When we ask newlyweds to think back on what they wanted most for their big day — and we’ve interviewed hundreds of them over the years — the most common response is “For it not to feel like a wedding!” But in a monsoon of flower crowns and macaron towers, how do you see beyond the usual tropes and actually pull off a non-cookie-cutter affair? For the answer, we decided to interrogate the cool couples whose weddings we would actually want to steal — right down to the tiger-shaped cake toppers. Though we’re living in a moment where group celebrations are either being called off or adapting to extreme social distancing, in many ways these pre-quarantine parties are just the escape we need right now.
Here, we spoke with Jill Hernandez, a freelance artist and massage therapist, and Eddie Hernandez, who works on tunnels and bridges with Laborers’ Local 731 union. They met at a Brooklyn bar in 2007 and married in two more Brooklyn spots ten years later, in a riotously colorful celebration that included the groom’s sixth-grade teacher, lots of tacos, and a very special Dominican cake.
Eddie: How’d I meet her? At a bar, the old Tinder.
Jill: The original Tinder. It was 2007. It was a bar on Myrtle Avenue, Vesper, very close to where we live now in Clinton Hill. Two years after we met, it collapsed, the building itself. Pretty crazy.
Eddie: To even approach her, I got butterflies in my stomach. She is a person that you’d think is way out of your league, but I couldn’t let her pass without saying something.
Jill: He’s a super life-of-the-party guy, but he didn’t come on to me right away, which I appreciated, I guess, being in a bar. I liked him right away, he liked me right away, but we both had other things going on.
Eddie: She had me in the friend zone for a long time.
Jill: We kept bumping into each other, and then we finally bumped into each other again and started dating years later. There was always a spark.
Eddie: When we had been dating almost eight years, I flew to Minnesota and told her father what my intentions were. I’d had the ring for a couple of days, and I planned to ask her in so many ways, but then I just asked one morning, when I woke up at 5.
Jill: It was so funny. I rolled over, and he was on his knee, next to the bed, with the ring. I was glad he didn’t jump out of a helicopter or something, because I would have killed him. He had fished around in really subtle ways, and he did very well — went to a family-owned shop, Middletown Jewelry in Belford, New Jersey, and found a vintage ring with a beautiful diamond and beautiful setting. It’s Art Deco, and it’s perfect.
Eddie: For me, it was just about having my family witness me get married, because I’ve always wanted to be married. I tried everything I could to find that special person. So, I was a pretty easy guy planning-wise. It was very local.
Jill: Our aim was “very colorful and very local.” We wanted it to be in Brooklyn. We didn’t want it to be super-formal or stuffy. There were 80 guests, with a lot of kids running around. It was superhard to find venues, especially because we were on a budget. It was my husband who said, “We should think about Baron’s,” a restaurant, because they have this back room that almost feels like a church, with stained-glass windows. I was raised Catholic, he was too, but we didn’t want to do the full Catholic thing. We’ve known the owners for a while, and they were super-down with it. Then the reception was at Gran Eléctrica.
Eddie: It’s literally underneath the Brooklyn Bridge, just a beautiful venue. It’s a picture-perfect spot where you’d want to get married.
Jill: It’s a Mexican restaurant, right next to Grimaldi’s. I wanted the theme to feel like the 1996 remake of Romeo and Juliet. I wanted a really bold, tropical feel, more than anything dainty. Gran Eléctrica already had this amazing wallpaper with Day of the Dead imagery. For Baron’s, I went to the Flower District with the owner’s wife and got some tropical flowers. I wanted to bring in a lot of color. No baby’s breath. We had a fan palm at the back of the ceremony, and one huge bouquet when you walked into the reception space, and other than that some cool hanging stuff and other little accents. The garden at Gran Eléctrica already had so much lush greenery, so we were able to save on that a little bit.
Eddie: I wore a black suit with a white shirt, white tie, white silk suspenders from Men’s Wearhouse. The white-on-white looks good on my skin, me being a dark-skinned man, with the contrast. It was something I’d always wanted to wear but never had, so the setting became my wedding.
Jill: My dress was from a Brooklyn designer in Gowanus, Rebecca Schoneveld at Schone Bride. It was June and I wanted something that could breathe a little bit. The top had full sleeves and came up high on the neck in the front, with an open back and full lace, but not a dainty pattern. I wanted something that felt really strong and sexy but not totally exposed. I just fell in love with it.
Eddie: I got ready in our house, with my groomsmen and a couple of friends. My wife was at the 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge. My groomsmen wore black suits with pink ties.
Jill: My friend Lauren was my maid of honor, and my two sisters were my bridesmaids. We got their dresses designed at a little shop in Carroll Gardens, Kimera, that specializes in fabric, a lot of Thai silk. They picked out strong colors, a deep pink and bright coral orange, and picked out designs they liked, and got different dresses in the same colors.
