It’s My Job: The Belvedere Wedding Planner
Name: Kat Philgreen
Occupation: Event Coordinator for Truffles at the Belvedere
Neighborhood: Mount Vernon
Years in Baltimore: 1 ½
Kat Philgreen is a genuine romantic. She knows the pitfalls of working in the wedding business—“it’s very easy to grow cynical,” she points out—but the glamorous redhead loves her job, and even when she’s been working hard right down to the very last minute, she still finds herself crying during ceremonies almost every time.
Kat came to Baltimore a year and a half ago from Charleston, SC, where she worked in sales and event operations. She moved here after acing an interview with Truffles, the catering and events company based in the old Belvedere Hotel, and it’s a sign of how devoted she is to her job that Kat and her husband live right across from the Belvedere, on Chase Street in the heart of Mount Vernon.
Truffles was taken over by new management in August 2009, and since then, the owners have refurbished all the Belvedere’s five grand ballrooms, laying down new carpets, installing dance floors, and updating the furniture. As a result, the company has seen an upswing in business, and that’s good news for the venerable hotel, once known as the most glamorous place to stay in Baltimore. Today it’s on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1903 on the site of John Eager Howard’s Belvedere estate, the hotel hosted JFK, Woodrow Wilson, Wallis Warfield Simpson and Clark Gable, to name-drop just a few. For the last couple of decades the Baltimore landmark’s reputation had diminished as the city has undergone tremendous change. Now it’s back on the rise. Although evenings during the week are often quiet, there can be as many as five weddings every night at the weekend, and Kat is busy booking brides into 2013.
“Once the bride has set her date, it’s my job to hold her hand and guide her through everything, helping to calm her nerves and ease the stress,” explains Kat. “I help people select their vendors, I make menu recommendations, I plan the flow of the wedding, and I keep everything on track. And of course, I’m there on the big day as well. I’ve literally had to make corsages when there haven’t been enough. I’ve even had to take out my own bobby pins to fix the bride’s hair in place.”
One of the things Kat loves most about her job is learning about wedding customs from other cultures. “I’ve been involved with so many different kinds of weddings,” she says. “Here in Baltimore, there are so many different faiths, cultures and ethnicities. For example, a few weeks ago, we had a wedding where the bride was Indian and the bridegroom was French, and they were both from very prestigious families. The bridegroom had a Hindi ceremonial procession, which is called a baraat. In India, they sometimes use an elephant, but in this case they had a horse, which the groom rode from Eager Street, up Charles Street and right to the front of the Belvedere. There was Indian music playing, and all the guests were singing and chanting. It was one of the most ornate weddings I’ve ever seen. The invitations were so beautiful. The family invited me to attend the ceremony, which was two and a half hours long—they did it in Hindi, French, and English.”
Apart from attending lavish weddings, what are the other perks of the job? “I’ve made so many friends,” says Kat. “After the wedding’s over, I’ll often get to know the couples and I’ll see them when they come back to the Owl Bar. And I’ve learned so much about different wedding customs and ceremonies.”
Still, things don’t always go smoothly. Kat describes a recent wedding between a Jewish Syrian groom and an American bride. “It was going really well,” she says, “until it was time for the groom to stamp on the glass. They’d put the glass in a special cloth pouch to protect it, but it was heirloom blown glass, which must have been really strong, because it went right through the groom’s shoes and cut into his foot. We had to run and get the first aid kit and bandage him up.”
Other than that, most of Kat’s weddings come off without a hitch, though tense and anxious families will sometimes use her as a scapegoat when things get out of control. “We recently had a wedding where the officiant was half an hour late, and everybody was freaking out,” she recalls. “Obviously, there was nothing I could do except to keep calm and offer the bride another glass of champagne.”
I ask Kat whether there’d been an increase in gay weddings at the Belvedere. “Not yet,” she tells me. “I’m hoping we’ll do more in the future, but right now, the civil ceremony has to take place somewhere else. We had a gay wedding last Saturday in the Palm Room, although they had to go to DC for their civil ceremony. They were a great couple, so happy and romantic. They’d asked for the chef’s choice, and that always depends on what’s available. But they were lucky because that weekend, we had four other weddings, so the chef’s choice was this amazing entrée duet of steak and salmon. It was perfect.”
Truffles organizes other events, too, as well as weddings. “We also do Mitzvahs, holiday parties, corporate events and high school proms,” Kat says. “There’s this one high school that has a Great Gatsby lunch every year, after they’ve all finished reading the novel. That’s always a lot of fun.” Has she organized any themed weddings? “Not many, no, but on the Belvedere Bride blog, Averil, our sales and marketing manager, has suggested a number of movie themes to fit with each of the ballrooms.” How about a “Mad Men”-style wedding? “We haven’t had one yet, but I think the show’s done a lot to change the way people think about décor and aesthetics. I know it’s done a lot for me. People are always telling me I look like Joan Holloway, and I use her as my own personal style guide. Whenever I’m making an important decision, I think to myself, “Now, what would Joan do?”
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