TAMPA — Late-night partiers smiled at Erin Cece and Darrin Pierce, offering them drinks, shouting congratulations and asking to be photographed with the couple as they wound their way up and down Ybor City's E Seventh Avenue in the wee hours of that Sunday morning.
It's not every day that a woman in a striking, old Hollywood-style wedding gown — complete with headpiece — and a man in a tuxedo walk into a bar and begin dancing like they own the place.
"After the wedding, we decided to keep the party going," said Erin, 36, of Tampa, who works in Tyrone Square Mall's marketing office. "We went from bar to bar and didn't leave the Bad Monkey until about 5 a.m., I think."
She wanted Nov. 2, 2013, to last as long as possible. Erin knew she'd only get to wear her dresses once and she didn't want to squander the chance to sear the image of herself at her happiest into Darrin's memory.
"She looked beautiful, amazing," said Darrin, 42, a network consultant for Cisco Systems. "She's already a really beautiful woman, but made up like that, wow!"
Their wedding day wasn't the first time Darrin had been floored by Erin's natural good looks. After lots of ribbing by a mutual friend, Darrin decided to bite the bullet and go on a blind date with a woman he was told had just moved to town for graduate school at the University of Tampa and might be his type.
Darrin thought he'd take this girl to Chili's and, best-case scenario, make a friend. Then he laid eyes on Erin's dark hair, bright eyes, wide smile and tiny frame and decided instantly it was go time.
For a pretty girl who loved camping as much as he did, he reached into his pocket for his A-game, rerouting the date to Ybor City's historic Columbia Restaurant and keeping her at the table long enough to see one of the famed flamenco shows.
"I was just trying to figure out ways to keep her as long as possible," Darrin said with a laugh.
Though they had initial chemistry, Erin wasn't sold and resisted a relationship until after a Labor Day trip together to Florida's east coast.
"It was a one-night trip, and the next morning we were sitting on the beach and I said, 'Do you want to do this? Because I want to do this,' " she remembers.
It was what Darrin had been waiting for.
As they began to share more meals, his home mysteriously acquired more cookware, ingredients and gadgetry than he'd ever had use for previously.
"If you couldn't make it on the Foreman Grill, I didn't have it," he laughed. "She came into my kitchen and said, 'I can't paint with these brushes.' "
Slowly, Erin joined more and more of Darrin's life. She even persuaded him to get a cat when they finally moved in together after a year. Friends were amazed. Marriage felt inevitable.
Six months after buying the ring, Darrin ginned up the courage on a "glamping trip" to Jekyll Island, Ga., in a tent with 8-foot ceilings, a bed, a nightstand with a photo of themselves on it, multiple coolers, gourmet cooking supplies and a welcome mat out front with two chairs on the "porch." Inside, they played rummy, which Darrin was uncharacteristically winning.
"I said, 'Wow. You never win,' " Erin remembers.
The air turned serious. "It felt right. We were being Erin and Darrin, camping, playing rummy, having fun. I thought this was it," he said.
So he fumbled with the ring tied inside his pocket as he told Erin he was always winning because he was with her. He presented her with the ring.
"I think I said, 'I'm about to pee,' " she said, before accepting.
After searching for theaters to have the ceremony in — Erin has a theater background — the couple landed on the Ritz Ybor for its beauty and the history the couple has with the neighborhood. In the planning stages, they decided to hold the ceremony, with 65 guests, in the courtyard of the Hoffman Porges Gallery and the reception at the Ritz.
Of course, it rained on their wedding day.
The weather turned the nuptials into a unique experience. The couple was the first to marry inside the gallery, making use of the upstairs balcony as a viewing area for guests as the bride and groom made their entrances and joined at the altar below. After a photo shoot and dress change, Darrin and Erin entered the Ritz Ybor to the Skrillex remix of Benny Benassi's Cinema, and after the beat dropped full of wub-wubs and strains, the party never really stopped.
As they sauntered into the Bad Monkey long after most other clubs had their last calls, they were still basking in one another's glow. The smiles in their eyes as they recall that night may never fade.