I don’t think there’s anything more “New York Rom-Com” than a NYC city hall wedding. It’s movie magic: star crossed lovers pledging everlasting love in the city of dreamers. In the NYC neighborhood of Tribeca, nestled right above Financial district, there’s a little roundabout named Foley Square. The single block radius of Foley Square contains a multitude of civic buildings including the United States Federal Courthouse, The US Court of International Trade, the Jacob Javits Federal Building, New York County Supreme Court, and more. Walk even a block in any direction and you’ll pass other giants of New York history. But right in the heart of Foley Square is one of the happiest buildings in the Big Apple- the New York City Marriage Bureau.
My husband and I got married at the NYC Marriage Bureau last Christmas Eve, 2019, and I’m here to share all my insights:
We were honored to shoot some elopement shots with Rachel Rodgers Photography– Included in this post are a few of my favorites!
Entering the building
When you enter the Marriage Bureau you go through security and check in with an info desk. You can ONLY check in when your entire party is present. You’ll state your reason for business and be given a numbered ticket soon to be called. There are no reservations for any reason, so you need to give yourself extra time to conduct business, especially if you’ve arrived at lunch time or on a Friday.
The waiting hall is INCREDIBLE. You’ll see couples waiting to get married, both in casual clothing and full gown/black tie wardrobe. The excitement in this hall is palpable- so much joy and anticipation in every group of people. There’ll also be a smattering of people obtaining a marriage license, registering a domestic partnership, and requesting copies of their registries. By New York State law, you must register for your marriage license 24 hours before a marriage ceremony, so plan ahead to pick up your license well in advance of your wedding date- licenses are valid for 60 days. I recommend registering online for your license, it will make your in office process quicker and remind you which identification items to bring. Currently a marriage license in NY cost $35.
A packing list for your big day
Inside the marriage bureau there is a little shop to purchase or rent things you need, but it’s better to come prepared! Here is a list of things you will want or need to bring with you:
- Wedding bands
- Makeup and hair bag for touchups (there is a beauty station in the women’s restroom!)
- Bottled water and a snack that won’t make a mess on your clothes
- Proper forms of photo identification
- Your marriage license that you previously picked up
- A file folder to carry the license in
- Your wallet to pay for the ceremony- $25
- A portable battery and phone charging cords
- I’d recommend a book to pass the time, but I didn’t have the attention span to do ANYTHING while I waited and I doubt anyone else would either.
- A bag to hold your items- there isn’t a storage space or much room for extras in the holding hall so try to consolidate
- A witness with proper ID
True story, when we got married my would-be-witness friend couldn’t make it at the last minute so I hired someone from Task Rabbit to be our witness. The Task Rabbit was over an hour late and tragically never emailed me the photos she took inside the Bureau. However, she was very nice and held my bag of stuff and nothing could phase me because I was so happy to be getting married!
The day of your wedding
You’re getting married! You have the date settled, the wardrobe picked out, rings waiting to be used, and vendors arranged. I recommend getting to the Marriage Bureau before they open and wait to be one of the first people let in. When your witness(es) have arrived and made it through security, you can check in with the info desk and get a number. Don’t this number- you’ll need it twice this time. The first time your number flashes on the board you get to sign your license and pay for the ceremony. The witness will also sign at this time.
Getting married at the Bureau also means you don’t need to file any paperwork on your own- all legalities will be completed. After your license is signed it’s time to wait again for your number to flash. When you see your number on the board you can retreat to the wedding ceremony holding area. It’s shaped like an oval and on each side of the oval is a door to a ceremony room.
By the time our number was called it was quite busy inside the hall- there were at least 6 couples waiting with their witnesses and families. We loved people watching the other couples and later discussed who we thought was having a big ceremony later, or who’s kids were who’s and how the families felt about the marriage. New York is the best place to people watch and the Marriage Bureau is the best of the best!
After about 30 minutes we were called into a small room that looked like a classroom. There were a few chairs along the edges and the officiant stood behind a pedestal. We exchanged rings, vows, and tears. The officiant gave us a few minutes to gather ourselves before we all exited the room.
You’ll be given your printed marriage license as soon as you are married. It’s beautiful and perfect. Tuck it away into that file folder from your license. To exit the Bureau you’ll walk back through long waiting hall of excited people and leave through the rear doors.
Planning a tiny wedding comes with the benefit of saving money, but there are other ways to save money and resources. Renting a tux or dress is a fantastic option. You can also repurpose or find items thrifted. The satisfaction of finding a perfect item will still be yours, as well as the money you saved!
Regardless of if you plan to celebrate with a full ceremony or reception later, this is a special day and you should plan a few activities to celebrate your union! Make a plan for the rest of your day well in advance so everything runs on autopilot.
Hire a photographer to document your day. You can splurge on a large chunk of time and have the photographer be your witness (don’t forget, there is no guaranteed time limit while waiting for your ceremony and you could be waiting up to 4 hours on a busy day). Or you can book a photographer for a later time in the day and spend time focused on getting some great shots around NYC.
Splurge on some special items for your day. A new pair of socks, a special pair of shoes, heirloom jewelry… you don’t have to follow the “something old, something new” adage, but the truth of that sentiment is that everything you wear and use should hold value. I wore a pair of earrings from my great grandmother and I carried a polaroid of us from our first trip abroad.
Think about what you want to eat and where- chances are you’ll be ravenous after such an emotional day. Yes, it’s New York and there are food options everywhere. But by making a plan you’re eliminating stress on your future self. We made a stop for French fries at the midtown bar we first hung out in (honestly isn’t NYC magical?) and later picked up pizza slices to-go.
Accomplishing a tiny wedding is one of the best things you can do for your marriage, in my opinion. You and your spouse get to plan a day only for you, without the societal pressure of hosting a large party and including hundreds of people. As sad as I am that 2020 has delayed us from celebrating with family and friends, I’m thrilled that we had our perfect day.
Do you have any questions about NYC elopements? Drop me a comment!