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 Sarah Han, the assistant director at the Martos Gallery, and Ryan Moling, a supply chain manager at a start-up. Each of their relationship milestones has played out in the green expanse under the Brooklyn Bridge, so, naturally, they chose two spots in the park for their wedding last September. The celebration included a live jazz band, a live plant dangling from the bride’s ear, and a lively D train rattling above their heads that regularly interrupted their vows.
Sarah: We chose to have our wedding at Brooklyn Bridge Park because it was so involved in the budding of our relationship.
Ryan: We met through a mutual friend, but it’s kind of a convoluted story. We had to go to Japan and Korea in order to then meet each other in New York.
Sarah: In college, I studied abroad in Seoul; and the year prior, he had studied in Japan. One of my classmates in South Korea was a student from his school in Japan. A year later, my friends and I were doing a meet-up in New York — a student exchange thing — and we met there, through our mutual friends.
Ryan: I remember the sweater she was wearing. It had a pixelated tiger on it. She was different in that way. She had an edge to her. We sat together and we had the same way of talking, the same sense of humor. The sweater was the very first thing.
Sarah: I lived in Michigan at the time, where I mostly grew up, so we had this weird, digital courtship where we would email each other and have these long debates over the phone. I took a trip back to New York and I told myself it was to look for a job, but it was really motivated by this guy. We hung out on the last night I was there, with my best friend as a third wheel. When it was time to say good-bye, I had this crazy disappointed feeling like, Oh I guess we’re just friends. And then he came running back from the train station and my friend excused herself and we had this corny, unbelievable first kiss. That summer of 2013, I moved to New York, and the rest is history.
Ryan: Our first date involved an afternoon sitting on a bench in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Five years later, in May 2018, I made up a story that some of my college friends were getting together near the park, at Cecconi’s, for dinner, and everybody was bringing their SOs. I blocked it on her calendar because she’s a very busy person, so I had to schedule things like this. On the train, I made a big show of “Oh, I got the time wrong by an hour. We’re way too early.”
Sarah: He asked, “Should we go for a walk?” I was like, I’d rather go sit at a bar and just chill, but we walked and he guided me onto the grass. It was this really beautiful, misty day, and there weren’t many people.
Ryan: Not a single person in the entire green space. It felt like it was meant to be. I dropped on my knee and that was that.
Sarah: He knew that I didn’t really want a public spectacle. We both felt less inclined to have a huge wedding, and considered a civil ceremony and a nice dinner with our families. But, in Korean culture, it’s really the parents who plan the whole thing, and they invite everybody they know. So we landed on just under 60 people — our families in America and our closest friends.
Ryan: We considered a few garden-type venues. There’s a botanical garden in Staten Island, and they have this really nice Chinese Scholar Garden that we liked. We looked at a nice park in the Bronx. We were zeroing in on a very green location in the city.
Sarah: On our anniversaries, we re-enact our first date and walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. I remember on our second anniversary, we stumbled across the garden at the River Café and it felt like this beautiful, secret haven. When we found out it was this gorgeous, tucked-away restaurant on the waterfront, we realized that with our small number, it might be right for us.
Ryan: We’d seen other people have their weddings in Brooklyn Bridge Park, so we thought it’d be really cool to have everything there in the same place, within walking distance. We chose the granite steps area, but then there was some construction a month before the wedding, so we moved it to the Pebble Beach area.
Sarah: For my dress, I entertained the idea of doing something ultra fluttery, with all the frills and stuff, but I tried a couple of them on and realized pretty quickly that I wanted to go for more of a simple slip dress. I tried on a few and they looked like lingerie, so then I found this really amazing designer, Elizabeth Fillmore. She makes these gorgeous pieces — very minimal, but elegant and timeless. That’s how I chose my particular dress. My bridal party all wore white or off-white. It made it obvious who was in the bridal party, and diffused the vibe a little bit. I just thought it looked really good.
Ryan: I wore a double-breasted tuxedo. I wanted something really classic for myself and my groomsmen — black suits or tuxedos. I asked Indochino if they could do a tuxedo in a double-breasted format, and brought reference pictures. Luckily, they said that they could. I thought it was a really nice, trim kind of look.
Sarah: Then, the earrings. I love pearls. My dad took a business trip to China when I was younger and brought me, my sisters, and my mom these sets of pearl earrings and necklaces. I lost every piece except for one earring, so I thought it would be nice to wear that. I combined it with an earring that was a live plant by a designer named Keef Palas. They shipped it from the U.K. I couldn’t help but think about time — you’re vowing to be together for all of eternity, and this earring had such an ephemeral quality to it. Ryan had a weird thing with his buttons. I’m sure he’ll tell you about it.
