"What's happening here?" a cab driver yelled from the window. Outside 2 East 55th Street, under two sets of regal awnings of Manhattan's storied St. Regis hotel, something indeed was happening. NYPD, bellhops, drivers, and a slew of security personnel mingled. Dozens of double-parked black sedans lined the block, and two large suburbans with Maryland license plates idled curbside. Inside, former secretary of State Henry Kissinger was celebrating his 90th birthday with a guest list that included all living former secretaries of state and speakers like Secretary of State John Kerry and former president Bill Clinton.
A severe blonde from a women's fashion publication and a freelance photographer, both in all black, were the only other journalists there, but the sidewalk was buzzing with what an officer estimated to be 40 security staff in all.
“Kerry,” mouthed the photographer, as a line of security guards formed a pathway under the smaller entryway. Teresa Heinz Kerry, in a white blazer, got out of a black sedan, and her husband, Secretary of State John Kerry, came around from the other side. The two walked in together with a gaggle of security and miscellaneous entourage. Just a little earlier, Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, who once vied for the secretary-of-State gig in her own right, had arrived. Nancy Kissinger had sent the word out through her girlfriends over the weekend, “If you have jewelry, this is the night to get it out of the bank.” And they did. The Alfalfa Club dinner crowd in tiaras was the order of the night.
(Kissinger’s adored wife, Nancy, was resplendent in a purple taffeta mermaid ensemble.)
At nearly 9 p.m., Hillary Clinton was the last bigwig to pull up. (Wendi Murdoch also arrived late.) Clinton and Oscar de la Renta had rushed over from the Council of Fashion Designers of America awards at Lincoln Center, where she presented him with the Founders Award (“I was then, as I am now, such a fashion icon,” she had joked, clad in a sleek blue pantsuit).
A few onlookers, nervous the stormy sky would break into another downpour, huddled under the scaffolding next door to see who would come out from behind the rows of tinted car windows. Others walking by gave the requisite inquisitive stares and questions. “Sometimes I tell them Michael Jackson’s inside,” a uniformed officer joked.
Inside, guests reported, a mariachi band played, and Kissinger was regaled with a slew of speeches. Kerry called him an “indispensable statesman,” and David and Elizabeth Kissinger separately paid tribute to their dad in front of an audience that included Gen. David Petraeus, former secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Fox News president Roger Ailes, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“David Kissinger says Henry Kissinger likes to call Nancy impersonating a labrador...but once called the wrong number...#90isthenew30,” tweeted Tina Brown, editor in chief of The Daily Beast.
Sen. John McCain spoke reverently of the man he had earlier tweeted was “a great mentor” and “one of the giants.” Kissinger’s accomplishments, he said, were unable to be summed up in toasts like these. “A mere single-volume biography couldn’t really manage the task competently, could it, Henry?”
So, who regaled Kissinger with the best speech? “Bill Clinton, as always,” former ambassador William vanden Heuvel said. The former president was the grand finale, apparently assuring the crowd, “I’m the last speaker, so you can all kind of relax.”
Afterward, vanden Heuveland laughed about the aging attendees, remembering when Clinton referred to them as “the antique roadshow,” in his speech. For all the leggy blondes, which there were a few, the average age at the party was skewed by its oldest attendee, a French dignitary who clocked in at 103 years old, with second place going to 97-year-old David Rockefeller.
The first sign of the party’s end came around 11:30 p.m., when former secretary of State Condoleezza Rice walked purposefully into the middle of the street, looking for her car. She squinted up and down 55th before someone yelled directions, and she walked eastward to find it.
Outside, more black-and-white clad husbands with their glamorous wives began to filter out to the waiting town cars that had thoroughly jammed 55th Street.
A low-profile and entourage-less John McCain, iPhone to his ear, wandered alone down the sidewalk. Shrouded in scaffolding, he seemed to disappear in a dark abyss. Diane von Furstenberg must have left her presidential post at the CFDA awards, because she soon sashayed out in a swinging white dress with sequin trim and slid into a waiting car with husband Barry Diller.
Lastly, around midnight, Hillary and Bill Clinton walked hand in hand down the sidewalk, smiling, and piled into a waiting black Explorer van, which an aide had loaded with a large white-flower centerpiece moments before.
“That’s all,” a passing NYPD intelligence officer said, and the dark-suited security dispersed into the newly calm Monday night. But, we noted, there was still no sign of the birthday boy. By a quarter past midnight, as this reporter hailed a cab, Kissinger had either slipped out a back exit or was staying to party until dawn. And why not? For Kissinger, who still heads his own international consulting firm, #90isthenew30.