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Rehearsal Ready

Top Twin Cities ideas for a perfect pre-wedding soirée.

With the big day just one night away and the flurry of excitement as guests arrive, the rehearsal dinner is usually the first chance for friends and family to come together. It’s the time to raise a glass and let the party begin, setting the tone for the celebration to come. Whether an intimate gathering or a well-attended welcome, the Twin Cities is full of options for every kind of couple.

For the Sophisticates

The Twin Cities’ urban landscape is constantly evolving, and chic venues offer the ideal setting to show it off. The new loft-like venue Paikka brings modern edge to St. Paul’s historic heart, while in downtown Minneapolis, Le Meridien Chambers’ rooftop bar boasts an open-air balcony with sweeping skyscraper views.

Just up the street by Loring Park, Cafe Lurcat’s romantic dining room and bold new-American dishes make for a true foodie experience. At the landmark 1933 Jax Café in northeast Minneapolis, chefs can prepare a customized meal of premium cuts or fresh seafood for your party.

“Most of my sophisticated couples are more foodie couples, so they want to do something that really showcases good food or good wine,” says Sarah Trotter, wedding planner and owner of Lasting Impressions Weddings. She recommends The Bachelor Farmer, a North Loop restaurant in a historic 1881 building, with a Scandinavian-inspired menu.

Lucia’s Restaurant in Uptown is “the original farm-to-table restaurant” in Minnesota, according to wedding planner Hana April Chughtai, founder of Mani Mela. “Their menu changes weekly, based on what is local, fresh, in season,” she says. “Your guests are in for a delectable treat, especially if they are from out of town and haven’t experienced the best in local Minnesota produce.”

For the Casual Couple

Some couples would rather forego the formalities and take a laid-back approach to the evening. Surly Brewing Co. is a haven for beer-lovers, featuring dozens of local brews.

“For out-of-town guests, our destination brewery provides your party with a night they’ll never forget, and of course the beer that Surly is known for,” says events director Andrea Graham.

Another Minnesota must-see is The Nook. The charming St. Paul hole-in-the wall features retro booths and bowling lanes built in the 1930s, and it is also home to the Juicy Lucy. “We are well-known for our stuffed cheeseburgers all over the world,” says general manager Willy Lose. “People want to be able to show off one of their favorite things in the city.”

For whiskey and pints in a cozy, wood-paneled setting, Kieran’s Irish Pub by Target Field makes for a perfect party after a Twins game. In fact, the casual couple need not be limited to restaurants, but might even consider renting a suite in the ballpark for their rehearsal dinner.

Minnesota’s natural beauty also makes the Twin Cities’ many parks options for the occasion. There are picturesque picnic spaces along the Chain of Lakes, and at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Minnehaha Falls, Como Park and Hidden Falls.

For the Active Types

Some people cannot sit still; luckily for them, there are plenty of alternatives to the traditional sit-down dinner. One way is to enjoy the sunshine and sparkling water on a river or lake cruise.

“Rather than just seeing the inside of a restaurant, people really want to get outside and showcase why we live in Minnesota,” says Trotter.

Paradise Charter Cruises meander through lower St. Anthony Falls and present views of the historic Stone Arch Bridge and Minneapolis skyline. Magnolia Blossom Cruises also offer picturesque Mississippi tours on quaint Victorian-style paddle boats. Luxury fleets are on hand to let your party drift away on scenic Lake Minnetonka at both Al and Alma’s and Queen of Excelsior.

Sportier types can plan a night of upscale bowling at Pinstripes at Centennial Lakes in Edina, bocce ball on the rooftop deck at Brit’s Pub in downtown Minneapolis, or even rock climbing at Vertical Endeavors, followed by dinner at the neighboring industrial-chic Icehouse in uptown Minneapolis.

While activities can add an extra element of fun, people most want to mingle and talk, says Rachelle Mazumdar, wedding planner and owner of Style-Architects Weddings + Events. She suggests keeping the dinner itself to immediate family and close friends, then opening up the evening to a lively party for all guests.

For the Music Lovers

It’s a given that music is the heartbeat of any event, but jazz, rock, reggae or classical aficionados can make music the focal point. Just off the bustling Nicollet Mall, the Dakota Jazz Club transports visitors into the world of cabaret and cocktails. The venue features a full stage, set lighting and an elaborate sound system. Dinkytown’s Varsity Theater is also fully equipped for any live band, and the nearby Loring Pasta Bar holds a hidden gem of music history. The Red Room used to be an apartment, and local lore says Bob Dylan once lived there, explains event manager Karri Livingston. The room can be rented for smaller groups.

In Minneapolis’ landmark Orchestra Hall, the versatile Target Atrium offers floor-to-ceiling windows and a walk-out-patio overlooking Peavey Plaza and the downtown skyline.

But really, almost any venue can accommodate music lovers. “Get a private space and bring in a string quartet, pianist, acoustic guitarist,” Mazumdar says. “You will have the freedom to do what you want to do musically.”

For the Family-Oriented

The true purpose of the rehearsal dinner is to bring two families together, for an evening and ultimately through a new union. Few things accomplish that better than sharing a family-style-meal. Buca di Beppo is a rehearsal dinner favorite, channeling famiglia with wine, overflowing plates of pasta, and a festive atmosphere.

If you’d like something a little more sedate, Chughtai suggests traditional comfort food in the private dining room at Manny’s Steak House. “Dining family-style, guests can get to know each other over heaping plates of mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and melt-in-your-mouth steaks,” she said.

Families that want to break (or possibly make) bread together can prepare their own meal in a cooking class at Cooks of Crocus Hill. “It’s teambuilding the night before the wedding,” Trotter says. “Everybody gets to know each other a little bit better.”

For an atmosphere that feels like home, event planner Amy Zaroff of Amy Zaroff Events + Design suggests couples should consider a favorite country club, or even their own backyard. The space can be transformed with a tent or lighting, and creative catering comes through renting a food truck or hiring a chef, bringing local favorites home.

“My take on the rehearsal dinner is that the speeches may go on a little bit longer, people may know your story a little bit more intimately,” Zaroff says. “This is the night for the people nearest and dearest to you.” *

Expert Tips

Give it the Groom’s Twist
Traditionally, the groom hosts the rehearsal dinner, and it’s a chance for his family to show off their unique style.

“Think: What personalizes it for the groom’s side of the family? How do we make sure it is something he would like?” —Sarah Trotter, Lasting Impressions Weddings.

Make It Personal
A rehearsal dinner can be just as unique as a wedding.

“Whether it’s your favorite cuisine, your favorite strawberry cheesecake or your favorite color scheme, let your closest family and friends celebrate what you two love the most.” —Hana April Chughtai, Mani Mela

See It as a Welcome Party
The rehearsal dinner is an opportunity to introduce your guests to one another.

“Mix up the seating so that your guests get to know each other. New conversations will loosen up the crowd before the big day.” —Amy Zaroff, Amy Zaroff Events + Design

Break the Ice
Games are a fun way to help guests strike up conversations. One option: Choose four fun facts about the couple and print them on napkins.

“If you number the facts, then guests want to go and find those napkins and start talking. It’s a good ice breaker.” —Amy Zaroff, Amy Zaroff Events + Design

It’s a Time for Toasts
With the champagne flowing, friends and family are sure to share recollections, but the rehearsal dinner is also an opportunity for the bride and groom to thank their loved ones.

“This is the time for the couple to really honor their wedding party, because they don’t get to really do that at the wedding. It’s great to say something about why they’re special.” —Rachelle Mazumdar, Style-Architects Weddings + Events