You, the readers of Pennsylvania Meetings + Events, really showed up when we asked you to pick your favorites for our inaugural Best of Pennsylvania awards. While we could have prepopulated the ballot, we chose to do a write-in election because we wanted to see who you think takes the cake. It was more time-consuming for voters, but we think it resulted in a terrific representation, so thank you. We are excited to celebrate the winners and we know you’re curious to see who took the top prizes, so go ahead and open the proverbial envelope. And, the winners are …
Maybe it’s the location (in Lancaster, not far from Harrisburg/Hershey and with Philadelphia just 1.5 hours away) or maybe it’s the connection to Spooky Nook Sports, the nation’s largest indoor sports facility, but you definitely like the Warehouse Hotel at the Nook, the Best Hotel with Meeting/Event Space (Less than 200 Guest Rooms). The Warehouse Hotel is what it sounds like: a former Armstrong World Industries manufacturing plant transformed into a sleek, modern hotel. “Each room has its own character, with some showing off exposed beams or pipes,” says Alyssa Matangos, communications and public relations manager. “Much of our décor was repurposed to keep with the industrial theme.” The Warehouse has all of the bells and whistles of a luxury hotel (hip restaurant, plush rooms) but this place has so much more (a 60,000-square-foot fitness and performance training center, for one). “With the Nook, our facility is 700,000 square feet, including 100,000 square feet of meeting and event space,” says Matangos. “We have the ability to host everything from expos and galas to concerts, picnics and team-building.”
Hershey Lodge wins for Best Hotel with Meeting/Event Space (More than 200 Guest Rooms). Larger meetings are never a problem for this resort, where 665 guest rooms and suites provide a welcome respite from a meeting or conference. The resort has 100,000 square feet of meeting space, with plenty of unique spaces, and the team-building opportunities are seemingly limitless (falconry, anyone?). Add the team of on-site certified meeting professionals, and meetings are, well, sweet here. Of course, there’s always Hersheypark for rides and attractions.
Don’t judge a hotel by its room numbers, since The Inn at Leola Village is indeed a serious contender. It took top prize for Best Inn with Meeting/Event Space. The Inn always lands on many top romantic getaway lists, but this charming place certainly knows how to cater to business travelers with two restaurants, including the award-winning TE, as well as Mercedes shuttle service within a 10-mile radius of the property and an on-site salon, spa and yoga studio. The inn’s 7,000 square feet of event space shares the rustic elegance found in the guest rooms and is suitable for meetings and events from 10 to 250 guests. “Special places matter and The Inn at Leola Village is a very special place. Whether you’re staying with us, dining with us or hosting an executive retreat, you are sure to love The Inn at Leola Village. This Inn’s AAA’s 5 Diamond Award of Culinary Excellence along with Forbes Travel’s 5 Star accolades set the stage for exceptional service, refined lodging and gracious hospitality in every aspect of your visit,” says Randy Howat, vice president.
There are plenty of games at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course, with 2,450 video slot and poker machines, 50 table games and 16 poker tables, but it’s not just gambling at this Pennsylvania casino that makes it our readers’ top choice for Best Casino. Final Cut Steakhouse is well known for its Wine Spectator-awarded wine list while the Mountainview Lounge Bar has front-row seats to all of the action of the horse races on the track. There’s also Skybox sports bar for a casual atmosphere.
It seems that few things can top Skytop Lodge. It wins for both Best Resort with Meeting/Event Space and for Best Golf Resort with Event Space. Skytop Lodge is a posh hideaway that has lured a sophisticated clientele for nearly a century. “Since 1928, our 5,500-acre escape has been the ultimate destination for time-honored traditions and memory-making excursions,” says Christy Ranallo, director of sales and marketing. The Dutch Colonial-style estate atop the Pocono Mountains boasts 192 guest rooms between its Main Lodge and Inn and Cottages. From its famous milkshakes to local craft beers and gourmet dishes that use locally sourced ingredients, Skytop has a wide variety of dining options. “Every department within Skytop works as a team and we have a sense of what our planners are looking for—great service, fantastic food and memorable experiences!” says Ranallo. Variety is the name of the game at Skytop, where there are more activities than hours in the day (like clay shooting and the TreeTop Adventure Course), but golf is a definite priority. Robert White, first president and founder of the PGA, designed the lodge’s 18-hole golf course.
Cheers to Barley Creek Brewing Company for winning Best Brewery with Event Space. The place is filled with plenty of conversation starters—from a canoe atop the bar’s Creek Club Mug Rack (it includes 600 personalized mugs) and the real kicker, a wiffle ball stadium(!). It’s not just a pub; this place is a true brewery complete with tours and tastings available daily.
Events are a blast at Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center, voted Best Historic or Cultural Venue. The history is fascinating, and guests can relive the battles between the Union and Confederate soldiers or even participate in a unique teambuilding event at the battlefield through the Gettysburg Foundation’s—which operates the facility—“In The Footsteps of Leaders.”
Whether your colleagues drive you to drink or you want to toast to another productive year, The Vineyard and Brewery at Hershey wins for Best Winery with Event Space. While most places make you choose between wine or beer, this place has both, as well as hard cider and craft soda. The mood is casual and fun—it was started by five friends, after all. Set on a 40-acre historic farm complete with a pond, the setting could hardly be more picturesque. Events range from small wine dinners to larger gatherings outdoors on the deck and even live concerts—some that have even featured national recording artists. Of course, each event can also include a wine and/ or beer tasting.
