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A Nontraditional Wedding Reception With Food Stands and a Bodega – Brides

9 minutes, 50 seconds Read

When Sylvea and Puneet began planning their wedding in July 2021, they weren’t new to the event industry: After years of throwing annual Halloween parties as fundraisers for their favorite charities, they wanted their nuptials to feel more like a celebration than a ceremony. “We wanted to capture the magic of our Halloween parties—honoring a worthy cause, a bit of shock and surprise, and a sort of absurd dedication to a theme,” says Sylvea. “Since it was a wedding, we figured the theme would be us.”

They began interviewing event—not wedding—planners who could connect them with the professionals they needed to build a one-of-a-kind party. “We didn’t want a traditional wedding planner who might just have us fill in each of the expected events of a wedding. In other words, we didn’t want to just go through the motions,” says Sylvea. “Instead, we had about 50 or so loose ideas and we wanted a team that could help us piece it together with a natural flow.”

Sylvea and Puneet chose Neon River, the creative wedding division of Twenty Three Layers, to bring all their ideas together in time for their 115-guest wedding on July 23, 2023, in New York City. The day began with a traditional baraat through the streets of SoHo, and went on to include dozens of unique elements dreamed up by the bride, groom, and their creative team: a bouquet of mushrooms for the bride to carry, food stalls instead of a seated meal, a claw machine filled with stuffed animals, a freestanding bodega filled with local snacks built inside the reception venue, a water taxi that shuttled guests to the waterfront venue, and more. 

“Overall, the theme was Sylvea and Puneet,” says the couple. “We just wanted to share all the versions of ourselves—as individuals and as a couple—with our friends and family.” The bride and groom created an “Encyclopedia of Sylvia and Puneet” that was placed in each guest’s hotel room, detailing the meaning behind each element of the wedding. “We were surprised to find out that our guests read every page of it before the wedding,” says the couple. “In the end, it allowed us to make something intimate and sharable at scale.”

When another friend pointed out that a typical party timeline allows the couple only a few minutes with each guest, Sylvea and Puneet were even more inspired to make the day their own. “That helped us feel confident about getting rid of all the ceremonial traditions that didn’t mean anything to us,” they say. “At the end of the day, we just wanted to maximize the time we had to have fun.” 

And as the wedding approached, Sylvea and Puneet put their own twist on yet another tradition: the honeymoon. “We took a two-week vacation to Italy right before the wedding and we like to think of that as the honeymoon,” they say. “It was an amazing time filled with lots of art and fun. We like to think that it all led up to the ultimate party—our wedding.”

Photo by Scott Clark Photo


Photo by Scott Clark Photo


Photo by Scott Clark Photo


Photo by Scott Clark Photo


Sylvea and Puneet kicked off their wedding day by preparing for their baraat together. “I wanted to get ready with everyone, including Puneet. So, for our first event, we invited everyone to get ready together with us. I didn’t want any aspect of the ‘look’ to feel hidden or exaggerated,” says Sylvea. “I was so glad that I didn’t need to hide myself while getting ready. It was such a treat for others to drink and watch the whole process come together. Plus, it meant we got a little extra time interacting with everyone.”

The parade took place through the couple’s neighborhood, “A huge bonus was getting to say we closed down a street in SoHo so that Puneet could ride a white horse while all our friends danced around him,” says Sylvea. “What other memory could we ask for?”

Photo by Scott Clark Photo


Photo by Scott Clark Photo


Photo by Scott Clark Photo


A post-parade get-together, complete with a tea ceremony, took place at Nomo SoHo in a space draped with rich textiles, lit by dramatic chandeliers, and filled with suspended floral arrangements. The couple credits their planning team with bringing together each element of the day. “They made the mundanity of event planning completely hidden from the two of us,” says Sylvea. “The difficulty of securing street permits or finding a white horse was not even of our concern—all we were in charge of was to think of the idea and express it to them.”

Photo by Scott Clark Photo


Sylvea didn’t plan to wear a white gown, but when she realized Puneet expected to see her in something “colorful,” she took the opposite approach: “I doubled down on wearing a black dress that I would be able to wear again,” she says. “I knew I wanted a black dress, because I didn’t own a black dress!”

However, this plan didn’t work out as smoothly as she thought it would: “Finding a black dress in the summer proved to be much more difficult than expected,” she says. With only a few weeks until the wedding, Sylvea still hadn’t sourced a gown—and then a travel companion stepped in. “The dress I wore for the ceremony ended up being a dress I borrowed from a stranger!” she says. “We had gone on a trip to see the Venice Biennale a month before the wedding, and someone from the group overheard that I still did not have a dress. She ended up sending it to me from Mexico City!” 

To prevent the overall look from skewing “too morbid,” the couple chose a cream-colored Tom James suit and black Theory shirt for Puneet. The groom’s floral Paul Stuart shoes and the bride’s woven headpiece and earrings from Klatso added a “lighter, bohemian” touch.

