When one thinks of an evening at the movies, “commitment” isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Romance, maybe. Passion, maybe. But Erin Jakowski and Tony Tsendeas combined all three in their wedding at Bengies Drive-In Movie Theatre in Middle River last June.
In 2000, a casual meeting between the two in the theater office of the Baltimore School for the Arts led to drinks and then to the 13th Floor at the Belvedere, where sparks flew. The couple began dating, and three years later Tony found the perfect antique sparkler at Heirloom Jewels, and brought Erin back to the Belvedere to pop the question.
Erin, who works at the National Endowment for the Arts in D.C., and Tony, an acting teacher at the BSA and a free-lance actor/director, checked out various local venues— The American Visionary Art Museum and The Elm, a venue in Hampden— but nothing quite fit. “They were great,” says Erin, “but so many people had done it before. We wanted something really original.”
As a teenager growing up in Middle River, Tony had spent plenty of evenings hanging out at Bengies. “I rediscovered it as an adult,” he says, “and I had a brainstorm.” Erin agreed that Bengies, which opened in 1956, and is one of only three remaining drive-ins in Maryland, was the right place. “I thought, ‘If we don’t have the wedding here, I’ll regret it,’” she says.
Erin and Tony did the planning themselves with some help from D. Vogel, Bengies’ self-proclaimed “owner, projectionist, maintenance man, head of security and concessionaire” and, according to Tony, “the biggest mensch, the font of generosity.” Vogel had never done a wedding at his theater, but welcomed the couple with genuine warmth. “My main concern was for them to be happy with it,” says Vogel, “and they really went far to make [the wedding] an extremely nice affair.”
When the hundred or so guests arrived at Bengies on the warm June evening, they found that Vogel had personalized the movie marquee to read, “Tonight We are Delighted to See Tony & Erin United.” Instead of the usual ceremony followed by a reception, the ceremony was the highlight of one big celebration. Family and friends munched on burgers, hot dogs, fried chicken and other picnic-style fare. Glenn Miller, Lou Reed, Stevie Wonder and the Cure were piped over the Snack Bar sound system from homemade mix CDs.
Guests were told to grab a drink for the toast, and the ceremony began, performed by friend Jesse Willett. Dave Bartin-ski, a longtime friend of Tony’s, served as best man, and Erin’s sister Adrienne Rubenstein was the matron of honor. A.F. Bialzak and Sons, which had done the flowers for generations of Jakow-ski women, created bright bouquets of fresh wildflowers.
After the service, it was back to the party, where tables were topped with popcorn bags stuffed with retro-style favors: a picture frame with the couple’s names crocheted on it by Erin’s grandmother, candy cigarettes and Dots, a compilation CD of the wedding music and personalized temporary tattoos. Instead of a wedding cake, there was a tier of homemade cupcakes. And although the event was unorthodox, Tony adds that “it had to be grandmom-friendly.” The couple observed two traditions in honor of Jakowski’s Polish heritage: a wild polka “apron dance” where guests “pay” to dance with the bride, and a ceremonial breaking of bread so that the couple will never know hunger.
But what’s a night at a drive-in without a movie? Once dusk fell, Vogel projected The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” onto the large screen. “It was completely low-key,” says Erin. “It was a movie we could dance to.”
An old-fashioned romantic, Tony says he was awestruck at the sight of Erin in her strapless, gauzy white, “Sandra Dee” dress from Betsy Robinson and vintage rhinestone jewelry. “When I saw her walking across Bengies lot, she took my breath away,” he remembers. “It was a movie moment.”
Wedding gown Betsy Robinson’s Bridal Collection, Pikesville, 410-484-4600
Photography Susan B. Ryan Photography, 410-961-8505, sbrphotography.com
Catering Absolutely Perfect, 410-579-8777, http://www.absolutelyperfectcatering.com
Flowers A.F. Bialzak and Sons, Baltimore, 410-522-7200