equipment.

The Hamilton offers a large parking lot, and The Iron Horse Hotel has valet parking. But the locations of many warehouse and loft spaces often lack convenient parking for guests. Make sure to communicate the parking options to guests ahead of time. These buildings may also be “off the beaten path” and require special instructions and directions, so include those with your invitation.

“Overall, the space will quickly lose its ‘cool factor’ if your guests aren’t enjoying their experience,” says Caruso. “The space should be comfortable, well-designed and full of up-to-date amenities that support your vendors and your plans.”

Set the scene
The inherent qualities of loft and warehouse spaces, such as natural materials and open-concept space, allow couples “to create a personalized wedding experience that highlights their style and creativity,” says Caruso.

The unique floor plan of Cuvée prompted Mackenzie Orth to put her thinking cap on when it came to table design. “Cuvée is a loft, so the space is very long and narrow,” she says.Milwaukee's Cuvee, photographed by Anna Page Photography.

“Immediately, I knew I wanted long tables end-to-end.” In lieu of traditional centerpieces, the couple topped the tables with vignettes of vintage pieces that Mackenzie and her mom had collected. A trip to the floral department of a local grocery store offered pink and white peonies, white hydrangea and pale pink spray roses. “When it all came together, the décor was breathtaking,” says Mackenzie. “I’d never seen décor like it at any wedding I’ve been to.”

Cori Coffman, planner and vice president at Gravity Events, which operates Pritzlaff, says couples are looking for a change in the traditional wedding reception décor, a chance to break free from the tried and true. “Warehouse space is perfect for that unique vision,” she says. “It’s raw, hip, has history and gives couples endless possibilities. The wedding can be casual with a warm feel or work with the architectural elements and showcase the couple’s eclectic side. Or it can bring about the contrast of contemporary against historic.”

Whatever your wedding aesthetic, warehouse and loft spaces allow for plenty of creative liberty, resulting in strikingly unique big days.

Warehouse wisdom
David Caruso of Dynamic Events in Milwaukee offers these insider secrets for a successful loft/warehouse reception.

  • Know your vendors. Try to choose vendors who’ve worked in the space before. These nontraditional locations benefit from experienced vendors who’ve already figured out the best ways to execute events in the location.
  • Mind the details. Don’t be distracted by the appeal of a unique venue. Instead, look behind the façade and make sure all the proper upgrades and arrangements have been made to meet the objectives of the wedding.
  • Accentuate the positive. Many warehouse and loft spaces include less-than-pretty nooks and crannies. Use specialty lighting to accentuate the features you enjoy. For example, uplighting a brick wall can draw your guest’s attention away from ugly pipes running across the ceiling.

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