The Cloisters is a big castle-like house built by a couple who needed a place to display all the art they'd collected while they traveled around Europe. From the front it mostly looks like a large house but it does have some castle-like qualities, like the suits of armor on display in the entry hallway, the turret holding a spiral staircase that ascends through four floors, and the windmill in the back...? Despite the slight oddness of the whole thing, it really is quite a lovely place. The amphitheatre off the parking lot wouldn't work for us as it isn't particularly handicap-accessible, but the "cloistered" back garden (my understanding from context is that this refers to the covered walkway surrounding it; I'm too lazy to check) would work really well, and is really picturesque. It's also conveniently located, a few yards from where Falls Rd and 83 hit 695. There's a lot of space in the house, but most of it is just...space. There are four floors; the basement is the management offices; the ground floor has the kitchen and various spaces that are actually used for the reception; second floor has the getting-ready rooms (the groom's room has a back staircase to where the bar would typically be set up - awesome); third floor has... a bunch of empty rooms. There are a couple of couches around but that's about it.
Unfortunately, even with all that space, the area we would use for a reception is a bit awkward for our group size. We'd be split between two rooms, and while there's plenty of communication between them, it would still just be awkward. They're also at the upper end of the price range we've encountered for a venue that isn't all-inclusive; they do include table and chairs in their price, but it's looking like that's pretty common. This is partly offset by the fact that they only book one group per day, so you're getting ten hours for your money rather than the standard four. They allow you to bring your own alcohol, so there's some savings potential there too, but as with the table and chairs, that may be more common than I'd realized.
One side benefit, though, that came from attending the open house there is that I got to speak for a little while with Chef Daniel from "The Pantry Catering." Choosing a caterer is still pretty far down the list for us, so we haven't met with any yet, which may have influenced me somewhat, but I thought he was awesome. He was very enthusiastic about meeting with us to come up with a custom menu for us, and when I brought up a couple of the things Ellie and I had discussed (vegetarian / seafood, casual like grilled cheese) he seemed to understand what we wanted and just took off, coming up with various neat ways to implement our suggestions. Suffice to say, if we wind up someplace where we don't have to arrange our own catering, I'll be a little disappointed. Has anybody dealt with The Pantry before?