Make your reception uniquely Washington

With its abundance of iconic landmarks and historic venues, Washington, D.C., has been a favorite wedding destination for years. With so many options, it can be difficult to choose which is best for your wedding.

An ideal place to start looking would be Willard InterContinental Washington (1401 Pennsylvania Ave. NW). This famous hotel, located just two blocks away from the White House, dates back to the mid-nineteenth century. With its impressive interiors and even more impressive legacy — everyone from Abraham Lincoln to Mark Twain to Martin Luther King Jr. has been a guest there — the hotel is an ideal location for a couple wanting a traditional wedding reception in a classical venue.

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“This is not a cookie-cutter place to get married,” said Christina Canalez Presock, director of social catering at The Willard. “We do really try to learn about our brides and grooms … and seek out what’s important to them.” 

The more personalized the better — one couple who met in the Willard Room will return there next month for their celebration. “For them that room has a lot of significance,” Presock said. “We love that. We love those connections.”

Another excellent venue for those wanting personalized elegance is the Fairmont Hotel (2401 M St. NW), near Georgetown. With its two main event spaces — the recently refurbished Grand Ballroom and the Colonnade, with its skylight and panoramic windows — and award-winning culinary professionals, the hotel has proven to be an ideal location for those who want opulence as well as intimacy. 

“On a night when there’s a full moon you see the full moon when you’re doing your first dance,” recalled catering director Bob Mikolitch.

The Fairmont also ensures a personalized touch for every reception. “Every wedding is different because every bride and groom is different,” Mikolitch said.

Couples who’d prefer the cozy but elegant ambience of a restaurant for their reception would do well to consider The Occidental (1475 Pennsylvania Ave. NW). Built in 1905, this classy restaurant has been a staple among the city’s cultural and political elite for more than a century. Offering several venues — including its two Presidential Rooms and Historic Monument Room — and mouth-watering menu options, the Occidental remains a favorite venue.

Those who desire a wedding reception more international in flavor should check out La Maison Française, which is the cultural center in the French Embassy (4101 Reservoir Road NW). Director of marketing Cindy Fuller said the venue was “uniquely Washingtonian,” because it’s one of the few instances where a couple can hold a reception inside an embassy.

The venue features ballrooms and a garden area that can accommodate up to 400 guests. 

“It’s contemporary,” Fuller said. “It’s very light and airy. There’s French artwork. It’s kind of museum-like … it’s also very private.”

Of course, the receptions have a French twist. The menus feature French food, and past receptions have included everything from accordion players to can-can girls. It’s all a matter of personal taste.

“I would say half the people got engaged in Paris,” Fuller said of those who have held their events there. 

If a more historic setting is to your liking, both the Decatur House (1610 H St. NW) and the Dumbarton House (2715 Q St. NW) offer beautiful event spaces along with fascinating historical legacies. 

The Decatur House, situated northwest of Lafayette Square, was built in 1818 for Stephen Decatur, a war hero. The house is currently operated by the White House Historical Association and is home to the National Center for White House History. It has served as a popular venue for wedding receptions for years.

Director of special events Arioth Harrison said the location was a chief reason why the house makes for such a special venue. 

“It has that very classical Washington style. I think that the space is a very intimate layout,” she said. “It’s not like you feel you’re lost in a big ballroom.”

The Dumbarton House, another intimate, historic home, dates back to around 1800. The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America bought it in 1928 and converted it into a museum in 1932. 

Marketing and events manager Missy Groppel said that one reason couples enjoy having their receptions at the Dumbarton House is that by doing so they’re actually helping to fund the museum’s maintenance. 

“I think our events clients like very much that they are using the space that is a private, nonprofit museum,” she said. 

Wedding receptions are typically held in the Belle Vue Room and its adjacent courtyard. The house is decorated with furniture and art dating back to the Federal period. Groppel said that for many brides, the feeling of being back in Jane Austen’s time is one of the Dumbarton House’s charms. 

“It is like stepping back in time,” she said. “It is just a lovely venue.”

So whether it’s modern opulence or historical whimsy you’re looking for, newlyweds-to-be have an abundance of options . The most important rule is not to settle for conventionality. 

As the Fairmont’s Mikolitch put it, “There are no rules for weddings anymore.”