Fire Island: The Nation’s Newest Wedding Destination
June may be the traditional month for blushing brides, but we at the Fire Island News are considering July the new June. With the marriage equality now the law of the land in our fair (and fare) state, Fire Island continues to ready itself as "the destination" place for special weddings.
People seek out Fire Island for its secluded beauty and quaint locales; those attributes make the beach a true haven and an ideal location for a wedding. Unfortunately, it’s this very remoteness that makes a wedding here so difficult to plan. Accommodating a large party, getting them to the island in the first place and then there’s the weather-complications can quickly arise. With some creativity, a smart venue choice and a little luck from Mother Nature, you can create something truly memorable.
First Things First:
Which beach? When? How big?
"Where" is important because many Fire Island communities are not able to accommodate visitors, or even a boat landing. So when looking to have a wedding of more than a handful of people, it would be best to choose one of the five communities that have hotel accommodations or go the house rental route and hook up with a realtor to book your days. These should still be rented in a larger community for a choice of homes and ferry routes.
The day is important. Steer clear of the holidays (or even better May through August) unless you want to fight the crowds in your gown. Also, many restaurants cannot give up their valuable space when they would normally be packed with tourists on a hot summer day-however, they still might be able to cater an affair. So if your wedding will take place in a private home, any day may be possible.
Size matters. Here’s why-it’s Fire Island, folks. We are on a barrier island (in case no one told you why there is water everywhere) and everything is a bit more challenging. That includes getting flowers, cake and old timers here-as well as having enough room for guests, especially if the weather is poor. That said; the Fire Island Pines regularly hosts parties of hundreds or more, and they have a ball. So go for it! (Just admit you may need help.)
The staff at the Island Mermaid in Ocean Beach certainly have the experience to create a snag-free wedding. Executive chef Joe Rago and general manager John Gerace work together to "take all the pain out of it," said owner Scott Hirsch. They’ve been doing it so long-from the tents to the DJ, the food to the decorations-that you can’t go wrong. The restaurant can hold up to 120 people and prices generally run from $85 to $100 per person. They also cater weddings from the Pines to Kismet.
"Most people don’t know just how affordable a pre or post season wedding can be here," said Hirsch. "Our pastry chef makes the most incredible wedding cakes and Chef Rago and his team love working with brides over the winter to create one-of-a-kind menus." They have five weddings booked for this year and several in the works for next season.
"Since there is nothing cookie-cutter about our events, we use the winter to plan big things," said Hirsch.
The romantic Hideaway Restaurant in Ocean Beach offers a little bit of everything. A couple looking for an intimate setting can have an elegant water front reception at the restaurant by the talented Zachary Rude. After the reception ends, the party can continue next door at Houser’s Bar for a lively night of music and drinks. Or, the festivities can head outside: Houser’s is right on the bay and the benches on the outdoor patio provide a perfect place to watch the sunset. When the night finally ends, accommodations for guests are conveniently offered above the restaurant in Houser’s Hotel. Local business owners Sean and Lindsey of the Bambootique and 583 are planning their wedding this fall and are combining the two spaces. "We have such a big wedding that this was a great option for us," said Lindsey.
"We are very flexible," added owner Nina O’Handley. "We will work with you to make it a memorable day."
Bocce Beach is able to accommodate up to 125 people. With an enormous deck, and an airy main restaurant with large bar, the restaurant can host an upscale celebration or a down home beach party. Jason Little, in partnership with his brothers, Scott and Wes, are reknown island-wide for their special personal attention to client’s needs.
Maguire’s Restaurant at the western edge of Ocean Beach is the largest covered venue in the village. They can handle over 150 people comfortably, even in foul weather.
Restaurants from Kismet’s Inn and Surf’s Out to Davis Park’s Casino will also accommodate your wedding. Site, date and cost, however, need to be addressed.
Surf’s Out restaurant, on the bay side in Kismet, can accommodate 175 people. The location also boasts an adjacent property where an outdoor tent can be placed for a larger reception. People can marry at the lighthouse and have their reception here.
Surf’s Out can also do seasonal weddings because they are able to keep the restaurant open for regular business while using their additional property for parties.
The Kismet Inn does not close for weddings during the season, but the owners welcome the celebration. "We don’t shut down for any reason," said Ashley Cole, an owner of the Inn. "We’ve had weddings and people come in and hang with the locals. Next thing you know, the locals are dancing with the bride!"
