Ever since she attended a wedding there a decade ago, Caroline hoped to someday get married at the Loeb Boathouse. She was captivated by the Central Park greenery, the palatial white columns and storybook rowboats gliding along the lake.
When the Pittsburgh native got engaged last March, she spent three months trying to secure a September wedding date at the venue, eventually settling for the first Saturday in October. She envisioned a garden-inspired affair with green and blue accents to bring in the outdoors, and the romantic whimsy of the clothing brand LoveShackFancy.
“We really fell in love with the location and were super excited,” said Caroline, who works for a real estate technology company and declined to give her last name.
But her dream nuptials became a bride’s worst nightmare when she got a Slack message from a colleague on July 21.
“Caroline, your wedding venue is closing!” read the crushing missive, which she received just after finishing a personal training session.
At the end of last month, Loeb Boathouse owner Dean J. Poll announced that it would permanently closeon Oct. 16 due to skyrocketing food prices and rising labor costs. All 163 of the establishment’s employees will be laid off. New Yorkers quickly mourned the loss of the lakeside landmark, a structure first built in 1873 and redesigned and reopened in 1954 after Carl M. Loeb, an investment banker, and his wife Adeline donated $305,000 toward the new construction. Poll was awarded the concessions contract for the property by the New York City Parks Department in 2000, and he converted the space into the crown jewel of Central Park. The Loeb Boathouse closed down temporarily during the pandemic in October 2020 and reopened last March to bustling crowds.
With its closure, the city stands to lose not only a charming al fresco restaurant but also one of its most iconic wedding venues, which typically books out a year in advance. Couples who had already booked the site — which commands $1,000 to hold a date, a first installment of upwards of $7,500, and costs more than $40,000 in total — have been thrown for a loop.
“They do two weddings a day on weekends. Everyone in New York is going to be scrambling. This is a huge issue right now. We were about to send out the ‘Save the Dates,’ ” said Megan, an administrative assistant who booked the venue for her April 2023 nuptials.
“We immediately called them when we saw the news. They said, ‘We’re committed to keeping your event going,’ ” said the bride, who declined to give her last name.
Then, she got an email from Peter Bischoff, the Boathouse’s director of banquets, last Tuesday, saying that her April wedding would be canceled.
“We’re sorry to inform you that the Central Park Boathouse will no longer be hosting events as of Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023. All secured monies will be returned in a timely manner,” Bischoff wrote.
Megan said she already put down $11,000 in November. On July 23, she was slated to pay another $10,000 towards her reception.
Now, she’s struggling to find an alternative wedding location and is considering having a smaller event in Tuscany, Italy, rather than a big NYC affair. But she’s already put down deposits with a number of local vendors: $1,000 on florals, $4,000 on a band, $2,000 on a wedding coordinator, $500 on a videographer, $1,000 on hair and makeup, and another $2,000 on a photographer. She’s had no luck finding a comparable New York venue for her wedding and fears she’ll lose all her deposits.
“We’re high and dry, and lost so much other money because of their incompetence,” Megan said. “This won’t be right unless the Boathouse compensates the brides for their vendors.”
The Loeb Boathouse did not return a request for comment.
Caroline, meanwhile, said she was unable to get answers from staffers about the status of her fall wedding. She feared employees would already be looking for new jobs, and getting married so close to the venue’s closing date could mean a checked-out staff and lackluster food. Her wedding planner advised her to jump ship, and she immediately started hunting for new venues. Caroline would not disclose how much money she put down on the Boathouse, but says she’s currently trying to get back her deposit.
“There are so many risks involved when a venue is closing. Are the chefs staying? Is the staff going to stay? Will their hearts really be in it with it closing within two weeks of our wedding? Would we get what we paid for? We didn’t want to have any question marks,” said Caroline, adding that she has family coming in from Australia and couldn’t risk the uncertainty.
She and her wedding planner toured a handful of other venues, including the Altman Building and Tribeca 360°, and settled on the Mandarin Oriental which, serendipitously, had Saturday, Oct. 1 open.
“I’m more excited now,” said the bride-to-be, whose altered vision is a modern black-tie soiree with white orchids, instead of the original garden greenery vibe. “I’m kind of planning a different wedding now, which is stressful.”
Meanwhile, Nathan Brown is struggling to move forward with wedding planning now that the Boathouse is closing. He and his fiancée, Alice, booked the location for their March 2023 nuptials and had already put down $8,500.
They planned to host between 150 and 170 friends and family at the venue, which has a special place in their hearts.
“We’ve gone there many times. It’s a lovely spot. We love the pond there. It’s a New York City icon,” said Brown, an emergency room physician assistant who lives in Midtown and regularly cycles past the Boathouse. “We don’t really have a Plan B.”