Best for Wow Factor
METLIFE STADIUM, Rutherford
You don’t need to be a football fan to get a thrill from an event held at MetLife Stadium, but if you happen to be a Giants or Jets fan, then this venue will really knock your socks off. The stadium’s sheer size is impressive—after all, MetLife did host Super Bowl XLVIII. “MetLife Stadium is really in a field of its own. Our brand-new, state-of-the-art facility offers multiple indoor and outdoor spaces, world-class amenities and an impressive array of culinary options. Each of our five stadium clubs is inspired by prominent NYC venues and designed by world-renowned architect David Rockwell,” says Trish McLeod, assistant director of special events. Events are held in a variety of settings, from the parking lot, plaza areas and pub to spots like the press lounge, visitors locker room, and yes, the stadium fields. There is nothing quite like stepping onto that turf. MetLife plays up the gameday experience for groups that want that feel, while other events can simply use the space and set their own tone. In a venue that stages live televised events on a weekly basis, one thing that definitely won’t be a concern is A/V. Other amenities include parking for 28,000 (!) and access to a private helipad. Just leave the Patriots and Eagles jerseys at home.
Best Restaurant for Impressing Out-of-Towners
BATTELLO, Jersey City
Don’t worry if you can’t choose between a harbor filled with yachts, a cool downtown urban-chic space or drop-dead Manhattan skyline views. Some places offer one or two of those features, but Battello rolls them all into one and practically puts a bow on it. This stunning restaurant enjoys a prime location on the harbor in Jersey City, so the sea breezes are plentiful and there is a definitive laid-back luxe, but turn the corner and wait, what’s that? It’s the New York City skyline, and it looks every bit like a postcard come to life. Sit outside on the partially covered deck and you might even think you can reach out and touch it. Both design and menu take their cues from the dockside setting, but these interiors are far from kitschy. Instead, imagine a slightly nautical Soho warehouse and you’re getting warmer. Executive Chef Ryan DePersio’s Italian-influenced, seafood-specific menu is not to be overlooked, since it is consistently named to top lists.
Whether you’re booking a table for six or need a bigger space for an event, Battello doesn’t rock the boat. In addition to the buzzy bar and main dining room (which accommodates up to 660 for cocktails in buyouts), Battello has a wine cellar that begs for board meetings for up to 16. The private dining room in the back may not have the city views, but it does have its own bar and VIP suite with private bathroom that serves double duty as breakout and hideaway space. Accommodations include the entire venue for 660; main dining room including the patio section for 450 cocktail-style; and The Lounge for 200.
Best Tucked-Away Meeting Space You Don’t Know About … Yet
BRICK FARM TAVERN, Hopewell
Inspiration is a fickle thing. It can be hard to find and it’s typically fleeting, especially in an age when incessant pinging from texts and emails has us all feeling overly distracted. Brainstorming and decision-making sessions are best held in a spot that draws people in, and Hopewell’s Brick Farm Tavern is just that place. This former private residence set amidst organic farmland has been transformed into one of the Garden State’s top restaurants. Its 1800s farmhouse is impressive, and the bar and restaurant are top notch (and stunning— gleaming wood, exposed brick and wood—it’s country estate done right), but it’s what lies beneath that is the real cherry on top. Just a few steps down from the bar, the wine cellar is an elegant hideaway for smaller groups. The boardroom-style setting can be used for both private dinners and daytime meetings/events (14 guests seated, 25 standing). Original stonework and a custom table crafted from wood reclaimed from the original 19th-century house makes this wine cellar particularly inviting and will certainly have attendees wanting to hunker down for quite some time.
Best for Escaping the Grind with Colleagues
THE FARM COOKING SCHOOL, Stockton
Planners know that the real magic often happens after the meeting is over. It’s those off-hours when groups are given the freedom to enjoy each other’s company that forge bonds and build business. But how do you hasten that magic? Head straight for the Farm Cooking School. Set on a working farm in Stockton, this special place offers a reprieve from the frenetic workplace. Turn off Route 29 and climb the driveway shaded by massive trees and you’ll have an instant, “are we really still in New Jersey?” moment. It’s like a little slice of Vermont right here in Hunterdon County. Run by chef Ian Knauer and Shelley Wiseman, two former editors at Gourmet magazine, the Farm Cooking School is equal parts education and entertainment. Book a private cooking class (up to 12 participants), run by Ian and/ or Shelley. Classes are in the renovated farmhouse and participants get their hands dirty rolling dough, making cheese and perfecting their knife skills before sitting down to enjoy their hard work. Want less hands on? The Farm also stands in as the most memorable meal in the area. Book Ian and Shelley for a private dining experience for 20 guests. It’s an unparalleled experience that goes beyond delicious dining. Can you imagine having an entire farm complete with gourmet chefs at your disposal? Yeah, we thought you’d like that.
Best Resort Collection Redefining the Shore
The Jersey Shore itself may never get old but the hotels certainly do. Enter Icona Resorts, a new hospitality company that buys aging properties and glams them up. Eustace Mita, Icona’s CEO, is a real estate developer whose first foray into hotels was the Diamond Beach Icona Resort. Set on a private beach near Wildwood and Cape May in teeny-tiny Diamond Beach, this former motel is now a Miami-style showpiece with a hip restaurant and beach for hosting waterfront events. Once Mita caught the hospitality bug, he soon acquired both the Golden Inn in Avalon and The Palace Hotel in Cape May. Icona Golden Inn, a 50-year-old hotel, underwent a top-tobottom renovation with 155 news rooms, a new pool and spa, new beach bar, Shimmers Bistro and Avalon Brew Pub, a full-service restaurant with a brewery slated to open in 2017. The Seaglass ballroom accommodates up to 350 guests. Next up, Cape May’s Palace Hotel, which opens in August as the Icona Cape May. The hotel boasts brand-new suites with ocean views. Shuttles transport guests to Diamond Beach to take advantage of the private beach club and dining. Where will Icona go next?