We have a venue! Welcome to the Rooftop Garden at the Center in the Square.
A little backstory: Steve and I started dating in February of 2013, and one evening that May, we headed downtown, as we often did. It was a warm spring night, and after dinner at Table 50, we walked to Billy’s for a cocktail. You know how in every relationship there are those watershed moments, key conversations or experiences when everything seems to shift, either stall out or leap forward? Maybe the martinis were particularly strong, but as we sat at a high-top near the bar, our conversation turned, for the first time, to past relationships. We shared stories of dashed hopes and talked frankly about some of the painful and pivotal events that had led us to where we were. There were a few tears, tightly held hands, kisses of acceptance and promise. When we left Billy’s, my heart felt light and sure. I hadn’t yet told Steve I loved him, but the feeling had taken firm root.
On our way to dinner, we’d seen a number of dressed-up folks, women in evening gowns, men in tuxedos and sharp black suits. The party-goers were too mature for prom, so when we spotted a large white tent on the corner of the market, we’d figured there was a ball or fundraiser going on. By the time we left Billy’s to stroll around and enjoy the weather, the party was in full swing. The tent was lit up, and we heard the unmistakable sound of my all-time favorite 80s-cover band, Superhold.
People were sitting at round tables scattered under the tent, and more were just outside it, dancing on the parking lot dance floor. Now that it was dark, we could see the atrium of the Center in the Square filled with the festively-dressed folks we’d passed earlier. The party was in celebration of the grand re-opening of the newly remodeled Center, which had been closed for several years for renovations. The spaces that housed Mill Mountain Theatre, the History Museum, the Harrison Museum of African-American Culture, and the Science Museum of Western Virginia had all been redesigned and upgraded; the atrium now featured several aquariums, and there was a new butterfly garden upstairs. Crowning it all was a two-story rooftop garden.
We didn’t see any of those spaces that night. It was well past 10 PM, and though the band was still going strong, the crowd was thinning. Steve and I hovered at the edge of the tent, swaying to the music, the only thing separating us from the dance floor a knee-high strip of caution tape. We gripped hands, hesitating. I glanced up at him, the question in my raised eyebrows. He nodded, and we quickly stepped over the tape.
Just like that, we joined the party.
No one cared, but our illicit entry made me giddy, and I was thrilled Steve was a willing partner in crime. We were just dressed up enough to “pass” under the light of the streetlamp, me in a brown knit column dress and heeled leather sandals, Steve in khakis and a button down. If we’d actually gone inside to hobnob with the guests in sequins and suits, we would have looked out of place. But we weren’t interested in hobnobbing: as Don Henley so memorably declared, “All she wants to do is dance!” We rocked out to every song Superhold played from the moment we hopped the tape through to their finale, Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.” As the last note sounded, we shared a warm embrace, ending an all-ways incredible evening sweaty, spent, and euphoric.
We didn’t know it then, but we’d just crashed the grand re-opening of the place that would eventually host our wedding.
Since then we’ve had a couple other lovely moments on the roof itself—I modeled at a fashion show there Steve was kind enough to attend one beautiful September afternoon, and many months later we went to the Science Museum’s first Butterfly Ball. It was in part the experience of the fashion show that inspired us to consider the rooftop as a wedding venue (I, for one, kept thinking about what it would be like to descend that staircase in a wedding gown). Practically and personally, it’s the perfect place for us. In terms of logistics, it’s located downtown, within walking distance of several hotels, and there’s plentiful parking nearby. It’s outdoors, as we wanted, with an urban rather than a rustic feel, and there’s a large indoor space, too, so we have a built-in rain location. And half the decorating is a fait accompli because the views are so stunning.
The rooftop sits smack in the middle of so much our courtship. We spent many dates dining in downtown restaurants, listening to bands with friends at the Kirk Avenue Music Hall, wandering festivals at nearby Elmwood Park. We’ve trained for and run races whose routes followed the Roanoke River Greenway as well as the city streets, all visible from the rooftop—as are the Blue Ridge mountains that frame the valley, a number of which we’ve hiked. And, of course, we’d danced together for the first time below in the market the night of the Center’s re-opening, a night we’d opened up to each other, shed fears and shared a deeper layer of ourselves.
The next dance we’ll share on the rooftop will celebrate the start of our lives together as married folk. Rain or shine, it’s going to be beautiful.
I just hope I don’t trip on those incredible stairs.