The Durham County Detention Facility isn't the first place you'd think of to get hitched. Unless you're Natalie Spring and Harris Carpenter, that is.
The Durham couple had vowed not to get married until same-sex marriage was legalized in North Carolina. In 2008, they had a commitment ceremony that wasn't conventional either.
The ceremony took place at Seeds, a nonprofit garden school. They then took the party to the "shell of a house" they were in the middle of renovating, Spring says. Artist friends came over and decorated the walls—drywall had just been installed a few days earlier. They got trays of barbecue from Q-Shack and a cake from Guglhupf.
When a federal judge struck down North Carolina's marriage ban on October 10, 2014, Spring and Carpenter wanted to make it official. And they knew where to go because some friends had done it ten years before: the magistrate's office at the Durham jail. Had it not been a rainy Friday evening, there may have been someone taking out a warrant a few feet away while they said "I do."
They picked up a black and white cake from Mad Hatter and called their friends to celebrate. Four years later, Spring says she's glad she had a wedding that couldn't have happened anywhere other than the Bull City.
"That's the sort of weirdness I think old Durham was," Spring says. "It felt good to be able to do that."
Getting married at a jail may not be for everyone, but it goes to show you don't need to have your wedding at a place of worship or a ballroom for it to be meaningful. If you've got a favorite restaurant, bar, or museum, ask if you can rent it out. Just be sure to check if you need any permits, for example to serve alcohol or take pictures.
Here's a few of our ideas for unconventional spots to tie the knot.
The American Tobacco Trail I-40 Bridge
This ten-foot-wide pedestrian bridge wobbles slightly in the wind high above throngs of commuters below, so it's a perfect venue for two adrenaline junkies to declare their eternal commitment. Plus, the view can be pretty impressive at sunset. A confused jogger might interrupt your vows, but that's part of the fun, right? Bonus: it's technically a sidewalk, so no permit needed, and there's plenty of parking at the nearby Southpoint Mall.
The old-timey Raleigh Trolley already offers wedding-day transportation, but we say why not do the whole thing on the go? Pile your friends and an officiant with a sense of humor onboard and hit some of your favorite spots downtown. Some balancing skills required.
Beer Study Durham
If you're taking advice from the INDY's Alternative Wedding Guide, you probably spend a good amount of time here anyway. Beer Study on University Drive is part brewery, part bar, and part arcade. The back room, with a capacity of about forty to fifty people, is available to rent for special occasions. Toast the occasion with a brew from the adjoining Starpoint Brewery (fingers crossed they bring back that strawberry IPA) and, instead of a first dance as a married couple, impress your friends with your pinball skills.
Spruce Pine Lodge
If you want to get in touch with nature on your big day, check out city, county, and state parks department websites to see what facilities are available for rent. We like Spruce Pine Lodge, a rustic 1940s log and stone retreat in the Lake Michie Recreation Area in northeast Durham. The building, which fits about a hundred people, includes a kitchen and a large deck overlooking the woods. There's also a lawn, field and picnic shelter available for rent.
Mystic Farm & Distillery
Mystic bills itself as the Triangle's only "field to bottle" farm distillery, producing top-notch bourbon, bourbon liqueur, moonshine, and gin. Its facilities, including the tasting room and kitchen, can also be rented for special events, with views of the farm, ponds, and woods. Bonus: Mystic is the world's largest solar-powered bourbon distillery, so you can feel good about yourself while you get happy drunk in front of your new in-laws.
Museum of Life and Science
Most museums and galleries in Raleigh and Durham offer space rental for special events. We're partial to the nerdier options. At the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, you can one take giant leap into married life alongside a lunar lander in the aerospace exhibit or declare your love in the butterfly house. The museum offers add-ons like a butterfly release, an animal encounter, or frozen cocktails made with liquid nitrogen. Honorable mention to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, which we featured in this issue last year. There, you can get married amid dinosaur skeletons, "hordes of termites," or a dry tropical forest. Nothing says "I love you" quite like termites.
Many local concert venues are also available for rent. We can think of no more unique, loving option than The Pinhook in downtown Durham, which has offered a safe space for anyone who needs one since forever. With an outdoor patio, a disco ball, and your friends, what else could you need?