Hudson River Valley in nuptial spotlight

By Carleton Varney

Special to the Daily News

Seems there is a lot of interest in Saturday’s wedding of former first child Chelsea Clinton. Although I’m in the dark about details of the gown, the wedding dinner and the guest list, I do know a lot about the village in which the wedding ceremony is expected to take place Rhinebeck, N.Y., a once sleepy town on the Hudson River, not too far from the Rip Van Winkle Bridge at the city of Hudson. I do know that Kathleen Hammer has made available her home Astor Courts on Route 7 for the wedding. Now, Astor Courts was, once upon a day, the playhouse and not a small one, mind you for John Jacob Astor IV’s home, Ferncliff, which connected to the property. Designed by Sanford White, Ferncliff was demolished years ago to make way for a senior-citizen nursing facility, also named Ferncliff.

The Hudson River Valley is one of the most picturesque places in America, and those of you who never have visited upstate New York should do so. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous home at Hyde Park, also on Route 7, is open to the public, as is the Vanderbilt Mansion, one of the area’s estate homes that escaped the demolition ball.

It is said that President Roosevelt often swam in the pool at Astor Courts, so Chelsea and her fiancé, Marc Mezvinsky, are marrying in a spot filled with history.

I’m not so certain about any memorabilia that might be there, although the antiques auctioneers and dealers in Rhinebeck, Redhook and Hudson say that Hammer is often out searching for furnishings for the home she has so carefully restored. Recently Hammer was said to be scouting a pair of matching pool tables of some age. A pair of matching pool tables would be a challenge to find — and costly, I’m certain.

Recently, Astor Courts has been up for sale for a price between $10 million and $12 million, but the estate came off the market early this month, just about the time the Clinton’s nuptials were announced — and for good reason, certainly. There certainly would have been a lot of “lookers” out to see the property with no intention to buy. Patience, for after the wedding, you may be able to again tour the property, if you are truly a prospective buyer.

When and if you come to Rhinebeck, there are lots of special places to see, besides the FDR and Vanderbilt homes. Certainly, I recommend your staying at the Beekman Arms, right in the center of town. It’s billed as the oldest operating inn in America. The inn is charming, with low ceilings and wide-board floors from the days of George Washington, and the Old Tavern and Bar, where grog is always served. I have dined and grogged at the tavern for many, many years. I’ve even had a few Thanksgiving Day turkey dinners there.

The inn is a super hideaway in Dutchess County, and those who stay there will love the antique bedrooms — canopy beds included — along with the wing chairs, old fashioned rugs, antimacassars, rocking chairs, quilts and kerosene lamps, the latter, however, not in use! The Beekman Arms is a picture-postcard place, once owned by a friend, Chuck LaFarge and his wife, who operated it as they would their personal home. The succeeding owners have continued in the old-fashioned tradition, keeping the building and gardens in pristine condition. Naturally, for the Clinton wedding, the place is booked solid, but you might try for rooms this autumn, when upstate New York is at its fall-foliaged best.

When in Rhinebeck or Redhook, not far from Bard College, you’ll find some super restaurants to try. My favorite spot in Rhinebeck is the Gigi Hudson Valley Trattoria on Route 7, the best place for Italian and continental cuisine, operated by the chic-cuisine purveyor Laura Pensiero, who is certainly chic herself.

In Redhook, Mercato is a must. Redhook is only four or five miles from downtown Rhinebeck, and you’ll have no problem in finding Mercato on Route 199, where the chicken-liver appetizer is a must-order. And for those of you who happen to be in Rhinebeck this weekend, call in at the George Cole Auction on Saturday for a look-see — and, perhaps, a bid or two. Upstate country auctions are always most enjoyable.

If you are invited to the wedding, enjoy. If you are not, plan a visit the Rhinebeck-Redhook region for a great weekend. And many thanks to Hammer for giving the village some good press. And, of course, I send my best wishes for a happy future to the bride and groom.


Leave a comment