Rethinking the Last Hurrah

Washingtonian staff writer Cindy Rich uncovers new ways to throw bachelor and bachelorette parties.

By: Cindy Rich

This article first appeared in the Summer/Fall 2009 edition of Washingtonian Bride & Groom.  

Most of us have seen a giddy bride-to-be, wearing a wedding veil and carrying a cocktail, in a crowded bar or restaurant with 15 of her closest girlfriends. Sometimes she’s wearing glow-in-the-dark, X-rated earrings and carrying a checklist of embarrassing last-night-before-she’s-hitched activities.

But bachelorette parties aren’t always about girls going wild. These days, many brides celebrate their upcoming nuptials with spa visits, wine-tasting parties, or weekend getaways. Grooms-to-be are toning things down, too—trading in last-night-of-freedom debauchery for golf outings, baseball games, paint-balling, poker, or camping with their best friends.

Brides and grooms-to-be like “the bonding experience, not just the novelty-show” aspect of bachelor and bachelorette parties, says Pamela Yager, founder of Bride’s Night Out, an Los Angeles-based company that plans everything from scavenger hunts and cooking classes—usually taught by a chef in drag—to whitewater rafting and Atlantic City trips. “The trend is creating whatever type of party you want.”

Another trend is to prolong the fun and turn a one-night event into a weekend excursion. Samantha Mazo’s bachelorette party started with bagels and muffins at her parents’ house on a Saturday morning. Then there was a belly-dancing lesson for friends and relatives, including her 90-year-old grandmother, followed by an afternoon pool party and barbecue at a friend’s house. That was all before dinner.

Mazo, a lawyer who grew up in Chevy Chase and was married in October at Columbia Country Club, began planning her bachelorette party as soon as she got engaged. She wanted it to reflect her personality—outgoing and energetic—and she wanted to include friends from as far back as nursery school.

There were 33 guests on Mazo’s invite list—save-the-date e-mails went out five months ahead—and a friend kept a spread sheet of the day’s activities. The group dined at the Dupont Circle restaurant Buca di Beppo, where they could “yell and be silly,” Mazo says, before ending the night dancing to ‘80s music at Tattoo Bar in DC.

“It wasn’t like we were queuing up to get into a fancy club or riding around in a limo,” says Mazo. “I’ve been to a bunch where you feel like it’s this forced march of fun: ‘It’s my bachelorette party—I have to go crazy.’ That’s not what I wanted at all.”

Ruhi Lakhani of Springfield celebrated her last days as a bachelorette twice—in very different ways. A few weeks before her September 2006 wedding, the Bombay native celebrated at a DC nightclub with American and Indian friends. Later, a henna party was held in her honor where she received gifts, jewelry, and a wedding dress, and married friends painted her palms with decorative body art. Everyone danced and ate traditional Indian food.

“All the girls get together on the last night the bride’s going to be single,” says Lakhani, a nurse at Inova Fairfax Hospital. “It’s very toned down—it’s not like you get a stripper. The in-laws come and bless the bride with prayers.”

Steve Barko, owner of Lucky Strike Fishing Charters in Solomons, Maryland, gets calls from groomsmen who say they want to spend an afternoon on a fishing boat with a catered lunch and a cooler of beer. A recent group came wearing “Dustin’s last day out” T-shirts.

“When they come out for a day like this, they’ve got uncles or dads or fathers-in-laws,” says Barko, who’s also taken a few bachelorette groups out on the Chesapeake Bay fishing. “It’s a more inclusive group” than traditional bachelor parties, he says.

When Blair McMillen of Arlington told his groomsmen he wanted to go whitewater tubing at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia—his fiancee’s idea—and spend the night at the Lansdowne Resort in Leesburg, most of them didn’t believe him.

“‘Then what?” they asked. ‘Good Guys in DC?’” McMillen says, referring to the Georgetown strip club.

McMillen, a 35-year-old software trainer, says he has been to enough bachelor parties with strippers, including one that was over-the-top—he felt like he was watching an adult movie being acted out in someone’s living room.

“If this party had happened 10 years before, I’d have been in awe, but at this point in my life it was just kind of sad and sketchy,” he says. “I figured none of us needed to do that ever again.”

After a day on the river, McMillen and his friends drank margaritas by the resort’s pool and went down the water slide before enjoying a steak dinner and drinks at the bar. They were asleep by 1 am.

“That was the funniest part,” says McMillen. “I expected to be up till four in the morning.”

Brides and grooms say there’s often something missing from traditional bachelor and bachelorette parties: a chance to connect with friends.

“You’re supposed to be loud and kind of obnoxious,” says McMillen. “It’s usually that drunken, ‘I love you, man. You’re getting married—I can’t believe it.’ There’s not much substance to it.”

Rebecca Kelley agrees. The Alexandria resident was the first of her friends to get married, but she’d been to enough bachelorette parties to know the kind of celebration she wanted. “I don’t like being the center of attention,” says Kelley, who works as an account executive in public relations.

Kelley’s friends planned a five-hour road trip to the small town of Abingdon, Virginia—her maid of honor’s parents offered them their house there for the weekend. They relaxed at an area spa, dined at a historic tavern, and went to the theater. They each picked a song—including “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”—and made a CD for the ride.

“Now when we hear any of those songs, it reminds us of that weekend,” says Kelley, who wore her tiara into McDonald’s when they stopped on the way.

Mickey Holliday, owner of Girls’ Night Out, a Vienna-based bachelorette party planning company, says he’s booked four times as many Virginia winery tours for bachelorette groups over the past year than ever before. “Most will say the bride didn’t want to do the bar scene and just wanted a day of hanging out with her girls,” says Holliday, who founded the company in 1996 after being drafted as a designated driver for friends’ bachelorette parties. “A lot of times you get girls that haven’t seen each other in a while.”

After Trish Kenlon’s bachelorette party in May 2008, friends who hadn’t known one another started keeping in touch. Kenlon and eight girls rented a cabin for the weekend in Algonkian Regional Park in Sterling. They put burgers on the grill and stayed up talking. The next day they went to three wineries—they hired a van with a driver—then cooked their favorite recipes, including Mexican lasagna, and watched 27 Dresses on DVD. “It was kind of like day camp,” says Kenlon with a laugh.