• Irene Levy Baker

Museums and Attractions for Special Events

Does your company throw a holiday party every year? Host an annual fundraiser or banquet? If you’re planning the same affair year after year, the festivities can eventually blend together.

Choosing a unique venue can really help differentiate this year’s party from last year’s event and the event the year before, and the year before that.

Guests won’t soon forget meeting a Hall of Famer, strolling through a magnificent rose garden or snapping a photo in front of Independence Hall. And many offer hidden perks, too.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York is sure to be a big hit with guests. The museum is committed to preserving the history of baseball and celebrating the most legendary players, managers, umpires and executives.

Celebrate your team in the Hall of Fame Plaque Gallery surrounded by 329 bronze plaques dedicated to the best of the best in Major League Baseball, including homerun hitter Babe Ruth; Effa Manley, the first female Hall of Famer; and famed players from the Negro Leagues.

The Plaque Gallery can hold up to 150 for a reception or 120 for a seated dinner. June Dolhun, sales manager for the Hall of Fame, notes that the space is best suited for a buffet dinner with a bar in the rotunda and food stations in the alcoves, as the Hall of Fame has no kitchen facilities.

Its two approved caterers, the Otesaga Hotel and Resort and L.M. Townsend Catering, have extensive experience with this format.

Bonus: Arrangements can be made to keep the galleries open during your event, and photography is permitted.

The Barnes Foundation, located along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, has hosting events down to an art. The museum is known for its collection of impressionist, post-impressionist and early modernist art, including many works by Renoir, Cezanne and Matisse. The galleries, which are accessible during events, make a glorious focal point.

The collection is housed in a bright and airy limestone building designed by award-winning architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, that is nearly as impressive as the collection itself. A modern museum, it has a variety of light-filled event spaces with floor-to-ceiling windows that provide views of the garden, as well as an outdoor terrace overlooking its lush outdoor space.

There are rooms appropriate for intimate dinners, lectures in theater-style seating for 140, and receptions for up to 800 guests. Being surrounded by so much art carries over into the cuisine, too. The on-site caterer, Constellation Culinary Group, makes sure that the food served at events is also artfully presented.

Bonus: Event planners can use images of the artwork from the Barnes collection on invitations and event-related publications.

Celebrate the freedom to assemble at the National Constitution Center, which not only tells the history of the U.S. Constitution, but also explains why it is still relevant all these years later.

The museum is located in the heart of Philadelphia’s historic district looking out on Independence Hall, where the nation’s forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence and returned to pound out the compromises for the Constitution and sign it.

When you sign on to hold an event in the Constitution Center’s Grand Hall Overlook, with its 60-foot ceilings and expansive windows, the inspiring view is part of the package, as is access to Signers’ Hall with its 42 life-size bronze statues of the Constitution’s signers.

For more flexibility and larger groups, Jennifer Kniele, the Center’s senior director of events, suggests adding on the 12,000-square foot Grand Hall Lobby and/or the Rooftop Terrace, as well as the exhibit space.

The museum also has several smaller spaces, including a meeting room with an all-weather glass-enclosed terrace, an auditorium and a private dining room.

Advance Staging Productions is the exclusive audio-visual provider at the National Constitution Center, and Brûlée Catering serves as its exclusive caterer.

Bonus: Standard tables and chairs are included with rental fees.

Events go swimmingly at the National Aquarium, situated along Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. The attraction is home to 20,000 animals in award-winning habitats that include a tropical rainforest, coral reef, Australian outback and living seashore.

The National Aquarium is considered one of the best aquariums in the world and one of the best event venues, too. The main aquarium building, on Pier 3, has four levels of exhibits, including the Blacktip Reef, Atlantic Coral Reef, Shark Alley, and the Harbor Overlook Room. Pier 4 is home to the Marine Mammal Pavilion, Dolphin Underwater Viewing Area, and Jellies Invasion.

These areas can be rented separately or together, but either way, galleries remain open so guests have exclusive access to enjoy the aquatic life. For added impact, Nora Campbell, director of sales for the aquarium, recommends using the HarborView Room in Pier 3 for dessert and coffee as it is about halfway through that building’s exhibits and boasts a stunning view of the Inner Harbor at night and at sunset.

