Madison's Most Unique Wedding Venues

A List of Madison's Most Unique Wedding Venues

When the Madison Children's Museum closes its doors in the evening after hundreds of energetic toddlers explore the three-story building by day, the doors often reopen hours later. This time, however, the adults are unaccompanied by their children and are ready to have some fun of their own.

Similarly just down the street at the Madison Central Library, after maintaining a quiet sanction for community members to frequent during the day, the top floor of the library becomes home to music and dancing in the evening. Moving westward, a similar trend can be seen on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, as buildings that are bustling with students, faculty and researchers during the week usher in a different clientele of guests during the weekends. Weddings. That single word is the common denominator between all of these places, which can now add weddings to their list of weekly events and activities.

Thanks in part to the growing popularity in Pinterest, places that even five years ago would have been unheard of to hold a wedding are becoming more and more commonplace, according to Andrea VandeBerg, event coordinator at Cherry Blossom Events in Madison.

“We are now seeing a real mix, and couples are not following any rules and doing what they love,” VandeBerg said.

VandeBerg co-founded Cherry Blossom Events, a Madison area event planning company along with Sarah Sarbacker. Both are University of Wisconsin-Madison graduates. Andrea holds a degree in Design & Retail, while Sarah’s degree is in Journalism.

“It is our goal at Cherry Blossom Events, to provide brides and other event hosts with refined, personalized and distinctive events,” the company boasts on its website.

For one goat-loving couple, the duo turned to the Madison Children’s Museum where goats grazed the rooftop terrace and contended for honorary attention.

Out of this growing trend in specialization and creativity, buildings like the Children’s Museum that are not traditionally thought of as wedding venues are becoming increasingly popular.

Although VandeBerg said that the Madison Children's Museum "tops the list" for unique wedding venues, a number of other unexpected local venues are also becoming known for their ability to double as a wedding venue. What follows is a list of the most unique wedding venues in Madison, Wisconsin. 

1. Madison Children's Museum

With brides spinning in gerbil wheels, guests standing by as a rat gives labor and goats grazing the rooftop cocktail hour, the Madison Children’s Museum is a sure nominee on the list of unique wedding venues in Madison.

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The gerbil wheel is a popular wedding activity, especially for brides according to Davidson.

In fact, on the facility’s event fact sheet, the museum gloats that it is an “out of the ordinary event location.” Furthermore, the sheet claims that “from birthday, bar/bat mitzvah, and quincenara celebrations to holiday parties, sophisticated black-tie affairs, unique wedding receptions, and corporate gatherings, you and your guests will be magically transformed into kids again.”

Cherry Blossom Events helped one couple complete that transformation back to nostalgic youth by using the museum as the launch pad for a monster-themed wedding for the eclectic and passionate pair.

The Museum’s Facility and Rental Coordinator Sarah Davidson said that they are all for wedding guests incorporating the exhibits into their plan. For one, an old airplane model is transformed into a bar, while the play kitchen that is filled with kids and artificial food by day is now where the dinner and dessert spread is placed.  

Meanwhile as the night progresses, a train table and constructions made of wooden blocks are pushed aside on the second floor to make room for dancing.

The museum opened doors at its current location in 2010, but it was not until 2012 before it hosted its first wedding. Both ceremonies and receptions are held at the museum that now averages 30 weddings a year.

Guests have the option of renting anywhere from a single floor of the museum to all three floors, including the rooftop terrace. With views of the capitol and Lakes Mendota and Monona, the rooftop is a favorite spot for the vow ceremony or cocktail hour, according to Davidson. Couple’s should be forewarned though, the birds that stay up on the rooftop year-round will be crashing the wedding.

Davidson believes that the museum has become an increasingly popular wedding locale because “there is a growing trend in weddings that are “casual, short and to the point.”

For most couples, the museum itself is enough of a statement that few other decorations are often even needed, Davidson says. This aspect accommodates to those seeking a no-fuss affair.

Ultimately the museum’s primary function occurs during normal business hours, as it ushers in kids from all over for a day of fun. This can also pose a challenge when it comes to hosting weddings however, as it narrows the timeline for set up and preparation.

But as VandeBerg and her crew have experienced with the few details often needed in the museum, it is typically not a problem.

For couples young at heart searching for an ecclectic space, the Madison Children's Museum is worth a look.

2. Madison Central Library

Stacks at the library are not just for searching for books anymore. A space that is commonly known for its quiet feature is getting a little more vivacious. As of March 2014, aisles of books at the Madison Central Library are now also doubling as wedding aisles.

While nationally the trend for libraries hosting weddings is not new, it is a recent addition to the area. Just over two months ago, the Madison Central Library hosted its first wedding on March 8, 2014.

“Weddings have been held at a number of libraries across the country,” Administrative Clerk Tom Karls said. “We did not do weddings before as we didn’t have the space, but with the construction and remodeling of the central library, it was decided to include weddings as a possible option.”

Since that first wedding in March, 11 more weddings are on the calendar for 2014. Not only is the library used for ceremonies, but it also welcomes the after-party.

According to Karls, one of the main selling points of the space is the 18-foot glass windows. Wedding events are held on the library’s third floor, where the natural light offers astounding views of the Overture Center and other downtown locations.

In addition to doubling as a wedding hall, the space is frequently used for many civic organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Madison, Inc. as well as events with the University of Wisconsin and the Madison Metropolitan School District, according to Karls.The space used largely for these civic engagements can be transformed into a wedding venue, accommodating upwards of 200 guests.

