A One-Stop, Vegas-Inspired Wedding Chapel Has Arrived in Brooklyn
Minus all the Vegas-style kitsch and Elvis-impersonating officiants, of course
For Julie Guinta, it started with a steak. Well, kind of.
Right before the pandemic, two friends asked Guinta to marry them at St. Anselm in Brooklyn. “We had a glass of wine and steaks and I just married them in the middle of the restaurant at our table,” she says. But she was curious about their decision to do it that way, especially since she had been working as a wedding designer for several years by then. But a big wedding, a blowout weekend with details as minute as branded tissue paper in gift bags, just wasn’t for them.
“They thought going to the courthouse would be super romantic and it ended up not being that. I had this lightbulb go off where I was like, why isn’t there anything in between?” she says. Not a courthouse, but not quite a Vegas-style chapel elopement, either (even if some of the trappings resemble it). Something personal, easy, romantic, memorable. And thus, Sweet Hearts was born.
When we imagine the one-stop wedding chapels of yore, the deliciously tacky opulence of Sin City obviously springs to mind: white spaces gilded with gold, an organ of some kind, a ’70s-era Elvis presiding decked head-to-toe bejeweled white leather. The story of the Vegas-style wedding chapel as we know it today begins in the 1940s, just after the post-war Baby Boom, when the city’s slightly more lax laws around marriage licenses — there’s no waiting period, and today the Clark County Marriage License Bureau is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to midnight — quickly made it a wedding capital of the U.S. Attempts to get New York to the same place from a marketing perspective moved along in 2008, when the city’s marriage bureau moved from its previously lackluster setting to its current location dotted with green marble columns and gold-trimmed ceilings. “City officials see in the revamped marriage bureau an opportunity to market the city as a wedding destination, offering it as a more tasteful alternative to Las Vegas,” a New York Times article shared that year. But if you’ve been to that courthouse, you know that waiting in line for a number on a couch that’s now nearly 15 years old can feel … not as charming as you’d hoped.
Enter Guinta’s Sweet Hearts, nestled just off the L train in Williamsburg in a former gallery space. It features the cozy, artistic, minimalist aesthetics for which Sweet Hearts’ home borough has become known. Dublin brick from the 1880s is painted white and topped off with artwork, photographs and a worn leather couch. Colorful, handmade floral rugs dapple the floor. An installation of hearts by Greenpoint-based artist Michael Haff forms an arch against another white wall, while disco balls, heart boxes, plants and human heart-shaped ceramics occupy space on a bookshelf. The day I visit, bushels of vibrant flowers for a weekend wedding line a worktable.
“Really I’m here to kind of disrupt the wedding industry,” Guinta says. “There’s something very lovely about tradition, but tradition is not for all.”
Guinta started her own wedding and event design company, Little Sister Creative, in 2019. Just before the onset of COVID, she noticed her weddings were getting bigger and bigger and bigger. She had to turn down clients with budgets of $5,000, something she didn’t want to do. “There was just such a need that’s a lower price point that’s still special,” she said. The need also became apparent after the pandemic hit, with more clients drawn to the idea of a smaller wedding in general and being selective about the people with whom they’d share their space. “That COVID way of life that we’ve adapted, of being able to say no or I don’t feel safe, has infiltrated the wedding industry,” she says. “I’ve seen clients of mine be like, ‘I don’t want that aunt there, I don’t want 200 people, I want 10 people, or I just want my best friends.’ We’re able to say no or say what really speaks to our heart.”
Ease was also a priority for Guinta. There are famously (infamously?) so many moving parts to weddings, so many decisions to be made; with Sweet Hearts, she wanted to make the process as minimal as possible. Booking the venue can be done through their website — times are only available in slots on the weekends as of right now, and they hosted their first events on site May 15th. With the $650 booking fee, you’ll get one hour of time at the space, access to their WiFi and speaker, access to their dressing room with vanity mirror setup, 10 white Tolex chairs that can be put in pods of two (or spaced evenly if everyone is vaccinated), a witness and an officiant (Guinta is certified through the Universal Life Church). For an extra $500, you’ll get photography by Edward Winter (in 2020, he was named one of the best wedding photographers in America by Brides Magazine) including images of the reception and portraits on their in-house seamless. Flowers are extra, but with your ceremony you’ll also get a “Honeymoon in a Bag,” with a Sweet Hearts T-shirt, Ring Pop and QR codes to check out local restaurants and stores.
Beginning in August, Sweet Hearts will also be offering pop-up weddings with the same rates and goodies in iconic locations around New York where you wouldn’t normally be able to get married. Los Angeles locations are in the works as well, and Guinta has her eye on Art Basel, too — the ultimate goal for Sweet Hearts is to partner with artists seasonally to provide a changing, unique backdrop for ceremonies while also supporting local creatives.
“It doesn’t all have to be about the wedding,” Guinta says. “It can be a lot easier to approach. I just love the idea of going to Vegas and saying screw it, we’re doing this together, hand in hand, you and me, nobody else, maybe Elvis. But we’re doing the decision for ourselves. I just find it romantic,” she says. In this case, of course, we’re exchanging Vegas for Brooklyn, at least at the moment, though the thought remains: do what you want to do in your own way, whether it’s smaller via Sweet Hearts, or bigger via Little Sister Creative.
But if you really want Elvis there, Guinta can hook you up.
“I can make it happen,” she laughs. “I can definitely make it happen.”
This article was featured in the InsideHook NY newsletter. Sign up now for more from all five boroughs.
Suggested for you