Visit Your Venue Several Times: See it during the day, see it at night, see how other brides have set up the rooms.
Watch Your Schedule: "If you want very specific things for your wedding, start planning at least a year ahead of time." But if you are very flexible, willing to compromise on dates and suppliers, you can meet a tighter budget.
A Sit-Down Dinner or a "Gatsby-Style" Buffet: "We can transform the whole building to truly evoke that ‘Gatsby’ era where guests mingled, socialized, and danced."
Consider Different Menus, Themes, & Decor
"Once the bride and groom book here at Oheka Castle, they become my boss," says Kelly Melius, director of sales. "My job is to keep you happy and to do what you ask. You just need to tell me what you envision for your wedding."
As You Plan, Visit Several Times
Kelly encourages her brides and grooms to visit the facility continuously. "We do not let people come in during an event, but if you’re booked, we let you come in earlier to see how it is set up. We invite you to visit on several occasions.
"You’ll see how people decorated and how they arranged their tables and stage. Some people spend $20,000 or $30,000 on flowers. Some spend $2,500. Some come up with their own themes. They’re all beautiful, just different. So it’s nice to see that."
Kelly asks you to visit in different seasons as well. "See it during the day. See it in the evening. See it when it’s raining and when it’s cold."
A lot of brides worry about the weather. "That’s something you cannot help. I stress that if bad weather would ruin your plans, make sure you pick a place that you love inside as well as outside. In the winter you could get snow and in the summer it could be 100 degrees or it could rain. You could get anything.
"So we stress to see your facility a couple of times in different conditions. That’s the first thing I tell them after they book, and I say it even if they don’t book with us. You’ll feel more relaxed. ‘Oh, I’ve been there when it rains, and it’s still beautiful.’ "
"Remember," says Kelly, "it’s supposed to be a really fun time. Minimize your problems by hiring professionals who you trust, and enjoy yourself.
"If it can be fixed then we will fix it. If it can’t, such as the weather, then there’s nothing we can do."
Kelly also encourages you to call if you have questions. "The worst thing that can happen is that a bride will come up with a question and won’t call because she just called us yesterday. So she’ll hold out and forget it. That’s when you get stressed, knowing you forgot something. Call me a million times! That’s what we’re here for. This is your place."
And what a place! Built atop a man-made hill, Oheka includes 127 rooms and was the site of some of the most lavish parties hosted on Long Island during the Roaring 20's. They say it inspired scenes in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ and it was featured in the Orson Welles classic, ‘Citizen Kane.'
Bring Your Suppliers
"Meet your prospective florists here and walk them around," says Kelly. "Meet them in their shops, of course, to see the flowers they want to do, but let them see the facility or the estate you have chosen. Each venue is different, each has a different decor and a different personality. No two are alike.
"Have your bandleader come up beforehand to test the acoustics in the room. Have your photographer scout the best places for pictures.
"This way they’re not wasting your time during the wedding day. When you make your place available to them they feel very comfortable. They email, they call, they love that they can come in and see things. It’s good because it relaxes them. We want you to feel that this is your home. It’s where you’re celebrating your union." Clarify Everything ... Ask all your questions. How many people does the room hold? What kinds of menus are possible? What are the pricing considerations? How many functions are held each day? How many at one time? "And of course, find out which dates are available.
"If you are going to hold your ceremony at the facility, ask where they do that and if there are any time restrictions. Also find out if the food is made on the premises. Obviously, you also want to meet everyone you will be working with."
Watch Your Schedule
As you plan your wedding, keep in mind the various time considerations. "Since we do personalized menus, we want you to pick your menu at least a month beforehand, so we can make sure we get in everything you require."
Kelly also asks you to meet their pastry chef at least a month before the event. "He will decorate and design any cake you wish. For those brides and grooms who don’t know what they want, he creates a drawing based on what you tell him.
"Most things are done about two months to a month before the wedding. If you're having your ceremony here we do the actual rehearsal the day of the wedding, because nobody remembers it on the wedding day! Doing rehearsals ‘the day of’ makes it less stressful."
The More Detailed Your Vision, The Earlier To Start Planning
"There are people who have very specific things they want for their wedding," says Kelly. "They should start planning at least a year ahead of time, because otherwise they won’t get the specific date, band, or photographer they want."