The Aquarium provides a choice of two exclusive caterers, Harbor Market Catering and The Classic Catering People, who handle not only food and beverage but also linens, decor and specialty rentals.

Bonus: Events at the National Aquarium are eco-friendly from compostable serving ware to sustainable menu selections.

The New York Botanical Garden, a 250-acre site located in the Bronx, is a living museum with more than one million plants in 50 specialty gardens and collections, and offers several venues for hosting events.

The Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, a grand Victorian-style crystal palace with 11 interconnected glass galleries framing two pools, is an elegant spot for cocktails and can be paired with the adjacent Conservatory Tent, which can hold up to 800 people. Another space is The Lillian and Amy Goldman Stone Mill, a National Historic Landmark on the Bronx River at the edge of a 50-acre forest. This charming space with room for up to 120 attendees features rustic stone walls, reclaimed wood floors and an outdoor terrace.

For smaller groups, the Hudson Garden Grill, designed by award-winning architects Bentel & Bentel, has banquet seating, a walnut-topped bar and an open kitchen ideal for cooking demonstrations.

The Garden Terrace Room is a sophisticated ballroom with chandeliers and big windows showcasing views of the gardens and providing the option to add a tent for cocktails among the greenery.

Catering partner Constellation Culinary Group brings innovative cuisine to this garden venue. Barbara Corcoran, vice president for continuing and public education for the facility, recommends inviting guests to experience something creative together, like a fun, hands-on workshop.

Bonus: Expert instructors are available to lead team building events, such as designing a terrarium or learning how to arrange flowers.

These unique venues are ideal for hosting celebrations that guests will remember with as much enthusiasm as you put into planning and executing the event.

Planning an event at one of these unique museums or attractions? Here’s a list of their most Instagrammable spots.

The Barnes Foundation:

- By the reflecting pool that flanks the entrance to the museum.

- Beside Henri Matisse’s The Joy of Life on the second floor of the gallery.

- Alongside Matisse’s The Music Lessons in Room 19.

National Aquarium:

- The iconic bubble tubes at the entrance to the Blacktip Reef in the Pier 3 building.

- In front of the Blacktip Reef Underwater Viewing Area where a floor-to-ceiling pop-out viewing window creates a constantly-changing backdrop featuring more than 600 animals.

- With some vibrantly-colored jellyfish moving through the background like lava lamps.

- In front of the dolphin viewing area.

National Baseball Hall of Fame Museum:

- In the Plaque Gallery where there are 329 plaques of Hall of Famers from 1936 thorough present day. The most popular plaque? It depends upon the demographics of your group, but Babe Ruth seems to be a universal crowd pleaser.

National Constitution Center:

- In Signer’s Hall, home to 42 life-sized bronze statues of the Founding Fathers.

- In the Grand Hall Overlook where Independence Hall serves as a dramatic backdrop.

- On the Rooftop Terrace where your group can take in the city views.

Tips for making your event extra special at each of these venues...

The Barnes Foundation: Longing for an outdoor event but worried about the possibility of rain? The Barnes Foundation has one of the largest covered outdoor spaces in Philadelphia! It’s perfect for alfresco dinners or cocktail parties.

National Aquarium: Get a corporate membership. Besides the satisfaction of helping to support a worthwhile attraction, you also get a discount on private event rentals, as well as individual tickets for employees, and other perks.

National Baseball Hall of Fame: Invite guests to wear in their favorite team apparel. Also, invite a Hall of Famer to attend your event! The Hall of Fame staff can provide contact information to reach several of these legends of the game.

National Constitution Center: Create an event flow that takes advantage of all the numerous spaces this venue has to offer.

New York Botanical Garden: The Gardens has a 428-seat lecture hall located at its entrance across from the Metro-North Train Station, providing easy and quick access.

Irene Levy Baker is the owner of Spotlight Public Relations and author of 100 Things To Do In Philadelphia Before You Die as well as Unique Eats and Eateries of Philadelphia

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