Maybe it's that other election that has you feeling disillusioned, but you, the readers of New Jersey Meetings + Events, really showed up when we asked you to pick your favorites for our first annual Best of New Jersey awards. While we could have prepopulated the ballot, we chose to do a write-in election because we wanted to see who you think takes the cake. It was more time-consuming for voters, but we think it resulted in a terrific representation, so thank you. We are excited to celebrate the winners and we know you’re curious to see who took the top prizes, so go ahead and open the proverbial envelope. And, the winners are …
Ocean Place Resort & Spa
It’s a hotel. It’s a resort. It’s Ocean Place Resort & Spa. This Long Branch spot with a fabulous new spa takes home Best Hotel with Meeting/ Event Space (More than 200 Guest Rooms) and Best Resort with Meeting/Event Space! It’s not a surprise. This place really knows how to cater to the corporate crowd with over 100,000 square feet of event space. It can even do meetings on the private beach just steps from the hotel! The new spa is like a little bit of Miami on the Jersey shore and with 16 treatment rooms, it’s designed with groups in mind. The 255 guest rooms all feature a fresh, contemporary look and boast balconies and views to boot. “Long Branch is not a seasonal town,” explains Susan Penman, director of sales and marketing. “The restaurants are always busy, the town feels alive and you’re not going to get a rowdy shore crowd here. That, plus the fact that we are a quick ferry ride away from Manhattan and have a stop on NJ Transit railroad (with shuttles to the resort) makes us really convenient.”
Lambertville Station Restaurant and Inn wins for Best Hotel with Meeting/Event Space (Less than 200 Guest Rooms). Set within the charming, antique store-studded town of Lambertville and resting right on the Delaware River, this smaller hotel blends the benefits of a larger hotel with small-town charms. The rooms, most with river views, share a historic sophistication. The inn features a number of meeting and event spaces for groups of four to 200. The Riverside Ballroom, defined by its floor-to-ceiling river views, can accommodate 200. Just a few steps from the hotel is Lambertville Station Restaurant, a popular spot converted from a historic railroad station with both indoor and outdoor seating. The restaurant has a handful of unique private spaces for meetings and events that can accommodate 10 to 80 people.
Don’t judge a hotel by its room numbers, since The Bernards Inn is indeed a serious contender. It takes top prize for Best Boutique Hotel with Meeting/Event Space. Take one step inside the lobby and you’ll quickly see why it’s a favorite (it’s also the only restaurant and hotel with a AAA Four-Diamond rating in New Jersey). Historic, yet of-the-moment, this elegant hideaway has welcomed guests for over a century to its country garden guest rooms and elegant event spaces. When it’s time to get down to business, there are seven distinct spaces, including a sophisticated ballroom and a wine cellar complete with exposed brick.
Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa gets the popular vote for Best Casino. This upscale casino resort brings a bit of Vegas dash to Atlantic City. It definitely delivers an impressive amenity list. Think two hotels (Borgata and the boutique The Water Club), two spas, a seemingly endless list of food and beverage options, including restaurants from top celebrity chefs like Wolfgang Puck, Geoffrey Zakarian and Bobby Flay, indoor and outdoor pools, and oh, right, meeting and event space in both Borgata and The Water Club if you absolutely must get down to business (that’s 70,000 square feet at Borgata and 18,000 square feet at The Water Club).
Crystal Springs Resort
If golf is your game, then nothing tops Crystal Springs Resort, which wins the title for Best Golf Resort with Event Space. It is home to no less than six different courses, including Ballyowen, which is rated the No. 1 public course in New Jersey. Some of the game’s noted golf course architects have designed the resort’s courses—Robert Trent Jones Sr., George Fazio and more—but it’s the sheer beauty, set adjacent to the Appalachian Trail surrounded by the Hamburg and Kittatinny Mountains, that is memorable. “Crystal Springs Resort is undoubtedly the premier golf resort in the Northeast,” says Director of Marketing Michelle Abate. “Guests are completely awestruck by how much we have to offer here, just an hour outside of Manhattan. Six spectacular golf courses, two luxury hotels, two award-winning spas, a world-renowned 135,000-bottle wine cellar, Four-Star dining, tropical pools and venues that can accommodate meetings of all sizes,” she continues. “No other competitive property offers the breadth, uniqueness and level of our amenities. It is truly a wondrous resort playground for all ages.”
