Day Tripping: All Aboard!

What’s a vibrant destination that offers rich history, architectural marvels, art exhibits, culinary bounty, and fashionable shops, under one roof? To put you on the right track, it’s a New York City landmark that’s only a 40-minute train ride away.

Published October 21, 2011 4:10 PM
4 min read

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gcsthumbWhat’s a vibrant destination that offers rich history, architectural marvels, art exhibits, culinary bounty, and fashionable shops, under one roof? To put you on the right track, it’s a New York City landmark that’s only a 40-minute train ride away.

 

By Janice Llanes Fabry

 

gcsWhat’s a vibrant destination that offers rich history, architectural marvels, art exhibits, culinary bounty, and fashionable shops, under one roof? To put you on the right track, it’s a New York City landmark that’s only a 40-minute train ride away.

 

Grand Central Terminal is not your every day train station; it’s the depot that makes missing a train a pleasure.

 

Recently, thanks to a friend and history buff, I took an audio tour. Self-guided tours are available from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. for only $6, less for seniors and children. Headsets and devices may be picked up at the window next to customer service; Smartphone users can download the Grand Central Terminal (GCT) app. You can opt for a 30-minute express or one-hour tour.

 

After an introduction by Mayor Bloomberg, the tour focuses on architectural highlights, the terminal’s nooks and crannies, as well as a treasure trove of historical tidbits. Newly informed GCT aficionados will never walk through its corridors again without spying the many sculptural acorns, the Vanderbilt “family crest”.

 

Built by shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, Grand Central, the first bi-level railway station, opened in 1871 and the refurbished Terminal in 1913. The Beaux Arts architectural masterpiece covers 49 acres, sports magnificent marble staircases and 75-foot arch windows, where sunlight streams in, lending an ethereal quality to the vast space.

 

gcs3Originally, its 125-foot-high constellation ceiling proved to be controversial, as the universe was mistakenly depicted backwards. The Vanderbilts, however, made a quick recovery. They claimed the ceiling was exactly as it was meant to be, God’s view of the universe from the heavens above. By the way, Rye Camera owner Rob Porto’s grandfather, Patsy Beseglia, did the original plastering.

 

Special attention was paid to the famed ceiling when the terminal was restored in the 1990s, thanks to a grass-roots effort of which Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was a passionately vocal part. In the end, a miniscule black patch in the northwest corner was left untouched as a reminder of the grimy damage caused by tobacco and nicotine as a result of decades of cigarette smoke.

 

Another timeless, iconic feature of the terminal is the brass clock with four opal faces atop the central information booth, a convenient location for meeting friends coming in from any one of Metro-North’s Hudson, Harlem, New Haven, Pascack Valley, or Port Jervis lines.

 

Grand Central, the longest train station in the world, is not just for commuters. It’s also a great place to take the kids on a rainy day and a perfect first stop for out-of-town guests.

 

It’s no accident that more than half-a-million people pass through daily. In addition to all the sightseeing possibilities, there are a myriad of shops in the Graybar, Biltmore, and Lexington Passages, and international dining options in the lower-level dining concourse. Danny Meyers’ and Rye

resident David Swinghammer’s ever-popular Shake Shack is opening there soon.

 

gcs2The most historic dining option is the Oyster Bar, built in 1913 with an arched, ceramic tile ceiling by Spanish artist and architect Rafael Gustavino. On any given day, there are as many tourists outside the restaurant as inside, amusing themselves in the Whispering Gallery. When you whisper into the wall at one corner of the hall, your voice is telegraphed via the vaulted ceiling and can be heard clearly on the opposite side. A pretty nifty trick.

 

On the north and west balconies, Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse is open seven days and offers an affordable fast-track lunch that includes filet mignon, as well as beer tastings on Wednesdays this time of year. Also on the north balcony is Cipriani Dolci, open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Enjoy Northern Italian classics and Giuseppe Cipriani’s famed Bellini cocktail. Incidentally, Metrazur Restaurant on the east balcony has closed and is being replaced by a dazzling Apple Store that would make Steve Jobs proud.

 

Hidden away in a corner of GCT, facing Vanderbilt Avenue, is an opulent cocktail lounge worth discovering. Visitors may walk through Cipriani’s to get to the Campbell Apartment. Having leased it from the Vanderbilt family in 1923, American financier John Campbell used it as an office and a lavish reception hall. After a few reincarnations, including a jail cell, the space was restored to its former mahogany glory. It’s open every day for cocktails starting at 3 p.m., and is available for private parties.

 

For those who would rather return home to dine, you can pick up all the ingredients at the lively and colorful Grand Central Market. It offers fresh produce, fish and meat, nuts and dried fruit, Ceriello’s prepared foods, Murrays’ cheeses, Zaro’s fresh-baked items, and Tom Cat’s baguette, “the little black dress of bread that goes with everything”.

 

Look for art exhibits at Vanderbilt Hall this fall. “Through My Window: Vibrancy and Serenity”, by Korean photographer Ahae, is on view through October 22. Later this month, in the same hall, Consumer Reports is holding a 75th anniversary interactive event. On October 28 and 29, see the process behind the thousands of products their labs test every year.

 

GCT’s annual holiday fair, featuring 76 vendors, runs November 14 – December 24.

And, of course, from Grand Central, you can go just about anywhere.

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