By Bree Sposato, Julia Bainbridge and Emily Fleischaker, Bon Appétit
Break with tradition to throw the kind of party that your soon-to-be-wed will really love -- be it a refined tea party or an all-out bacchanalia.
Few U.S. culinary destinations can beat Blackberry Farm (1471 W. Millers Cove Rd., Walland, TN, 800-557-8864, blackberryfarm.com, from $445), set on 4,200 pristine acres in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. Learn about heirloom seeds from Master Gardener John Coykendall; gather produce from the gardens; and, come evening, gather around the fireplace in one of the property's private cottages. In Vermont, the Inn at Essex (70 Essex Way; 802-878-1100; innatessex.com, weekends from $700 per person) offers cooking classes with regional staples (bring on the cheese and maple syrup) as well as gardening and visits to nearby farms. For a more rustic experience, the Europe-based Feather Down Farms (716-226-6323, featherdown.com; from $153) partners with two stateside spreads -- Stone Creek in New York's Delaware County and Illinois' Kinnikinnick Farm -- where you can milk cows, collect eggs, bake bread in a wood-fired oven, and hit the hay in surprisingly comfortable three-room canvas tents with wood floors.
Take a Hands-On Cooking Class
LivingSocial's new DC event space features one of the most beautiful cooking classrooms we've ever seen: High-definition, flat-screen monitors connected to motion-sensor cameras hang throughout the 2500-square-foot kitchen, giving each workspace clear view of a chef at work. The 36-person classes range from "Dude Food" to "Sushi, Sumo and Sake." To book for a party, buy group tickets through the company's website (918 F St., Washington, DC, livingsocial.com, from $25). Not every course at New York City's Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) requires you to come with sharp knife skills -- the school offers three-hour recreational classes that are more like a dinner party with a side of schooling. Wine and nibbles included, of course. (50 W. 23rd St., 800-543-8834, iceculinary.com, from $160 per person). Over in the foothills of Vermont's Green Mountains, devote a whole day or a weekend to making artisan breads and pastries at the New England Culinary Institute (56 College St., 877-223-6324, neci.edu, from $700 per person). Bonus: Stay in a cozy room (with its own kitchen) on the school's Montpelier campus to feel like you're in college again. Lastly, the famed Le Cordon Bleu program (chefs.edu, from $99 per person), which has campuses in 17 U.S. cities, offers three-hour sessions focused on a topic of your choice (barbecue! cake decorating! tapas!).
Make a Velvet Rope Reservation
At the risk of sounding trite: In Vegas, everyone wants to be a high roller. Channel your inner Kardashian and book the private Krug Room at Restaurant Guy Savoy (3570 Las Vegas Blvd., 702-731-7778, caesarspalace.com, price upon request). At $750 a head, dinner ain't cheap, but each course is paired with -- what else? -- Krug Champagne. In Chi-town, Italian temple Spiaggia's private room (980 N. Michigan Ave., 312-280-3300, spiaggiarestaurant.com, from $120 per person) offers up both rich potato gnocchi with wild boar ragu and a sickie view of Lake Michigan. And Dallas's upscale but rustic Fearing's (2121 McKinney Ave., 214-922-4848, fearingsrestaurant.com, from $100 per person) is home to a chef's table that lets you taste -- in six courses -- the best of what Dean Fearing has to offer, Texas dishes like this mouthful: maple-black peppercorn-soaked buffalo tenderloin. Don't live in one of those cities? Open Table's Private Dining database includes thousands of restaurants across the US.
Bachelor/ette parties don't have the classiest reputation when it comes boozing (hello, yard beers), but who says you have to drink swill? In California, the Wine Wrangler (thewinewrangler.com; from $150) operates excellent three-to five-hour tours of Paso Robles vineyards. Over on the right coast, Long Island Wine Country (longislandwinecountry.com; all-inclusive from $159 per person) takes groups of 30 or more to three estates for tastings and lunch al fresco. The company also offers add-ons (for a fee) like blending seminars, during which you make -- and tote home -- your own bottle. The best part: the cost includes pickup right at your Manhattan doorstep. For something simpler, book a private tasting at your friend's favorite local winery -- preferably on a sunny balcony overlooking the vines.
