Our Grand Central Terminal Guide

Where to eat, shop, marvel, have a cocktail, play a round of tennis, and shoot a film—all while rushing to make the 6:12.



Grand Central Terminal may be in New York City, but it really is our domain. City residents never pay much mind to the beautiful Beaux-Arts building unless they have to take a trip to the northern suburbs. We Westchester commuters scuff our shoes daily on the terminal’s Tennessee marble floors.

Still, we don’t always take the time to appreciate the smart design, the impressive engineering, the meticulous planning that goes into keeping the transportation hub humming. Often, because we’re running for a train. But, before we pop our earbuds in and sit on a comfy Metro-North seat, we should take a moment to soak it all in. After all, it’s one of the greatest buildings in New York—at least according to New York magazine, which gathered a panel of experts in early 2011 to name the best New York City buildings of all time. “Grand Central creates a new type,” Barry Bergdoll, chief curator in the department of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art, told the magazine. “It’s really an indoor urban room that’s absolutely stunning.”
If that wasn’t enough, within its walls there are retail stores brimming with worthy last-minute gifts, gourmet goodies at every turn, a cocktail lounge that looks like it was transported from the piazzas of Florence, and even a tennis court. Here, we present our commuter’s guide to getting the most out of Grand Central. At the very least, it’ll give you another reason to feel superior to those Long Islanders, who have to come into the City via the hellish subterranean maze that is the current Penn Station.
 

Stop for a Drink Before You Go

Taking in the hustle and bustle from above the crowds is recommended every now and then—ideally, with a cool cocktail. At the following spots, the drinks are inviting, the bar menus tempting, and the location just right.

 

Cipriani Dolci, home to one of the best Bellinis in New York

Cipriani Dolci 
West Balcony
(212) 973-0999; cipriani.com
Thanks to its location, overlooking the Main Concourse and within steps of the street, Cipriani wins the award for constantly packing the house. To its credit, the restaurant, which looks particularly attractive in the early-evening light, is unpretentious and welcoming with gracious bartenders (Hello Miguel!) quick to pour you the signature Bellini, a light cocktail of white peach purée and Italian Prosecco ($13.95). Bonus points for the thin, salty, house-made crackers, which will no doubt inspire another round.

Photo by Jerry Milani

Marcelo has mixed drinks at the Oyster Bar for more than four decades


Oyster Bar  
Lower Mezzanine
(212) 490-6650; oysterbarny.com
Tourists rule the roost in the Oyster Bar’s main dining room, which is why, instead, you need to saddle up to the bar, where off-duty Metro-North conductors and regular Joes sit at the unassuming counter under gorgeous Gustavino tiles. It’s in this traditional setting that bartender Marcelo, who’s been shaking and serving for 47 years, can make any kind of drink you want—though he prefers the straight-up, old-fashioned kind. In other words, go for the classic martini made with three parts gin, one part dry vermouth, and an olive (starting at $9).
The Campbell Apartment  
West Balcony
(212) 953-0409; hospitalityholdings.com
Despite the many entrances and exits the average commuter makes in and out of Grand Central, The Campbell Apartment remains a secluded treasure few know about. Tucked away on the balcony level (the elevators are near the Oyster Bar on the southwest ramp), the wood-heavy, high-ceilinged room—once the posh private office of early-20th-century railroad tycoon John W. Campbell—is a sophisticated portal to another world, complete with Florentine touches and a bar that screams “Olde New York.” Sampling the Prohibition Punch (Appleton Estate V/X rum, Grand Marnier, Gran Gala, passion fruit juice, cranberry juice, fresh lemon juice, Möet & Chandon Champagne, $19) is all you need to call it a night.

Photo by Benjamin Hill Photography

Though semi-hidden, the grandeur of the Campbell Apartment is worth seeking out

Photo courtesy of Battman Photography

The vibe at Michael Jordan’s The Steak House N.Y.C. is surprisingly relaxed.


Michael Jordan’s The Steak house N.Y.C.  
Balcony
(212) 655-2300; michaeljordansnyc.com
Michael Jordan’s is more of a beer and wine kind of place. There are no specialty cocktails, though brown drinks such as Scotch on the rocks and bourbon tend to be popular. But you can get the good stuff: everything from Johnnie Walker Black ($11) to 25-year-old Macallan ($75 per glass) is offered at the bar.


 

Beer Table Pantry  
Graybar Passage
(212) 922-0008; btpantry.com
Prefer to take your spirits to go? There’s a rotating selection of microbrews at Beer Table Pantry, where growlers are sold (and refilled) alongside a myriad of interesting bottles. Unfortunately, you can’t taste the brews—no liquor license—but you will get solid suggestions from the well-versed staff on everything from Brooklyn Brewery to our own hometown fave, Captain Lawrence.  

