When it’s time to party, our readers choose these winning Bay Area venues to host their events.
The JCC of San Francisco is home to more than 200 events a year — from b’nai mitzvah bashes to birthday parties and corporate events — in 16 venues, large to intimate. “We have wonderful facilities and great customer service,” says private events manager Valerie Rocklin. For a large celebration, Kanbar Hall holds 400 guests for a standup reception or 250 for a banquet, while Gallanter Family Hall caters to smaller events, such as birthday parties, and holds 75 for a standup gathering and 50 in a banquet setting,
The 71-year-old historic Brazilian Room in Tilden Regional Park is a historic East Bay party venue and hosts more than 200 events a year, mostly weddings. In a rustic Berkeley Hills setting, with gardens all around, “you feel like you’ve left the Bay Area,” says Michael McNally, facilities supervisor. The building can hold 150 people for a seated event or 200 standing. The wood floor is made from bamboo, which works well for dancing.
A specialty of the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto is outdoor parties, and for good reason. The outdoor pool is a great place to celebrate a birthday or throw a summer get-together. The heated pool is adjacent to an outdoor deck for sunbathing, as well as shaded areas. If you prefer to be indoors, more than a half-dozen different spaces are available for events, from b’nai mitzvah to business meetings.
The Osher Marin JCC in San Rafael has plenty of options for events, from romantic dinner parties to meetings or auctions. The 21-year-old art deco–inspired main ballroom, for example, offers versatile theatrical lighting and accommodates 250 people for a night of dinner and dancing. The color scheme and decorations can be tailored for each party, says events manager Pam Day. For smaller occasions, there’s an outdoor courtyard with a garden setting that works well for an evening of cocktails.
JCC of San Francisco
The Brazilian Room
Oshman Family JCC
Osher Marin JCC
When you’re planning a milestone event, whether it’s a bar or bat mitzvah or a birthday party, our readers say these party planners help to celebrate special occasions in style, and with minimal stress.
Christina Millikin of Glow Event Design in San Francisco brings her background in fashion design to event design. Her creativity and ambition have helped her work with all sorts of people — those who know what they want, as well as those who are indecisive. She first presents her clients with a few possible themes to choose from, and then Millikin puts together an elaborate sketch of the party. “That way, the client gets a really clear idea of what the event will look like before it happens, and the vendors will have more direction as well,” she says.
At Simcha Sisters in Walnut Creek, co-owners Shana Goldberg and Tanya Shore work primarily with Jewish families who are preparing for a bar or bat mitzvah or a wedding. Once they get a clear idea of their clients’ expectations, they work on the details, from invitations to flowers to balloons to menu. “We’re also there on-site to make sure that everything runs smoothly and everybody’s doing what they should be doing, so that the family can relax and enjoy time with their family and friends,” says Goldberg.
In Los Altos, Amy Albert started A Gala Event in 2008 because she wanted to help people achieve their dreams, but without micromanaging the entire event. “I feel like my job is similar to taking on a project from scratch and building it up piece by piece until you have a beautiful masterpiece,” she says. Her experience running an advertising agency in Chicago helps her work with a range of clients. After organizing events for Fortune 500 companies, she says she is never stressed out or overwhelmed by planning parties. “I think that’s reassuring to my clients, because they know that I can handle whatever’s thrown at me.”
For Jayne Greenberg at Just Jayne Event Planning in Mill Valley, the thrill of her job is creating a unique and memorable event for her clients. “You are working with people during a really exciting time period in their lives, and I can bring my own expertise to help them enjoy it,” she says. Greenberg says nothing she does is cookie-cutter; instead, she listens carefully to her clients’ wishes and brings their vision to life.
Glow Event Design
A Gala Event
These caterers were named by our readers for preparing and serving food that is scrumptious, seasonal — and 100 percent kosher.
Rabbi Rebecca Joseph, owner of 12 Tribes Catering in San Francisco, describes her approach as “Michael Pollan meets kosherfest,” bringing delicious kosher food to the foodie set. The dishes Joseph and her staff prepare are organic, fresh and made to order. “Because we are a small company, our menus are developed individually with the customer,” Joseph says. This has allowed the business to build a large clientele that includes both regular and first-time customers. Joseph says she can come up with a tasty menu whether she plans it out weeks in advance, or has to prepare it at the last minute.
Too Caterers, the kosher subsidiary of Palo Alto’s Continental Caterers, prides itself on its loyal customers. “There are a number of young women with whom I started by serving food at their baby-naming, then at their bat mitzvah and then at their wedding,” says owner Wendy Kleckner. Even if the clients stay the same, however, the food does not. “Every year I always say that I reinvent myself so that people are always guessing who the caterer is,” she says. Kleckner even tries to change the way her food is displayed. “Sometimes you eat with your eyes, so I always have to be buying new décor.”