Try a Tailored Tasting
Have you found yourself thinking, "In a perfect world I'd work with a top chef to specially craft a tasting menu with wine pairings for my best friend who's getting married?" Be pleased: Chef Michel Richard at Citronelle in Washington, D.C. (3000 M St., 202-295-2004, citronelledc.com, from $89 per person) can fete the bride or groom to-be in one of three elegant rooms. (Tip: The "Chloe" room has a birds-eye-view of the 8,000-bottle wine cellar.) At Boston's No. 9 Park (9 Park St., 617-742-9991, no9park.com, from $69 per person for nine or fewer guests) Barbara Lynch creates three-, four-, and seven-course tastings (don't forget to include her signature prune-stuffed gnocchi with seared foie gras). And in New York, Thomas Keller designs one-of-a-kind menus with seasonal ingredients (think herb-roasted filet of sturgeon with glazed pearl onions and savoy cabbage) in a private Parisian-inspired room at Per Se (10 Columbus Cir., 212-823-9349, perseny.com, from $110 per person, plus a room rental fee from $750). You might let him take over the planning, though. He's freaking Thomas Keller.
Make a Gastronomic Pilgrimage
If the groom or bride to be has a travel bug, consider partnering with a travel agent who specializes in bachelor and bachelorette parties. Jill Taylor and Lauren Maggard at Jetset World Travel (1652 N. Orchard St., Chicago, 773-433-2733, jetsetworldtravel.com, from $250) are a good duo to work with for stateside getaways. If it's Italy or France you're after, try Bonnie Brayham of the Paris-based Purple Truffle (89, rue de Vaugirard, 33/6-23-91-81-65 purpletruffle.com, from $262). She can organize cooking lessons with top chefs, visits with artisanal cheese producers, and Ferrari rides.
Throw a White-Glove Tea Party
Don a few strands of pearls and sashay over to the grande dame of afternoon tea, the Palm Court at New York's Plaza Hotel (Fifth Ave. at Central Park, 212-546-5300, fairmont.com, from $50 per person). From 2 to 5 o'clock every day, in a mirrored dining room, you can pick at fondue, strawberries, and house-made marshmallows. With your gloves on, of course. Others to try: Savannah's Gryphon Tea Room (337 Bull St., 912-525-5880, no website, from $23 per person), Jin Patisserie in Los Angeles (1202 Abbot Kinney Blvd., 310-399-8801, jinpatisserie.com, from $22), and Colorado's Boulder-Dushanbe Teahouse (1770 13th St., 303-442-4993, boulder-dushanbe.org, from $20 per person). If your style is less buttoned up, check out TeaMap.com to find the best tea room in your area -- smaller shops typically have more flexibility and lower price tags.
Be a Cocktail Crasher
Whether the bride or groom loves to makes drinks or just loves to drink drinks, cocktail classes are a blast. (For reasons beyond the obvious.) ICE in New York (50 W. 23rd St., 800-543-8834, iceculinary.com, from $90 per person), San Francisco's Boothby Center for the Beverage Arts (1161 Mission St., 415-967-1891, from $100) and Stir in Boston (102 Waltham St.; stirboston.com; from $200 per person) offer lessons that accommodate any level of expertise (or lack thereof). If you're looking for something more intimate, you may want to find out the name of your friend's favorite local bar or bartender and ask if you can reserve space for a private lesson -- and tasting, of course.
Indulge in Sweet Spas
There are 21 spas in the country where you can dip your feet in chocolate. That's because there are 21 Bliss Spas (877-862-5477, blissworld.com, $70 for one hour), and they all offer the Double Chocolate Pedicure with warm chocolate milk (for the feet) and hot cocoa (for the sipping). Not a choco-fiend? At the 8,000-square-foot spa at Miami's Shore Club (1901 Collins Ave., 305-695-3292, shoreclub.com, $75 for 30 minutes), you can get scrubbed, rubbed and buffed with a mash-up of blueberries, sugar cane and soy (Blueberry Bliss Body Treatment). For something more grown-up, treatments at the French import Caudalie Vinotherapie Spa (1 W. 58th St., New York, 212-265-3182, caudalie-usa.com, from $95) use products made with grape seeds, and an in-house sommelier selects your grape juice.
Get on a Culinary Cruise
If you're crew's got sea legs, check out Oceania Cruises (800-531-5619, oceaniacruises.com, seven-day sailings from $2,499 per person) two new ships -- the 1,250-passenger Marina and Riviera -- with French bistros by chef Jacques Pepin, Bon Appetit cooking schools with 24 fully equipped work stations and port excursions. Another option is Crystal Cruises: (888-722-0021, crystalcruises.com, from $3,615) Chef Nobu Matsuhisa, meanwhile heads up the restaurants on many of their ships, which depart on five yearly food- and wine-themed trips to Europe, South America and Australia. Ama Waterways (800-626-0126, amawaterways.com, from $2,399) explores European wine regions along the Danube, the Rhine and the Seine; on their new Culinary Delights: Bites & Sights excursions, you can also disembark visit distilleries, shop markets and taste artisanal chocolate.
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