As dusk fell on Rhinebeck, hundreds of guests descended on the scenic New York village to celebrate what many have dubbed the “ wedding of the century.”
The lavish festivities likely kicked off with cocktails at the Beekman Arms Inn, which has become the most accessible symbol of Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky’s ballyhooed union. The venerable hotel, where many wedding guests have booked rooms—and media has decamped—closed to the public for a “private party” at 5:30 p.m. Friday, fueling speculation that it would host a pre-wedding happy hour.
Later in the evening, guests are believed to have shuttled to a rehearsal dinner at nearby Grasmere Estate, a refurbished stone barn, where the long gravel driveway is blocked by private security guards.
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But tonight’s events are mere teasers compared with tomorrow’s main event at the stately Astor Courts, now surrounded by security and covered by huge white tents. Rumor has it that a bus will pick up wedding guests at the Beekman on Saturday and ferry them to the extravagant venue, where the ceremony is slated to begin at 6 p.m., the traditional time for a black-tie wedding.
• View Our Full Coverage of Chelsea Clinton’s Wedding Lynnley Browning broke details of the top-secret ceremony on The Daily Beast, including the starry list of VIP guests. Luminaries such as Alan Patricof, a major Democratic fundraiser; Clinton advisers Huma Abedin, Capricia Marshall, Minyon Moore, and Doug Band; and fundraiser Terry McAuliffe will be there. Yet media mogul Ted Turner, former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, have all made it known that they won’t be attending.
Browning also revealed the unassuming party favors: tote bags and calendars. Other information, like the dress and the wedding party, has remained somewhat more speculative (though Chelsea is thought to be wearing Vera Wang, and it’s rumored she has an openly gay male bridesmaid).
Meanwhile, proud father and former president Bill Clinton has been preparing for weeks to give away his only child, telling guests at a cocktail party that Saturday will be the “ most important day of my life.” As the country’s excitement about the nuptials has been gaining steam, the locals have gone to great lengths to help protect the Clintons’ privacy. Two weeks ago, journalists were arrested trying to capture shots of the Beaux Arts mansion where the wedding will take place.
This afternoon, Bill Clinton rolled into downtown Rhinebeck, New York, got out of a black SUV, and was swarmed by people, including a guy in a raccoon suit—the mascot for the Hudson Valley Renegades, the area’s minor league baseball team. More than 100 civilian gawkers, various camera crews and journalists, and a smattering of state troopers gathered outside Gigi’s, the local restaurant where Bill ducked in for lunch. People cheered him and he wore a wide smile, shaking hands and enjoying the well-wishing crowd.
The former president was dining with Secret Service agents and his brother, Roger Clinton, but no celebrities. “It was an honor—it was awesome,” Gigi’s chef Wilson Costa tells The Daily Beast, adding that Clinton had the gnochetti with spicy tomato sauce and Tuscan fries. “He came in the kitchen and said thank you, then went around and shook people’s hands. He was only here about 20 minutes.” When the president emerged, he pumped his fist to the crowd.
The Clintons had already made a sensational appearance yesterday in Rhinebeck, but it wasn’t exactly what the bored members of the press in this picturesque upstate hamlet were hoping for. One comedic false alarm was provided by local deejay Gary Kiernan and his wife, Sandy, masquerading as the former first couple. Wearing rubber Bill and Hillary masks while blowing vuvuzela-like party horns, they were chased by photographers.
Kiernan was feeling bubbly after hitting a free Champagne-and-cake party outside the Rug Garden carpet shop in honor of the world’s buzziest wedding, cruising the sidewalks and chewing on an Arturo Fuente cigar.
“We’re hoping the Secret Service picks us up by mistake and takes us to the wedding,” said the cheeky Kiernan, who was hawking “Rhinebeck, N.Y.” T-shirts for $15 (there were no takers).
While many storefronts proudly displayed banners and paintings congratulating Chelsea and her husband-to-be, the Rhinebeck Smoke Shoppe, where Kiernan procured his cigar, was a haven for locals trying to escape the incessant wedding hoopla that has brought a plague of pesky reporters, picture-snapping tourists, and snarled traffic to this tiny town.
“If the Clintons wanted do something for us, they’d offer to offset the costs of the wedding to this municipality, instead of leaving it to the taxpayers,” said Doug Warren, a highway supervisor from Red Hook, as he puffed on a Honduran Omar cigar. It has been rumored that Bill has ordered hand-rolled Cuban cigars for the celebration, though not from the Rhinebeck Smoke Shoppe. Judging from the other smoke shops in the area, and the copious smokers here, people in the Hudson Valley seem to enjoy fine tobaccos.
Scott Dellamore, a schoolteacher from Rhinebeck, said the matrimonial madness has been haunting his dreams lately. “I had a dream last night that I ran into Chelsea on the street and we had a sit-down. I said, ‘Your wedding is infringing on our freedom.’ She said, ‘I can get married wherever I want.’ So now this wedding has made it into my subconscious.”
But not everyone in Rhinebeck is eager for the weekend to be over: Rug Garden owner Debbie Belding sees Chelsea’s big day as a welcome respite from the sour national mood. “The country has been in such a funk, I really think we need something to lift our spirits again,” she said. “We’re having fun!”
Chris Wilson has written for Page Six, Playboy, and Maxim, where he was the deputy editor.