Forklift & Palate, inside the Warehouse Hotel and Spooky Nook Sports, wins for Best Restaurant with Private Dining Space. “Everything, from the décor and the food to the overall experience, was meticulously planned,” says Matangos. The menu changes with each season and incorporates Lancaster County ingredients whenever possible. The interior echoes the hotel’s industrial chic sensibility with tables crafted from repurposed wood/pallets. The size is impressive in its own right, with seating for as little as 10 and up to 175 in the restaurant/atrium bar. The atrium bar and hotel atrium can hold up to 600 for private events.
When times call for impressing event attendees, you turn to Top of the Tower, selected as the Best Meeting/Event Venue (No Hotel). The building was once the world headquarters for Bell Atlantic, and Top of the Tower’s four rooms are located on the very top—50th and 51st floors—of this exclusive building. Drop-dead views are de rigueur at this posh venue where the meeting rooms offer the ultimate in privacy since no two rooms are closer than half a city block from each other.
Everything is coming up roses for The Flower Boutique, your pick for Best Florist. This Gettysburg-based, family-owned company takes great care in its products and service. In addition to fresh floral arrangements, The Flower Boutique offers silk floral arrangements. It’s not just for events: The Flower Boutique’s gift baskets and fruit baskets as well as its extensive line of gifts, cards and balloons make the holidays a snap.
Catering By Design takes the cake for Best Caterer. This Philadelphia-based business has an exclusive contract with some of the area’s most intriguing venues, from museums to magnificent estates. They know how to handle groups of all sizes and pride themselves on quality food with white glove service.
For those tasked with handling an event or meeting and looking to outsource, it seems the search stops at Albrecht Events, LLC, selected as the Best Meeting/Event Planning Company. The event management firm specializes in helping meeting planners and clients navigate the tri-state region, and takes care of everything from A to Z for meeting and event planning. The Lansdale-based consulting service also handles destination management.
Premiere #1 Limousine Service wins for Pennsylvania’s Best Transportation Provider. This company prides itself on delivering top-notch customer service. “All of our employees, including CEO Douglas Rydbom, keep suits in their offices just in a case they are needed for a last-minute run,” explains Chelsea Hess- Moore, communications manager. “One thing that we provide to all of our customers is the utmost effort to make sure that the customer gets the best experience from start to finish,” she adds. “We field requests overnight and on weekends. It is not unusual for a call to come in at 2 a.m. requesting a vehicle for two hours later. Most companies are known not to answer the phones after 5 p.m., and with 24-hour service, including weekends, this dedication to our job allows our pride to shine through.”
Philadelphia is a city defined by history, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau (PHLCVB) is celebrating its 75th year of business, but this top pick for Best CVB in Town/Area More than 250,000 in Population isn’t resting on any laurels. In 2015 convention bookings were the highest they’ve ever been with $1.1 billion in conventions already booked for future years, according to the CVB. PHLCVB is also full of firsts. President and CEO Julie Coker Graham is one of the first, and currently the only, African American woman to lead a CVB in the Top 50 U.S. markets. PHLCVB was also the first CVB to pioneer a multicultural business development division, now known as PHL Diversity. Meetings are big business to the PHLCVB, which has divisions dedicated to the following three markets for further support: PHL Diversity, for African American, Hispanic and Latino, Asian American, Native American, LGBTQ, and women-led meetings; PHL Life Sciences, which advances Greater Philadelphia’s status as a leader in the life sciences and related meetings; and PHL Sports, which attracts major sporting events and conventions to Philadelphia. As Lonely Planet put it when naming Philadelphia the best city in the U.S., “Philly’s on a roll.”
“Gettysburg is an important place—a destination that truly changed the course of American history. What happened in Gettysburg is what brings most of the nearly 4 million visitors to the region each year, but many are surprised to learn that Gettysburg is also a place where you can have fun,” says Norris Flowers, president of Destination Gettysburg, winner of Best CVB in Town/ Area Less Than 25,000 Population. They may not be big, but they are mighty. “Most think that because the name Gettysburg is known globally, that our destination marketing organization must be very large,” Flowers says. “Many planners are surprised to learn that while our staff may be small, we accomplish a lot and can work with events and conferences both large and small.”
Audio-visual may very well be the unsung hero of the events industry. When everything is working perfectly, you barely notice their efforts, but once the mic doesn’t work or the presentation isn’t loading, well, it’s staring you right in the face. You selected PSAV as the Keystone State’s Best A/V Provider.
Shumaker PDT wins for Best Event Décor Provider. This company’s tagline is “plan, design, transform,” and they do just that. This full-service event production company can transform any blank space into an event to remember. Event design, custom lighting and furniture and fabric décor set the tone, while the company’s multimedia and audio-visual capabilities round out the experience.
Klock Entertainment wins for Best Entertainment Provider/Performer. This company sources DJs and also handles production, event design, photo booths and even A/V services to make any event look and sound good. Based in Harrisburg, its central location makes this winner a convenient choice, but it’s their unusual offerings (think strings of lights inside a venue to mimic the feeling of an outdoor café) that make them stand out.
Jeremy Hess Photographers was voted Best Photographer/Videographer for its full-service cinematography and photography offerings and for the way they effectively capture conferences, meetings and events. Hess, who grew up in his family’s catering business, knows how to handle events. “I learned the importance of teamwork … when all vendors work together, it makes the event one to remember,” he says. It’s not just a job for Hess, who takes great pride in what he does. “I approach each event to serve the client and capture the light of life in each of them. The event is a special moment that will never happen again,” he says. “I am there to capture pictures that honor it.”