Cheers to Harvest Moon Brewery & Café for winning Best Brewery with Event Space. Located in the heart of New Brunswick, the historic building is a big draw. “It’s an 1890s building with 25-foot tin ceilings and two floors,” explains Neil Glass, owner, who bought Harvest Moon in 2004. “We cater to people who want to do less formal events,” he says. Both upstairs and downstairs accommodate 120 people separately, and the fact that it’s a working brewery is “a big attraction,” says Glass.
Events are a work of art at the Grounds For Sculpture, voted Best Historic or Cultural Venue. This unique venue is tucked away on 42 acres of the former New Jersey State Fairgrounds in Hamilton and houses works of art in six indoor galleries and throughout the property. This open-air sculpture park, museum, and arboretum is the vision of renowned sculptor and Johnson & Johnson heir Seward Johnson. In addition to the historic Fairgrounds buildings (now housing works of art), the Grounds themselves are studded with intriguing and often whimsical surprises around every bend. Grounds For Sculpture is also the home of Rat’s, a fine-dining restaurant renowned for its award-winning country French cuisine and its charming setting recreating Monet’s home (complete with lily pond and bridge). Events are held in a variety of venues within the Grounds and at Rat’s, and can be held both indoors and out.
Alba Vineyard & Winery
Whether your colleagues drive you to drink or you want to toast to another productive year, Alba Vineyard & Winery wins for Best Winery with Event Space. “With award-winning wine, New Jersey’s only estate vineyard is the perfect backdrop for all types of events,” says John Williams, president and partner of Crave Events Group and VP of operations of Landmark Hospitality. Crave Events Group, a division of Landmark Hospitality, manages Alba as the exclusive caterer; it is also this year’s Best Caterer. Events are held outdoors in the vineyard, set amidst the rolling hills of Warren County.
Liberty House serves up views of Manhattan on a silver platter, winning Best Restaurant with Private Dining Space. Set right on the Hudson River in Jersey City, this upscale restaurant’s setting is hard to beat and “with unmatched panoramic views, Liberty House combines metro chic with understated elegance, creating the perfect dining experience,” says John Williams of Landmark Hospitality, which owns the restaurant. The patio, complete with fire pits and a life-size chess set, is the place to be on a sunny day or at sunset.
When times call for impressing event attendees, turn to Crystal Plaza, selected as the Best Meeting/Event Venue (No Hotel). Designed by renowned architect Stanford White at the turn of the century, the mansion has five distinct spaces ideal for corporate meetings and events. The look and feel is classic traditional with gleaming crystal chandeliers and satin-draped windows, and the gardens are a particular favorite. The venue only holds one event at a time and is known for being at the forefront of special event catering trends.
You like them. You really like them. Flowerful Events took home two top marks for Best Event Décor Provider and Best Florist. President and Master Designer Kristina Valdmaa began with a small retail store and really, well, bloomed. From event production with lighting and drapery to a complete rental department to an in-house fabrication and design studio, Flowerful Events is the total package. “We are different from other places because clients can get everything from one place with us. We do mock-ups and it’s easy to see how it will all come together,” says Valdmaa, who came to the United States from Estonia and began her career by creating floral displays for friends’ parties.
The award for the Best Meeting/Event Planning Company goes to The Charles Group, Inc. This corporate meeting and event management company was founded in 1987. Its mission? “To extend clients’ brands and produce memorable experiences that exceed expectations,” says Susan Dunkelman, managing partner along with Carol DavisGrossman. The Charles Group works with companies in a variety of industries, including health care and insurance, and handles everything from large corporate meetings and conferences to workshops. Dunkelman’s favorite part of planning is the vision. “I enjoy looking at raw spaces and making them come to life,” she says. Davis-Grossman relishes the relationships with her clients, noting, “We have a long-term relationship with many clients and I’m really proud of that. Our goal is to let our clients do what they need to do and rely on us for the rest.”