The More Flexible You Are, The More You May Save
Other people want the wedding to be beautiful, but are flexible about specifics. "The more flexible you are about dates, for example, the more money you can save. If you book a venue within six months or less of the date, you will usually get a break in price. Florists, bands, or photographers might give you a break, too.
"That’s because if they have that date open they are glad to grab the business. So you could end up creating the same event for a much lower price."
You can save a lot of money, but it is unlikely you will get exactly what you want, whether it’s a Saturday night or a particular band or supplier. (And if you want a Saturday night at any major venue, Kelly suggests booking a year to a year and a half in advance.)
"Every season is beautiful, of course, it just depends on what you like. If you have snow and fireplaces, instead of greeting guests with champagne cocktails, you can greet them with warm apple cider.
"But certainly if people have very specific desires they should plan well in advance." Wedding Day Rituals ... When your guests first arrive there is a red carpet outside and they are greeted by valets and a gentlemen in a tuxedo who opens the car door for them.
"Service begins before your guests even get into the event." They walk in and face a horseshoe staircase that is candlelit on both sides. "A gentlemen at the top of the stairs opens our 20-foot doors." Your guests walk through the doors and are welcomed with champagne cocktails. "Sometimes people want to offer something else, and that’s fine too. We also have fireplaces lit in every room.
"Weather permitting, we have beautiful gardens for the ceremony." Oheka Castle has 11 reflecting pools and fountains. "They are all gorgeous. If the weather does not permit, the ceremony can take place in our library. When guests go down to the cocktail room and the formal dining room, we re-set the library to serve as a quieter room for your guests during the cocktail and reception."
During the cocktail hour people can wander back through the gardens, the library, or the outside patio. Then guests are brought into the grand ballroom.
Oheka only does one event per day. "So even if the invitation is for six o’clock at night, the bride and groom can come at eight in the morning. We have a bridal suite with a bridal attendant to take care of you."
The bridal suite is the size of a full apartment, 1500 square feet, and after the wedding the bride and groom can spend the night there. "The groomsmen have a billiard room, since they're here all day getting ready." Oheka also serves everyone breakfast and lunch. "So it really is a full day here even before the wedding. They relax, get their hair and makeup done, and have a great time."
A Sit-Down Dinner or a "Gatsby-Style" Buffet
At Oheka Castle you can choose a traditional sit-down dinner or what they call a Gatsby-style event. "It’s a five-hour cocktail party, but it’s very upscale, very formal. It’s just not as structured.
"There's a cocktail hour with butler-style hors d’ouevres, two or three stations, and a full open bar with premium liquor. When the ballroom is opened up and welcome the bride and groom as husband and wife, there are cocktail tables throughout the building."
There is no assigned seating. "The whole building is transformed to truly evoke that ‘Gatsby’ era where guests mingled, socialized, and danced."
The seating list is often the most difficult part of the wedding, and it is inevitable some people will be unhappy about their seats. "This avoids all that. Also,the best part of any party is often the cocktail hour. You mingle. You can eat whatever you want, as much as you want, when you want it. The Gatsby-style event is a way to bring those aspects to the entire reception.
"The bride and groom never sit to begin with, so this way they get to be at every table. Everybody gets to talk to each other."
In this Gatsby-style reception, usually the bride and groom reserve two tables, one for each immediate family. "And of course if there are people who are sitting down our staff goes over and offers to get them something.
"We put one waiter on for every 10 guests and a cocktail waitress for every 20. We have a banquet manager with two assistant managers and a bridal attendant who is there for the bride all night. So everyone is taken care of."
In the Gatsby-style event, they also do a dessert café. "We turn the cocktail room into dessert stations, and our pastry chef is phenomenal."
If you are doing a sit-down event, you have the choice of either doing plated desserts at the table or the dessert café. "In the Gatsby party, when we do the rituals like cutting the cake, we invite everyone into the room beforehand so your guests enjoy all the major aspects of the event.
"With Gatsby-style events the band plays the entire time and people dance the entire time. They only stop for cutting the cake and rituals like that."
Because Oheka Castle has 23 acres of property and only one event per day, brides and grooms can use all the rooms on the main level. "We’ve had people who want the dancing in a separate area because they don’t want all the music in the main room. For my sister’s wedding, we had different styles of music in every room, so each room was a different experience."