The famous Flynn’s in Ocean Bay Park offers indoor and outdoor bars at their bayfront location. They are able to accommodate up to 225 people and because of the big bay views theirs is a sought-after venue. "September is really our prime wedding month," added owner Tim Flynn.
On the East End, a more private and intimate option for blushing brides or gushing grooms is in the Fire Island Pines, the newly built modern masterpiece-Whyte Hall. The Pines Property Owners Association has information on rates and schedule.
South Beach-inspired, the elegant boutique hotel The Palms is actually comprised of three distinct places, The Palms, The Palms Bay and The Palms Bay East. The luxury accommodations and thoughtful design has been carefully chosen by owners Chris and Laura Mercogliano to keep things new, fresh and deluxe.
"Our goal is not only to meet a client’s expectation, but "to exceed them," said Laura.
The Palms and Palms Bay feature an expansive lounge (Both Palms Bay are on the waterfront,) with modern chaise lounges, sofas and a changing/massage cabana. All the rooms are styled with gourmet kitchens, elegant bedrooms and such luxury amenities as Egyptian cotton sheets, iPod docking stations and flat screen televisions.
The Fire Island Hotel in Ocean Bay Park, just 100 yards from the beach, is the island’s largest hotel and one of the most frequented wedding venues. With a swimming pool and top-notch restaurant, the hotel even has a large ocean-side garden, providing many choices for various wedding activities. Able to accommodate up to 150 people, the hotel has 43 rooms, many of which can sleep up to six people.
"We try to tailor the wedding to the couple’s needs. Weddings here are a whole hotel affair-from the catering to the set-up," said Patty Loesch, general manager of the hotel and restaurant. "It’s simple having a wedding here. It’s just the off-season weather that can be a consideration. But besides that, we have no problems."
In the Fire Island Pines, FIP Ventures said they have already booked three September weddings-two at the Madison and another at either the pool deck or at the Blue Whale. FIP Ventures spokesperson Ryan Turrin said the properties plan to offer newlyweds wedding packages with catering and spa services and religious and non-religious officiates to perform the ceremony. Deejays and even drag queens can be made available for more adventuresome couples.
The properties plan to offer rooftop weddings once the Hotel Ciel’s expected renovation is complete next spring. "We’re expecting the Pines to become one of America’s major gay wedding destinations," said FIP Ventures co-owner Andrew Kirtzman.
The Belvedere Guest House in Cherry Grove is also able to accommodate couples seeking to tie the knot in their private, secluded waterfront location. "It’s a great space for a wedding-we can have it on the lawn, we can have it on the bay," said owner Julian Dorcelien.
The Belvedere will also offer poolside bachelor parties with strippers and all of the other mentionable and unmentionable things that can potentially go along with them.
"What happens at the Belvedere stays at the Belvedere," said Julian.
Beautiful Couples: Inside and Out
As a Fire Island bride or groom-to-be accounts for every detail of her or his special day, it is important that one remember to plan for oneself. Before getting married the happy couple may want to pamper themselves with luxurious spa treatments. There are fortunately a few options on and near the beach that will happily cater to couples or bridal parties to ensure that everyone looks and feels refreshed when they take to the aisle.
For an invigorating experience, soon-to-be newlyweds may want to consider contacting Lisa Horowitz of Healing Waters, an Ocean Beach staple for 20 years. Lisa focuses on the power of massage and energy healing. Lisa’s exclusive brand of healing includes specific massages that work with water energy and the body, an original technique she’s developed over the years. Lisa also offers Private Soul Sessions to work on aligning them with their life’s purpose. Couples massage therapy can "deepen their heart connection," said Lisa, who also provides couples massage lessons. The art of massage could make an elegant and sensuous gift for any married couple.
In the Pines, the Sugar Shack located in Hotel Ciel, plans to offer spa packages to couples who plan to take advantage of New York’s new marriage equality law that took effect on Sunday, July 24.
Spa 85 of Bay Shore is just one of the mainland spas offering a bachelorette or bridal party spa experience. Owner Paul said that it is not unusual for the spa to open up on a Sunday exclusively for a bride and her entourage, adding that the place would be theirs. The personalized experience, which is ordered up a la carte, could include manicures, pedicures, facials, massages and other treatments as well as specialized body scrubs. The full service salon and spa, led by head stylist Glory, also has professional makeup artists and hair stylists on staff so the bride-to-be can look her loveliest on her big day.
Another great mainland spa is the elegant Drew Patrick Spa, in Bay Shore. The 10,000 sq ft facility includes a day spa, medical spa, fitness, personal training, home store and café where any size party can be comfortably accommodated.
