Party of the Year
Three Unforgettable Event Venues
A good party can mean a lot of things. The people, of course, are the most important—when you’re with good friends, it hardly matters where you are or what you do. But haven’t we all been to parties that were great for other reasons? Maybe the band is so good that you can’t stop dancing. Maybe the glassware is exactly correct. Or maybe it’s just that you lost 20 pounds, you know you look great in your dress, and you don’t care who’s watching.
The right venue can have that same effect. Some places are so out there, so indisputably amazing, that they make any event unforgettable. Whether you want to say “I do” aboard the last whaleback ship in the United States, dance to a live band under a massive carving of pure ice, or eat birthday cake while professional divers feed fish in an 85,000 gallon tank, you’ll find what you’re looking for here.
Something’s Fishy: The Great Lakes Aquarium
353 Harbor Drive, Duluth
If you’re a wildlife fan, you can’t do better than the Great Lakes Aquarium. The entire facility is available for rental for everything from birthday parties to 500-guest weddings. Alexis Berke, event coordinator for the Aquarium, says the interactive exhibits are especially popular. Guests love to touch the string rays and baby sturgeons, but the hottest exhibit is a model of the Great Lakes, where guests can steer little boats through a working miniature lock system.
“They always say ‘that would be a lot of fun for the kids’,” Berke says, “But there are always guys in suits with one hand on a drink and one hand on a boat.”
While a harbor view room can hold up to 40 adults for business luncheons or birthday parties, larger groups have to be willing to embrace the space. Wedding parties stretch tables between the second floor fish tanks. After, they dance in front of a 24-foot tall front-lit water wall near the entrance.
All events include free parking and admission to the aquarium. Birthday parties cost at least $100 for a minimum of ten children, and for large events, you can rent the entire facility for five hours. Prices range from $1,500 (for a Tuesday in January) to $4,000 (for a Saturday in July). You’ll have to find your own caterer (they can recommend one for you) and pay an extra $130 or so if you want to serve alcohol. For an extra $150 the aquarium will even schedule divers to feed the fish while you are there.
Cold Comfort: The Blu Ice Bar
2826 East Highway 61, Two Harbors
Las Vegas has its indoor ice bars, but from November to April, the entire North Shore is essentially a giant freezer. Grand Superior Lodge has taken advantage of this fact with an outdoor ice bar. Two champion ice carvers turned an entire semi-load of super-clear ice into the Blu Ice Bar, complete with fur-draped ice couches, ice tables, and ice chandeliers. Barb Swenson, marketing manager for parent company Odyssey Resorts, says that guests should come prepared for a cool experience.
“You can commit to a date and just not know how cold it’s going to be,” Swenson says. “My favorite line is when we tell people to dress up, we mean layers!”
If you and your guests can handle the cold, the ice bar has plenty to recommend it. The shot glasses are made of ice, there are a few campfires to warm up at just outside the bar, and both oysters and North Shore sushi only get better as the temperature drops. Plus, it’s possible to arrange everything from live music to sleigh rides. Grand Superior Lodge puts together custom packages, but this year the simplest option is this: if you can guarantee a minimum of $500 combined food and drink sales, they’ll let you have the bar for up to four hours.
All Hands On Deck: The SS Meteor
300 Marina Drive, Superior
Sailors and history buffs alike will be happy to know that the world’s last remaining whaleback ship is available for rental. The S.S. Meteor was launched from Superior in 1896 and returned in 1972. Now, this round-backed ship is a museum with restored crew cabins, mess hall, engine room, and old-time equipment.
The best place to host parties is in the belly of the ship, where there is plenty of open space and a large, attractive wood bar. Denise McDonald, the event coordinator for the Superior Public Museums, says a three hour event for 25-65 people would run around $400, including tables, set up, and a couple of tour guides.
While the ship has electric lights and there are Porta-potties set up outside, there’s no running water, so food and drinks must be brought in. But then again, there’s a reward for that effort.
“Yeah, everyone can get married and have it in the great big ballroom or whatever,” McDonald says. “But where else are you going to find something so unique?”