Eddie: We didn’t see each other before the wedding, so the dress was a surprise. As soon as I started walking down the aisle, I just burst into tears — I feel like doing it again now! I cried looking at her come down the aisle. I cry regularly. When that “Arms of an Angel” commercial comes on with Sarah McLachlan, I cry at that. I have no shame in showing my emotions.
Jill: We kept the ceremony agnostic. It was short and sweet — we didn’t want people sitting there for a long time. We wrote our own vows, and my friend Sarah White, who’s an amazing singer and activist, flew in from St. Paul and sang.
Eddie: My stepfather, who’s the only father I ever knew, passed away the year we got married. Originally we were going to have him officiate — with his broken Cuban English, it would have been perfect. So I found myself pretty lost on who should officiate, but I had a sixth-grade teacher, Denis Wilbeck, who always was and still is my Mr. Miyagi. He has a third-degree black belt in karate, and he taught me martial arts, he got me my first job, he was my volleyball coach, my baseball coach. He was my mentor. I hadn’t spoken to him in maybe 15, 20 years, but I looked him up and called him and he was absolutely thrilled to do it. We realized afterwards that his own wedding anniversary was our wedding date.
Jill: That was a full-circle moment. Since the reception was way over in Dumbo, we rented buses to transport guests and a limo for the wedding party. When you walk into Gran Eléctrica, there’s the bar and inside dining area, but also the garden, so people were really just outside. When we came in, the DJ was already going, a friend of ours named J Lamar. He’s fantastic. We didn’t do a formal dinner, just heavy passed hors d’oeuvres, so the cocktail hour flowed into the next phase. The garden was gorgeous, the weather was perfect — about 75 degrees and not humid.
Eddie: It wasn’t a sit-down dinner with courses; it was basically stand-up food in different areas. You’d get served from people coming around with different plates at every table throughout the night.
Jill: I wish I had communicated better with my husband’s side of the family. I was saying, “Eat the hors d’oeuvres, the hors d’oeuvres are dinner,” but I think people waited and didn’t eat a lot of it as it was coming out. Then they realized, “Oh my God, this is all we’re going to get.” I might’ve handled that a little bit wrong.
Eddie: That’s because they’re Dominican and they’re used to two pigs on a rotisserie thing, with one on the back burner. People will always find something to bitch about.
Jill: As far as the actual food, it’s a Mexican restaurant but they have amazing little meatballs. Plus really good tacos, and quesadillas for the kids. The speeches came after an hour or so of hanging out — my dad spoke, my sisters, my maid of honor, Eddie’s best man, a couple of his brothers. We had father-daughter and mother-son dances, then Eddie and I had our first dance to “I Only Have Eyes for You” by the Flamingos.
Eddie: We had a band, too, and all the band members were our friends. They played backup for Sarah, the singer. It was that soulful music that makes me want to cry. Jill is so musically inclined — we have about 5,000 records in our house right now, on vinyl.
Jill: I used to work at a record store, and I used to DJ, so I’m really picky. But I know J Lamar, our DJ, so well and he was like, “I know what you want, but send me your list.” It was dance music that everyone could get down to — Prince, Whitney Houston — and then a lot of bachata, because of Eddie’s family being there. I’d say the common thread was just high energy. The cake was near the end.
Eddie: She wanted to please my family, so we got the cakes from this Dominican lady. You get a pat on the back as a white woman who orders a cake from Jersey City, where I was born and raised. I don’t know what’s in them, but I love them, I’ll tell you what.
Jill: It’s a very certain cake, a Bizcocho Dominicano, and they’re really hard to make and hard to find. The Dominican baker, Jenn Cakes, knew exactly what I wanted when I told her. It’s a basic yellow cake, but not basic at all. There’s a pineapple layer. It was beautifully decorated, white icing with bold, colorful flowers. It was amazing.
Eddie: For the after-party, we rented out almost a whole floor back at the 1 Hotel, which is probably less than 300 steps from Gran Eléctrica. It was the grand opening — we basically christened it.
Jill: We really lucked out, because we would never have gotten the rate that we got if they were fully functioning when we booked it. It’s way out of our reach now. We went up on the roof, with these incredible views overlooking Manhattan. It was Pride so the Empire State Building was lit up like a rainbow.
Eddie: People would say to me, “Oh, wait until you get married. It’s all downhill after that.” They were completely wrong. Now we have a 1-year-old, and he’s the most beautiful thing in the world. I’m not saying this because he’s my son, he’s just really freaking good-looking. It just meant so much to me to finally find the person where I know, we’re going to be together forever.