Their Awixa Suite can be converted into a party room for wedding party functions.
Parties can include side by side foot soaks to enjoy time together and treatments vary to ensure the clients receive the services they desire such as massage, facials, body treatments and semi private yoga classes. For an even bigger change, their Medical Director, Richard Byrnes, MD, can be on hand for Botox and other injectable services (Juvederm / Restylane). If you do end up renting for your bridal or groom shower, the Coffeehouse Cafe can cater the event with lovely sandwich, salad, fruit and cheese platters or baked goods.
"Our party planning staff is available to our clients to help create the perfect experience," said Corinne O’Hara at Drew Patrick.
For two years now the little shop on Evergreen, Fire Island Gems, offers an array of exceptionally well-priced diamond and gemstone jewelry. They also feature designer Chelsea Taylor who creates stunning Swarovski crystal rings, earrings and necklaces.
"Our goal is to provide the community with beautiful jewelry at affordable prices," said owner Kathy Davis Reese.
The iconic Kenny Goodman in Ocean Beach makes most jewelry out of silver, and can supply not only unusual bands, but also terrific bridal shower and wedding party gifts such as surfboard necklaces and the famous "Kenny."
AG-Fox Jewelry on Main Street in Bay Shore work on creating "timeless pieces" for the betrothed. Owners Anna and Ed also remodel and repair antique pieces, so if you have that great grandmother’s diamond, bring it in for a new look.
Anni Biederman lives in Ocean Beach and New York City. She is a metal worker and can make custom pieces upon consultation. In truth, this reporter had her wedding bands made by Anni and they are beautiful modern, yet timeless, gold bands.
The logistics of bringing a delicate cake to the island can be daunting. If you are not having your wedding catered by one of the restaurants that make their own special sweets, then a local baker is in order. Beachcakes has been making custom wedding and special occasion cakes for over ten years. "I am a year round resident of Ocean Bay Park and now that I am retired, I can devote more time to making cakes," said owner Barbara Placilla.
She specializes in wedding and special occasion cakes and does custom cupcake displays as well.
"One of my most unique orders was a black record cake for a rock and roll themed wedding last year. The record had an edible image of the Sonny and Cher song "I got you Babe" and looked like a record," said Placilla. Some other unique requests have been cakes shaped like firefigher helmets, Hawaiian shirts, designer purses, children’s TV characters.
For those wanting a traditional religious ceremony, Fire Island has a few churches and synagogues from which to choose. The Free Union Church in Ocean Beach is interdenominational. For a Roman Catholic service, worshipers can choose between Our Lady of the Magnificat Catholic Church in Ocean Beach and Our Lady Star of the Sea in Saltaire. Episcopalian services can also be held at St. Andrews by the Sea, also in Saltaire. Those seeking a Jewish ceremony should inquire at the Fire Island Synagogue in Seaview. Davis Park also has a house of worship, the Church of Most Precious Blood.
Another option is to have a minister at your beach side ceremony.
"I have performed wedding ceremonies from elegant soirees to sweet beach shindigs to roller disco nuptials to spontaneous pledges of love in the streets," said officiants Barbara Ann Michaels, who calls herself the "Jester of the Peace." "I have discovered that as soon as any couple stands together with me to marry, something genuine happens."
The happy couple can have the wedding of their dreams, but there are always some rules by which to abide. If you plan to build or use tents, generators or any other equipment and structures at your wedding, you should consult with the local officials in the community where it will be held. The Fire Island National Seashore requires all weddings to be held above the mean high waterline-meaning don’t have your beach wedding in the water. Bonfires are prohibited island-wide. The Fire Island Lighthouse, under FINS jurisdiction, is a popular place for a ceremony. Receptions are not permitted, according to FINS spokesperson Paula Valentine. There are additional fees for the use of the site.
They will consider wedding requests on a case-by-case basis. Call FINS’ Special Park Use Coordinator for your specific requirements and the Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society for availability.
For those who need a little extra help (and be honest, you know who you are) Fire Island events planner Lisa Jaffe can lead you to your dream wedding. "Fire Island has become one of the most popular places for weddings," she said. "Scenic landscapes, artistic whimsy and natural beauty offer the perfect setting for your special day."
Lisa advised, however, that planning a wedding on Fire Island can prove logistically challenging and unpredictable. With so many unique variables (like no cars for hauling equipment) and uncontrollable details (like the weather), "you may just need an expert," she said.