Grand Central Terminal
East 42nd Street and Park Avenue (Lexington and Vanderbilt Avenues)
Grand Central-East 42nd Street station (S, 4, 5, 6, or 7 train)
First of all, it's the Grand Central Terminal, not station. Sticklers will point out that train lines begin and end here, not pass through. Before you go in, look at the clock above the entrance. The sculptural group was the largest in the world when crafted. It surrounds a clock thirteen feet in diameter — the largest example of Tiffany glass ever made.A Visual Tour
Inside, start by the information desk and look up at the clock. Countless liaisons have begun here through the years. The four clock faces are solid opal and worth between $10 million and $20 million. You can't see it, but there's a secret staircase inside the booth that leads down to an information desk on the lower level. If you look up, you will see a beautifully painted astronomical mural, its colors radiant after a recent restoration.
If you're sharp-eyed, you'll notice something weird — the zodiac is backwards. After decades of debate on the cause, the official reason (possibly politically motivated) is that the artist, Paul Helleu, wanted to show the celestial sphere from the outside. Keep looking up and you'll see the glint of real gold on the chandeliers. This was a surprise to the restorers since it was always assumed the light fixtures (a real innovation when they were made) were brass.
The kids will love the whispering gallery in the terminal. Go down the Oyster Bar ramps and station one person on either side of the entrance arch. Face the corner and whisper. A quirk in the acoustics makes the whisper audible to the person on the other side of the arch.
Notice the grand staircases. Years ago, there was only one, but restoration uncovered evidence that the original architect wanted a pair to balance out the huge room. The second one was constructed almost ninety years later. The original is the one by the steakhouse. Near the original staircase, look up and you'll see a dark patch. This was left by the restorers to show what the ceiling looked like before cleaning. Lab tests showed that the dirt is really tar and nicotine from tobacco smoke.
Before you leave the main level, look around at the stone carvings, and you'll see many acorns and oak leaves. These were taken by “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt, the railroad magnate who built the terminal, as his family crest symbols.
The terminal is a veritable cornucopia of consumption and a festival of foods. There are retail shops in this one building that would rival any shopping mall or busy retail street. Gifts, necessities, and indulgences are around every corner and in every concourse. There are clothes for the entire family, toys, electronics, health and beauty, jewelry, books — and don't forget the New York Transit Museum Gallery and Store (see page 182). There are also services such as a pharmacy, optician, bank, watch repair, shoeshine, and currency exchange.
The long-running radio program “Grand Central Station” started with the words, “As a bullet train seeks its target, shining rails in every part of our great country are aimed at Grand Central Station, heart of the nation's greatest city: Grand Central Station! Crossroads of a million lives! Gigantic stage on which are played a thousand dramas daily.”
Eating Facilities Grand Central is an epicenter for enormous eating. The worldfamous Oyster Bar & Restaurant ($$–$$$) on the lower level has been dishing out an immense selection of fresh seafood since the day the terminal opened in 1913. It boasts thirty types of fish and thirty types of oysters! Even more astounding is the wine list, which offers seventy selections by the glass. Nonseafood-eaters can try the sirloin or chicken.
Check out the Dining Concourse. Its more than twenty eateries serve every cuisine you'd care to sample. The kids will love the choices and will relish eating in the dining car seating areas that emulate trains of long ago. This is also the home of three sit-down restaurants: Brooklyn's famous Junior's (see page 300); Two Boots, a kid-friendly, fast, New Orleans-style pizza place; and Zócalo, for Mexican delights.
Although the kids can't go, try to visit the Campbell Apartment, an elegant lounge set inside what was the office of 1920s financier and railroad executive John W. Campbell. He decorated it as the hall of a thirteenth-century Florentine palace. Proper attire is required.
Upstairs, the east end of Grand Central yields another secret surprise: a European-style food hall called the Grand Central Market, where you can buy the highest-quality meats, cheese, vegetables, breads, salads, ready meals, and sweets to take back to the hotel, eat on a picnic, or even have shipped back home.
Up in the balcony reside the upscale restaurants and lounges. Here are Capriani Dolci ($$$) (Northern Italian), Charlie Palmer's Métrazur ($$$) (progressive American cuisine), and kid-fave Michael Jordan's The Steak House N.Y.C. ($$$), modeled after the famous luxury Twentieth Century Limited dining cars.Hours and Tours
Grand Central is open from 5:30