Some brides extend the event and turn the library into a dramatic cigar and jazz room. Oheka candlelights the entire area and puts a coffee station at the end of the hall. "Guests are greeted by a gentlemen with a humidor and cigars. He cuts them, dips them in brandy, and lights them."
Ladies walk around with jewelry boxes of chocolates and champagne. Butlers ash the cigars. A three-piece jazz band plays and the fireplaces are going. "It becomes a whole other era."
"I’m not a smoker," says Kelly, "but I love that event. It’s a great ending for the wedding. And since someone is cutting the cigar for them, most people will try one. We have pictures of bridal parties smoking cigars and it’s a really fun thing.
"Then the bride and groom can go up to their suite. Sometimes they’ll bring guests there and continue the celebration, or sometimes they just want to be alone. Often guests will rent out other rooms, and if they want, the couple can rent out all our rooms.
"The next morning we do a big buffet breakfast in the formal dining room for everyone who stayed over. The bride and groom are usually so relaxed by then, they’ll come down to breakfast in their pajamas. It’s a really nice, intimate event."
Oheka often does theme weddings. Because it is a castle, some people do a Cinderella theme using horse-drawn carriages and trumpeters. "We’ve had Renaissance weddings and once all the guests and vendors rented medieval costumes. One couple did a Halloween-style event with beautiful masks they had made.
"Those are ways to personalize your wedding, incorporating your own style and preferences."
They’ve also done many traditional weddings. "We recently did an Indian wedding and the groom came up on a Clydesdale horse. People seem to be putting more and more of their heritage into their weddings, and that’s always nice to see." Menu Choices ... Oheka gives you sample menus with dishes that are always in style, like filet mignon, chicken, Chilean sea bass, or grilled Atlantic salmon. "Then we can really personalize your menu, changing sauces or adding or deleting items." Their wide variety of sauces and preparations can make your dishes deliciously unique. "For example, we can do a mango and papaya chutney sauce with the salmon. We have a breast of chicken stuffed with spinach and pignoli nuts in a wild berry sauce. We do pistachio-dusted veal chops, which are great, with caramelized apples and onions."
All the food is cooked to order at Oheka, "so we not only give you and your guests a choice of main dish, but we also ask how you would like it prepared. You can have the sauce on the side. You can have it well-done."
Always tell your caterer ahead of time if any guests have specific dietary needs. "Someone could be allergic to mushrooms or to pepper. We do kosher meals, vegetarian meals, or kids meals."
For the Gatsby events they do a little of everything. "We do a raw bar with oysters and clams, which we also have during the cocktail hour of a sit-down event. We have a caviar station with strawberry flavored vodka encased in ice sculptures. We also do crepe stations, and there are so many dishes you can create with crepes.
"We also have pasta, which is a must at every event. We do carving stations, with a marinated London broil, a loin of veal, or lamb."
A lot of people are now doing sushi stations. "If they want to spend a little less money they can have passed sushi. We also can do lobster stations. But even without spending tons of money, our basic menu is so upscale that it is very hard to upgrade."
"Oheka was the summer home of Otto Herman Kahn," explains Kelly. "That’s how you get the name Oheka. It’s an acronym. He was a banker, a railroad tycoon, and a patron of the arts. The major difference between Otto Herman Kahn and people like the Vanderbilts or the Rockefellers is that he was very flamboyant. He built this estate to be a party house."
When Mr. Kahn passed away, Oheka changed hands several times. It became a military academy until the late 1970’s and then was abandoned for several years. "Finally, my father purchased it in 1984."
Kelly admits she had misgivings at the time. "It was in such disarray. The reflection pools had been filled in and there were barracks. But when he began restoring the estate people started calling to ask if they could rent it out. My father took over the catering about years ago. We had a vision of how we wanted things, and he was really adamant about having only one event per day with really personalized service."
That’s what Otto Kahn did. "If he had a private dinner for 200 people, he had 200 butlers! We don’t have one butler for every guest, but between our waiters and waitresses, we do have at least the equivalent of one and a half for every table."
And weddings are perhaps the most special event to host. "You meet so many great people and it’s such a happy time in their lives. The best part of my job is that when I am helping to plan a couple's wedding, I am helping them make their dreams come true. If you’re giving them what they’re paying for and more, they’re going to be even happier."