WorldGround wins for Best Transportation Provider. “We cater to road warriors with a high level of service,” explains Colene Smith, senior vice president of sales and client relations. A recent merger with Kismet Limousine means that WorldGround now offers fullsized buses in addition to the sedans and SUVs they’ve always provided for corporate clients. WorldGround’s reputation for pricing transparency and service is what makes the company a winner. “We work with planners to stay on budget and what we quote is what you’re charged. There are no hidden costs. We believe in an honest way of doing business,” says Smith. Headquartered in Teaneck, most of WorldGround’s business is in the tri-state, but global service is available through an affiliate network.
Central Jersey CVB
Meet AC and Central Jersey Convention & Visitors Bureau tied for the popular vote in the Best CVB in Town/Area with More than 25,000 Population category.
Founded in 2014 as the marketing, sales, and destination management arm, Meet AC has shattered records since the very beginning. “They said it would take us three years to book 250,000 rooms, but we did it in 18 months,” says Jim Wood, president and CEO. “We leave no stone unturned to ensure that our customers have successful meetings. We are working with the right companies and we want them to come back.”
Central Jersey Convention & Visitors Bureau covers the 25 municipalities of Middlesex County, no small task. “We promote the various options for both leisure and corporate travelers and for those from the state and elsewhere,” explains Lina Llona, president of Chamber and Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Central New Jersey is a great place to visit. Our slogan—stay here, go anywhere—means that visitors can enjoy our area’s many opportunities but also easily travel anywhere else from here. Since Rutgers joined the Big Ten, our CVB has been actively promoting central Jersey to the alumni, students and fans visiting this area for the first time.”
Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority is your pick for Best CVB in Town/ Area with Less than 25,000 Population. Wildwood’s famous wide beach isn’t just for family fun in the summer, since this organization serves as the marketing, sales, operations and food and beverage arm for the Wildwoods Convention Center. This CVB helps run over 165 special events and festivals each year including the lip-smacking New Jersey State Barbecue Championship and the Beach Monster Mash Truck Races. From conventions to conferences, the 260,000-square-foot beachfront convention center is a perennial four-season favorite.
Spirit of New Jersey/Entertainment Cruises
Spirit of New Jersey/Entertainment Cruises was selected as Best Boat Charter Service. With sailings from both Weehawken, New Jersey and Chelsea Piers in Manhattan along the Hudson, boat cruises continue to be a popular option for groups. Whether you’re seeking an outside-the-boardroom meeting spot or want to treat a group to a special event, cruising along the Hudson never fails to impress. The Spirit of New Jersey boat is ideal for groups or individuals needing a casual vibe, while the Bateaux is “the crown jewel of the harbor,” says Luis Alvarado, team manager for corporate and travel industry sales. Glassenclosed with red velvet cushions, a four-piece band with vocalist and plated dinner, it’s “very sophisticated and is perfect for those planners who want something really different and really special,” he adds. In addition to its public cruises, Entertainment Cruises also has charter services for those who want a boat entirely to themselves.
Audio-visual may very well be the unsung hero of the events industry. When everything is working perfectly, you barely notice the efforts, but once the mic doesn’t work or the presentation isn’t loading, well, it’s staring you right in the face. You selected Encore Event Technologies as the Garden State’s Best A/V Provider. Its full-service creative production and A/V support is in place at Harrah’s, Ballys, Caesars and the Hyatt Regency properties in Jersey City and New Brunswick.
Barry Herman Entertainment wins for Best Entertainment Provider/Performer. This company has been entertaining clients for over 54 years. It provides DJs and live bands for corporate and social events, but also sources everything from professional speakers to novelty performers (think Cirque du Soleil-style acrobats).
Crave Events Group
Taking top prize for Best Caterer, Crave Events Group takes fine dining and brings it to events. “Inventive food, genuine hospitality and one-of-a-kind events … it’s not what we do, it’s who we are,” says John Williams. Crave is the exclusive catering partner of unique spaces like Prallsville Mill, the Boathouse at Mercer Lake and Mana Contemporary, but off-site catering services are a big part of its business as well. Whether it’s a catered lunch for a board meeting, a chef-driven dinner for VIPs or catering for a gala event, Crave has it in the bag.
Parsippany-based Generic Brand Human was voted Best Photographer/Videographer for its full-service cinematography and photography offerings. “Every event is amazingly unique and different,” says Walt Blau, partner. “That is why we pride ourselves on not having a cookie-cutter approach to our films. Our films accurately reflect the uniqueness of the day.”