Photo by Scott Clark Photo


Floral design company East Olivia used glossy black anthurium, crimson flowers, and mushrooms to create the bride’s unique, show-stopping bouquet.

Photo by Scott Clark Photo


Photo by Scott Clark Photo


Sylvea and Puneet wanted their reception location to serve as a blank canvas for their design ideas, but it was a different feature of Sound River Studios in Long Island City that they found even more convincing. “The fact that this location had its own dock for a boat sealed the deal for us,” says Sylvea. “After that moment, there was no way we wouldn’t get a water taxi.”

Photo by Scott Clark Photo


Photo by Scott Clark Photo


Photo by Scott Clark Photo


As guests disembarked from the water taxi, they were greeted by a sign reading “Til Death Do Us Part”—a nod to the couple’s theme of “Memento Mori,” a Latin phrase that translates to “Remember you will die.” Deep red flowers were balanced by textured blooms in shades of pale pink, peach, and lavender with black fabric accents. “We used the industrial metal doors of the outside of the venue and incorporated cool floral details that were less arch and more install,” says Sylvea.

Photo by Scott Clark Photo


Photo by Scott Clark Photo


Photo by Scott Clark Photo


Sylvea and Puneet linked arms as they entered the ceremony, where a close friend led them through their vows. “We walked each other down the aisle,” says Sylvea. “We were the single most important person in each other’s lives. We wanted to walk in together and walk out together.”

Photo by Scott Clark Photo


Photo by Scott Clark Photo


Photo by Scott Clark Photo


The interior gave Sylvea and Puneet space to bring all of their ideas to life, including a neon tunnel that spanned the roof, a wall of photos featuring their guests, chic lounge spaces, and a freestanding light pink bar. “We didn’t want the location to impact what we could or couldn’t design. We saw it more as a set design than wedding planning,” says Sylvea.

Photo by Scott Clark Photo


Photo by Scott Clark Photo


Custom napkins included pink accents that matched the couple’s signature drinks: the absinthe-based Corpse Reviver 2 and the Fresh2Death mocktail, made with grapefruit and lime juice, agave nectar, and club soda.

Photo by Scott Clark Photo


A display featuring Billy Collins’s work “Memento Mori” was a nod to both the wedding’s design theme and Sylvea’s work as a poet.

Photo by Scott Clark Photo


Photo by Scott Clark Photo


Photo by Scott Clark Photo


Photo by Scott Clark Photo


Pinch Food Design helped the couple come up with a menu based around their cultures and their shared love of travel and food. “We set out to recreate a sort of food hall that replicated the Hong Kong market stalls and Indian street foods…and we didn’t hold back on the spice,” says Sylvea. “Each stall had a theme that was either true to its rich cultural history or served as a representation of something important in our lives. It was such a joy to see something like a pasta dish delivered in a swimming pool along with the story of my father’s journey swimming to freedom to come to America. Neon River suggested we add interactive ways to deliver food to guests as well. In the end, we felt like there was never a dull moment, even when in line.”

Photo by Scott Clark Photo


Photo by Scott Clark Photo


Photo by Scott Clark Photo


One of the most striking—and personalized—elements in the reception space was a well-stocked convenience store, complete with snacks, customized newspapers, and a drink cooler. “Along with sharing our cultural foods, we also wanted to replicate our favorite travel activity: going into a local bodega to grab regional snacks. We stocked local snacks like chips, candy, and Cup Noodles from at least 10 different countries,” says Sylvea.

The newspapers were another labor of love. “A month before our wedding, we asked all our guests to submit anything they wanted—a recipe, a poem, a brain dump. We took every submission and organized them into newspaper topics like world news or arts and culture,” says Sylvea. “Then we printed and stocked them in our bodega’s newspaper stand. It was such a refreshing way to honor our guests and participate in every aspect of our wedding.”

Photo by Scott Clark Photo


Photo by Scott Clark Photo


Photo by Scott Clark Photo


Reception entertainment included music from Mr Chris Norton and DJ Erik Tonnessen, a claw machine stocked with Jellycat stuffed animals (the bride’s favorite’s); a vintage photo booth; custom viewfinders; and performance artists The Bumbys providing their “warm and funny” appearance appraisals.

Photo by Scott Clark Photo


After the ceremony, Sylvea changed into a black Rick Owens dress. “Neither of the dresses I wore felt like ‘the one,’ but I had one dress that had a special story and another that was easy to dance in,” she says.

Photo by Scott Clark Photo


“The wedding was pieced together from an endless supply of random sparks of, ‘Wouldn’t it be hilarious if…’ and, ‘Woah, what if we….’ These inspirations started before we were engaged until right before the wedding. Many of them were simply based on what we thought would be fun,” says Sylvea. “In the end, we were able to pull off a wedding that was so grand, so detailed, and so eventful that to this day, our friends are still showing off our wedding to their friends. It truly feels both like a gift to us and a gift to our family and friends.”

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