For Bruce Reizenman at Park Avenue Catering in Cotati, the most important aspect of his job is listening to the customer. “We pay really close attention to the client and what they’re looking for and really do everything we can to reflect their vision rather than our own,” he says. “ ‘Signature dishes,’ therefore, don’t necessarily fall into our philosophy.” While Park Avenue prepares kosher cuisine, the chef starts each commission by envisioning a delicious menu and then adapting it to the laws of kashrut. “This allows us to be a lot more creative and out of the box.”
12 Tribes Catering
Park Avenue Catering
(707) 793-9645 • www.parkavecater.com
Sometimes food can make or break an event. These caterers make sure food is the highlight of the occasion and provides tasty memories.
Arnon Oren of Berkeley’s Oren’s Kitchen enjoys creating new culinary experiences out of common ingredients. “We like to use humble or simple foods and make them into tasty and extraordinary meals,” he says. He uses only high-quality meats and fish that are local, seasonal and sustainable. He also prides himself on the company’s approach to hospitality.
Since opening in 1938, Continental Caterers, now in Palo Alto, has been a popular caterer on the Peninsula. It specializes in custom-designed events, including weddings, corporate functions, fundraisers and b’nai mitzvah. Paul Alexander, owner of the business for 17 years, says, “We don’t put all our eggs in one basket, in the sense that we have a broad range of events and a broad range of clients.” Continental gives full attention to all events, small and large, making sure it fulfills the client’s wishes. “We really listen to our clients carefully and create their vision, not only in the food but also in the décor and ambiance of their event.”
A defining feature of Ann Walker’s catering company in San Anselmo is a staff that brings different cuisines to the kitchen. “My particular background is Mexican and Spanish, one chef is Indian and Southeast Asian, and another chef is from Israel and cooks a lot of Middle Eastern and North African food,” says Walker. “And of course, we are all well grounded in good old California food.” The company also knows how to pair meals with wine because Walker has worked with wineries for several years and her husband writes about wine.
Ann Walker Catering
Creating the mood for a party begins with an invitation, an important piece of the party-planning process. These vendors will help you set the tone and announce a celebration in style.
Just for Fun and Scribbledoodles in San Francisco not only has invitation books to flip through, it also offers in-house printing, as well as handmade invitations. Owner David Eiland will take a customer’s concept, color scheme, design or venue-based theme and create a customized invitation. “We try to work with the customer and have as few limitations as possible,” says Eiland.
In Berkeley, Susan Gildea Personalized Printing has thousands of samples for customers to look through for inspiration when designing their invitations, whether it’s a bar or bat mitzvah or a New Year’s party. “It is not unusual for people to come in four or five times, and each person gets our personalized attention,” says owner Susan Gildea.
Frosty Gross, who has run Paper Pizzazz out of her Palo Alto home since 1985, says, “I give extraordinary service and go above the call of duty. I will really go the extra mile, or two, to help people.” Working with designs from classic to whimsical, she enjoys helping customers celebrate milestones in their lives. She also can customize an invitation to a client’s specifications.
Petite Paperie in Mill Valley offers invitations, stationery, thank-you notes and greeting cards, in both formal and contemporary designs. With invitations and announcements, “I get to work with great customers to create something meaningful,” says owner Sheryl Denker, who also does custom-made work.
Just for Fun and Scribbledoodles
A lovely floral arrangement enhances the look and ambiance of any celebration — from a Shabbat dinner to a wedding. Orchids, calla lilies and peonies are just a few of the brilliant choices available at these winning florists.
Ornamento, a boutique floral shop in San Francisco, is located inside the Fairmont Hotel. Owner Orna Maymon uses fresh and seasonal flowers and makes sure to purchase from local growers. “We think outside of the box, creating stylish and unique designs,” says Maymon. The shop also offers candles as well as realistic artificial flowers for home display.
Ashby Flowers in Berkeley has been family-owned for 60 years. As a full-service shop, Ashby Flowers creates designs for any occasion, from a graduation party to a bar or bat mitzvah. “My customers have been loyal for many years,” says owner Marcy Simon. “There is something so wonderful about walking into a small business.”
Established in 1983, Edmond’s Plaza Florist in San Mateo is a family-owned, high-end floral shop that specializes in extravagant bouquets of tropical flowers, importing directly from growers in Hawaii. From bubble bowl to square-vase displays to wearable designs, our readers say this shop offers beautiful arrangements, including leis and corsages.