While Andrea VandeBerg of Cherry Blossom Events, said that they have not yet had any of their clients marry at the Central Library, they are amidst the planning process of two that are to be held there. She said that the library is providing the source of the wedding’s theme.

“This couple is totally playing up the library theme,” she said. “They are using library style check out cards for their save the dates cards.”

Couples are now adding their own personal book to the collection at the Central Library, as they legalize their partnership and put their own union in the books amidst many classics.

3. Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery

Walking into the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery building-wedged in between University Avenue and Johnson Street on the UW campus-can easily be mistaken for a rainforest. But the main floor of the building complete with large, luscious trees and water features has also been the site of many weddings since 2011.

Not initially part of the space’s plan, it was not until the building’s second year that it started hosting wedding receptions in what is known as the Town Center on the building’s main floor.

It may come as a surprise to some that the building made up of transdisciplinary research institutes, which focus on the interfaces of education, research and business, also serves as a wedding venue.

But the Town Center which is “designed to welcome all with food, interactive displays, ongoing activities, hands-on learning labs, events and meeting spaces,” now includes wedding receptions as part of its “ongoing activities,” according to Lisa Loup, the Events Manager at Steenbock’s on Orchard-also housed with the building.

First and foremost “it is very important to the building that all events fall within the mission of the building, which is to be science and university related,” Loup said. For that reason, it is required that all couples are UW-affiliated.

Often that affiliation comes in the form of current students, alumni or faculty, according to Loup, which she goes on to say has never been an issue.

The space also caters to the specialization factor that couples are increasingly seeking.

As far as catering goes “Steenboch’s is really big on customizing to individual needs,” Loup said. “In Steenboch’s we also do a lot of rehearsal dinners.”

The Town Center only holds weddings eight months a year, excluding some of the most popular wedding months of April, May, September and October. As of April 2014, the space is already completely booked with weddings through the summer of 2015.

4. Wisconsin Union

When compiling the list of unique wedding venues in Madison, it is impossible not to include the Wisconsin Union because weddings are not exactly what one thinks of when they think of the events typically taking place in the middle of a college campus.

On any given day the Memorial Union, situated in the heart of the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, is filled with students studying, prospective students touring and alumni reminiscing on their former college days, but take the elevator up to the fourth floor on a Friday or Saturday night and let the tunes of the Electric Slide lead you toward the disco lights and formal attire that are taking over the Great Hall.

The Wisconsin Union has also become known nationally, and when the well-known Travel Channel host Andrew Zimmern was creating his own list of the best of Madison, the Wisconsin Union soared near the top. He writes on his website that the Rathskeller within the Memorial Union is a “favorite meeting/studying/study-drink spot amongst students and reminiscing alums.”

While weddings at the Wisconsin Union are not necessarily a new fad, they were not originally part of the building’s initial plan, and they definitely work to accommodate a passionate crowd.

“Union spaces appeal to alumni, as they bring them back to their college days,” VandeBerg said.

Not only was a wedding reception in the Memorial Union’s Great Hall important to newlywed Monica (Hanson) Steigerwald because of her affiliation as a UW student but also weddings at the Union symbolize a Hanson family tradition. When she celebrated her January 2014 wedding with a reception in the Great Hall, she became the fourth member in her family to do so. Moreover of each of these couples, at least one of them has been a UW graduate.

Monica and her husband Joe danced to their first song on the same hardwood floors overlooking Lake Mendota where her parents shared their first dance years earlier. 

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Monica and Joe's wedding reception at the Great Hall in the Wisconsin Memorial Union. 

The strong traditions tied to the Wisconsin Union also help incorporate that playful and youthful tone that appeals to some couples. While Bucky did not make an appearance at Monica and Joe’s weddings like he does at some Union wedding, the popular Wisconsin songs “Varsity” and “Jump Around” were must-haves on the DJ’s playlist.

“The history and the tradition was so special,” Monica exclaimed. “I didn’t even look into other places.”

Alternatively, VandeBerg points out that the Memorial Union also appeals to those seeking a more elegant and stately venue given the architecture of the building itself.

Aside from a few renovations to increase its capacity, much of the Great Hall remains in its original décor. Leon Pecheret, who also designed the famous Drake hotel in Chicago, was the interior designer behind the Union’s design scheme that reflects the “local British, German and Indian influences of the state.”

Cheryl Hanson, Monica’s mom and a UW alumna, also cites the design as one of her favorite features of her Union wedding over a quarter of a century earlier. “I love the style of the union with the tall ceilings, large dance floor and old architecture.”

Conversely for couples who want a more modern space but do not want to give up the tradition and memories tied to a Wisconsin Union wedding, Union South is the ideal alternative.

“Union South is more modern and appeals to a more contemporary audience,” VandeBerg says.

While Monica and her parents were able to avoid the greatest challenge in holding a reception at the Wisconsin Union-the booking process complete with a lottery system-others have not been so fortunate.

For Monica, however, the venue was more important than the date. She even settled for a winter wedding instead of the summer wedding that she had been envisioning just so she could have her reception in the Great Hall.

The mother and daughter duo attest that there is nothing like a wedding in the historic Great Hall to complete the Wisconsin experience.

“My mom was really excited when we went back in to see it [the Great Hall],” Monica said. “It brings back so many memories. It was the same room for all four weddings. It’s a very historical room, architecturally speaking as well.”

While the Wisconsin Union has been hosting weddings for decades, it continues to be considered a unique wedding venue because of its sharp contrast to the daily activities that take place in the college union. One thing is for certain, no place is out of the question for a wedding. As VandeBerg says couples should simply “do as they love.” And as all these couples who prepare to vow to spend forever with their soul mate know, love has no bounds.