Ryan: I had a small disaster. I forgot my tuxedo studs, and I didn’t realize it until 30 minutes before pictures. I was also one of those dummies who didn’t know how to tie a bowtie beforehand. These things happened at the same time, and I was in a state of sheer panic. Micah, a member of Sarah’s bridal party, found the studs online, and our planner from The Day Of Company quickly went out to collect them from a storefront nearby. Everything came together, then I walked down to the corner where she was. I broke down into tears because it was like, Finally, we’re here and it’s beginning. I was just overcome with emotions. She was gorgeous. The whole look was beautiful and totally her. The dress was made for her.
Sarah: We’d applied for a permit to have the ceremony in the park, but we weren’t allowed to block the area off. Our planner and our photographer, Quyn Duong, helped get people out of the space and put out programs on the steps, so the public was aware that there was a wedding happening. Looking back at some of the photos, there was a pretty big group of people gathered around our guests just watching, which was totally contrary to the whole anti-spectacle thing. Still, it felt very intimate.
Ryan: Our officiant, Matthew, was the matchmaker and friend who introduced us. He was totally game. We just left it up to him to come up with a few words, and we wrote our own vows. For mine, the vows had to do with how Sarah introduced me to the arts. She works in the arts, and that was something I wasn’t into until I met her. It’s changed my life, really.
Sarah: Ryan’s vows were interrupted by the train running overhead on the bridge. The trains made the ceremony a bit lighthearted, I think. It was funny, the way they forced us to pause and made everyone laugh a little. Then, we had a very brief hiatus so everyone could disperse and relax a bit. The rest of the night took place at the River Café.
Ryan: The restaurant’s director of sales invited us to come early so we could take a breather and have a drink before everyone else arrived. It was really nice to sit down together for a few minutes. Then, we held our cocktail hour. They have this little deck right on the water that’s connected to the dining room, so one of my favorite parts of the day was saying hi to everyone, hugging guests, and enjoying the party there.
Sarah: Neither of us is big on cocktails, but we figured out our specialty cocktail based on what we liked at the time. We had an elderflower drink with Champagne, which was a particular rosé that we’d picked out prior. The food at the River Café is new American — really stunning food.
Ryan: There were raw oysters, because we’d had those on our first date, a deviled quail egg, and crab cakes that were a big hit. I’m from Maryland and had a lot of Maryland people there, so that was my request for the menu.
Sarah: Given our guest count, it made sense to rent out the pavilion area, which had a private feeling to it. It resembles a little annex to the main restaurant and has these windows that look out onto the water. There, everyone was seated for a plated dinner.
Ryan: There were a few speeches from my best friend, Sarah’s sister, and then her father. I feel like at weddings, there’s always one speech that’s awkward or falls flat, but everybody had really nice things to say and there was a nice mix of humor in there.
Sarah: For dinner, we had a foie gras egg dish on a little brioche toast — very delicate — a scallop dish with trumpet mushrooms and corn, and a lamb and fish. The tables were corralled in an L-shape that offered a dancing space, and we had a live band with Dom Salvador, the Café’s resident musician and this incredible figure in Brazilian jazz.
Ryan: We didn’t want it to be a wedding with an hour of top 40 hits played by the DJ. Instead, we wanted it to feel almost like you were at a music venue, sitting, enjoying a drink, and listening to live music. Not that jazz can’t be danced to, but it was a different feel. People definitely danced, though. When there’s music, people dance.
Sarah: Our first dance was to “Starmaker” by Roy Hargrove. It’s the epitome of this smoky and soft romance.
Ryan: My mother requested “You’re the Inspiration” by Chicago for the dance with our parents, and I was like, “They’re a legitimate jazz band. They’re not going to play covers of old rock hits,” but they did! Sarah and I were cracking up and singing along to it as we danced with them.
Sarah: We didn’t really tightly schedule the night, but there was a cake-cutting. We sampled some of the desserts at the River Café, and their chocolate cake was so amazing. They make it in-house. It had simple buttercream on the outside, with some flowers, and a little jam in it — perfect with the sparkling rosé.
Ryan: Afterward, people made remarks about how we were so polite when we fed each other cake because I guess we didn’t do the whole smush-your-face thing. We delicately fork-fed one another. People were quite inebriated at the end because the friend who officiated was playing this drinking game. Essentially, he took the flowers from the arrangements, and if he dropped a flower in your glass, you had to down it.
Sarah: We didn’t plan an explicit after-party, but because our group was small and a lot of our guests were older, we just invited our wedding party and closest friends to the 1 Hotel rooftop bar nearby. We had a drink there and called it a night.