Edmond’s Plaza Florist
A DJ spinning the hottest new tracks and oldies but goodies sets the mood for a festive party. Our Readers’ Choice winners make it possible to have a fantastic gathering, from bar or bat mitzvah parties to corporate events.
Denon & Doyle in Pleasant Hill has 10 emcees dedicated to b’nai mitzvah, and dozens of DJs ready to spin at weddings, corporate events and nearly any party. The company services more than 300 b’nai mitzvah parties and 1,000 events yearly, from Sacramento to Santa Cruz and communities in between. “We have so many great people that are a part of our team,” says Dan Ohrman, executive director. “We’re like a big family.” Denon & Doyle, which also provides dancers, plans each event with precision to make sure the entertainment lives up to the client’s expectations.
Alan Waltz Entertainment, based in San Jose, brings the music to b’nai mitzvah, weddings and corporate events across the Bay Area. Waltz says people love to dance, and dance music is one of the outfit’s specialties. He also believes the best parties all have one element in common: “The only thing you need to have a successful event is a great DJ,” Waltz says. “The talent of our entertainers is one of our attributes.” All of the DJs and dance performers at Alan Waltz Entertainment have a background in the entertainment industry and know how to bring life to the party, he says.
Denon & Doyle
Alan Waltz Entertainment
Whether it’s a wedding, a bar or bat mitzvah, an anniversary party or some other celebration, these bands help bring joy and fun to the occasion.
Mikel Estrin’s Haimish Music, based in Castro Valley, has been performing klezmer in the Bay Area since 1986. “We love playing live,” Estrin says. Estrin provides solo musicians, duos or trios, and as many as eight musicians for private parties and weddings. Many of the instruments have a strong ethnic history, ranging from Greek to Russian to Romanian. “We’re keeping the old traditional music alive,” Estrin says.
The Mountain View–based Klezmakers put a modern spin on klezmer while still honoring its historical and cultural roots. “We’re rocking out in a Jewish kind of a way,” says Klezmakers’ violinist Daphna Rahmil. “It’s old music in a modern setting.” The seven-member group plays events across the Bay Area and has done many shows for Jewish organizations, including the opening of the Oshman Family JCC in 2009. “We love to share the music with people,” Rahmil says.
The Jubilee Klezmer Ensemble, formed in 2000 by Paul Alexander and based in the North Bay, plays traditional klezmer for a variety of private events, including weddings, b’nai mitzvah and birthday parties, as well as live concerts. “It’s a wonderful tradition,” says Alexander about klezmer. “And weddings are just so much fun to play.” Three of the four members are classically trained, and the group does about 20 shows a year throughout the Bay Area. Many of the instruments are decades old, and one dates back to 1825.
When you want to capture memories from a special event in spectacular style, our readers recommend these professional photographers to do the job.
Whether preserving important moments of a wedding or bar/bat mitzvah, in both color and black and white, Larry Rosenberg in San Francisco has them covered. He has been in the industry for more than 40 years, 35 of those in the Bay Area. “Relax and enjoy your day knowing those special moments are being recorded carefully and unobtrusively for your cherished memories,” his website says.
Cheryl Bigman, based in San Ramon, started shooting professionally in 2006 after taking a workshop in Paris. “I’m always looking for those moments in time where something extraordinary happens,” she says. Bigman specializes in b’nai mitzvah and portraits of families and children. “They get to be models for the day.”
Jeff Cable of Saratoga, a past Readers’ Choice pick, has photographed an array of events, including the London Olympics where he took pictures for Team USA. Cable works quickly, and puts the photos he shoots on display during b’nai mitzvah receptions for guests to enjoy. On his website, he says he especially enjoys these occasions: “I love capturing these events because I enjoy the innocence of the kids and the pride of the parents.”
Another South Bay reader favorite, Kamran Zohoori of Picture 2000 in Los Gatos, has shot more than 2,000 events over 30 years, specializing in b’nai mitzvah. Zohoori says the photo albums create a narrative about the event. “I become a part of people’s lives, and it’s rewarding to do this kind of photography and documenting.” Picture 2000 also offers videography.
Norm Levin at Natural Portraits and Events in San Rafael specializes in lifestyle photography, including b’nai mitzvah. “I specialize in people having the time of their lives,” he says. “I want to get the feelings behind the action.” When he was an undergrad at UCLA, he photographed sports events and says it taught him how to anticipate and capture big moments. Calling his style “romantic photojournalism,” he favors spontaneous photos.
Larry Rosenberg Photography
Cheryl Bigman Photography
Jeff Cable Photography
Natural Portraits and Events