Mad About Midtown: Totally Mental About Grand Central
The Midtown firm where I work is a hop, skip, and jump away from Grand Central Station. True, our company boasts an uncommonly warm, collegiate ambiance. We even have one of those basketball wastepaper baskets and a lava lamp in the breakout area. But it takes a lot more than the old rubbish hoopster and swingin’ shaggy nook to bedazzle a new junior associate. I’m a staunch believer in showing guests the company’s urban surrounds. Midtown is so much more than an enclave of white-collar efficiency. We sit right in NYC’s breast pocket, her heartbeat surging minutes away in a busy little commuter terminal. In a stately granite building full of cool stuff stands my single most favorite thing about working in this neighborhood. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. They call it Grand Central Station.
No use shying away from sentimentalism here; Grand Central Station has buoyed my soul through many a hundred-hour work week at the firm. With an unpredictable schedule curtailing my social life and would-be exposure to sunlight, you’d better believe that I take every Midtown morsel I can get when I come up for air. Lucky for me, there’s a glut of choice services and products waiting just beyond Grand Central’s four entrances.
In my early days at the firm, my limited time in Manhattan’s most illustrious rail hub was spent trying to find the quickest way from my train to an exit that would conveniently spit me out at street level with the fewest number of steps to the revolving door of my office building. But it wasn’t long before I started exploring as much of North America’s third-busiest train station as humanly possible. At some point it struck me that Grand Central is a village unto itself. For me, ladies and gentlemen, the heart of that village is the Grand Central Oyster Bar and Restaurant. Nestled into the station’s lower level, this dining landmark has been bringing the mollusk mania since 1913. Where else in Manhattan can you relish an unparalleled oyster pan roast beneath pale, vaulted ceilings shimmering with Guastavino tiles? Once you’re full of tender crustacean samplings, hearty buttered rolls, and the bar’s classic cocktails, you can step out under the archway at the restaurant’s entrance to Grand Central’s storied whispering gallery, where the acoustics make it possible to carry out a quiet chat even while facing away from your conversation partner as you stand in opposite corners of the space.
My favorite thing about Grand Central Station is that you can savor it socially or on your lonesome. When the going gets tough and I find myself riding out an especially lengthy or grueling project, I unwind by gazing at the ornate astronomical ceiling in the main concourse after lunch. I can almost hear the bygone flapping of those massive Solari display boards that used to announce arrivals and departures. Never gets old. In favorable weather, I gaze at the epic 13-foot Tiffany glass clock outside the station’s 42nd Street facade, flanked by a 1914 sculptural group depicting our ancient Hellenistic buddies Hercules, Mercury, and Minerva celebrating — what else? — the Glory of Commerce. Oh, and then, for good measure, I take myself on a little tour of chocolate troika Jacques Torres, Godiva, and Neuhaus chocolatiers. At this time of year, the annual Christmas Market in beaux arts chandelier-lit Vanderbilt Hall next to the main concourse also never fails to lift spirits during Manhattan’s most hectic season.
I’m still working my way through the bakeries, fresh food markets, and delis on offer at Grand Central. Among its 40 retail stores, must-have staples like Starbucks, the Apple Store, and Rite Aid round out the experience so pragmatically that you almost forget that this was once the site of an attempted WWII espionage attack. Today, it’s still the site of hidden gems, good times, and a healthy dose of big-city chaos… and for my money, that’s the main draw. And if that chaos does start to get a bit much, all I have to do is reflect upon my regular work trips to our nation’s capital from the subterranean eyesore that is the modern iteration of Penn Station. I think of my happy place under the Uranometria constellations and thank my lucky stars.