NOTE: If you’d rather have a drink of the caffeinated kind, find your way to the Graybar Passage for Joe the Art of Coffee   (212-661-8580; joetheartofcoffee.com), which is often touted as brewing one of the best cups in
New York City and often has lines snaking out the door.
— Jeanne Muchnick

Tip: DON’T Meet at the Clock

The gleaming clock that tops the Main Concourse’s central information booth was designed to be the perfect meet-up spot. You can see it from wherever you are. Yet hang around long enough, and you’ll see people making endless laps around the booth, looking for their loved ones. Why? The booth is so big, you can’t see around to the other side. No matter how early you are, you’ll have the nagging feeling that whomever you’re meeting is waiting around the curve of the booth just out of sight, and you’ll start doing your own laps. Our tip: either choose a different meeting spot (the Station Master’s Office is a good one), or be more specific when you make your plans. As for us, we’ll be on the north side of the information booth, facing the escalators to the MetLife Building.

 

Eat Me!

Grand Central has an abundance of food porn: the ginormous sandwiches; the array of comforting soups; the ready-for-their-close-up, meticulously decorated baked goods—and that’s just on the bottom level. The Grand Central Market, on the main floor, also teases with crusty loaves of doughy wonder and golden array of cheese rounds. There are a lot of choices, which is why—tough job, we know—we nibbled and tasted and evaluated and edited it all down for you. After all, you have a train to catch. Here, the five items you must try when you’re looking for a quick bite.

 

Photo courtesy of Murray’s Cheese

Murray’s Cheese is not just for Greenwich Villagers.

Cabot Clothbound Cheddar
Murray’s Cheese   
Grand Central Market
(212) 922-1540; murrayscheese.com
It’s a tough call at Murray’s, where gorgeously shaped rounds beckon from the shelves and sampling is encouraged. For a crowd-pleaser that’s great on its own or alongside almonds and dried fruit, try the Cabot Clothbound Cheddar ($22.99 a pound) in all its nutty, caramelized glory. Add a crusty Tom Cat baguette—referred to as “the little black dress” of breads—and some fancy olive oil from Oliviers & Co (Graybar Passage 212-973-1472; oliviersandco.com) for dipping, and you’ve got the makings for dinner. Now, for the real test: Can you make it to Westchester without breaking them open?


Pumpkin Corn Bisque Soup
Dishes  
Lower Dining Concourse
(212) 687-5511; dishestogo.com
Sure, we love the oversized combo sandwiches on Jerusalem bagels that, at $11.50 each, are pressed hot and easily shareable. But, when you don’t feel like spending a lot, yet want a nice-sized nosh, this vegetarian soup, in small ($4.75), medium ($5.75), or large ($6.75) sizes, hits the spot. The pumpkin has a definite kick. The corn adds meaty consistency. And the French bread that comes on the side is perfect for sopping every last drop.

Dulce de Leche Crêpe
Ciao Bella  
Lower Dining Concourse
(212) 867-5311
ciaobellagelato.com
Though the indulgent collection of colorful gelatos at Ciao Bella is tempting, nothing beats the sweet perfume of syrupy South American caramel sauce paired with rich vanilla gelato and topped with cinnamon ($6.75).  It’s the ultimate sugar rush—and a sure-fire way to ensure you stay awake on the ride home.

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Bakery

Magnolia Bakery piles whipped vanilla frosting on its red velvet cupcakes.



Red Velvet Cupcake
Magnolia Bakery  
Lower Dining Concourse
(212) 682-3588
magnoliabakery.com
There’s no way you can walk past the richly frosted cakes that line Magnolia’s shelves without stopping to take a quick look-see. While most everything here is classic Americana with roots that scream Rockwell, we love the red velvet cupcake for its sheer beauty and deliciously festive flavor—like yellow cake with a kiss of chocolate. (Its banana pudding comes in a close second.) Yes, we all agree the bakery is not as good as the original downtown, but it’s pretty darn close, pretty darn good, and something your family will thank you for.


Bayou Beast Pizza
Two Boots   
Lower Dining Concourse
(212) 557-7992; twoboots.com
This masterful ode to New Orleans features a crackly crust topped with barbeque shrimp, crawfish, andouille, jalapeños, mozzarella, and a tangy tomato sauce—enough to make one slice ($4) into a meal. Just be prepared for a train debate over the pizzeria’s eccentric combinations. Sure, we like the Larry Tate (spinach, plum tomatoes, and fresh garlic on a white pie) as well as The Dude (Cajun bacon cheeseburger pie with tasso, andouille, ground beef, cheddar, and mozzarella). But it’s the originality of the Bayou—plus the feeling that we’re sitting in the French Quarter as opposed to the lower level of Grand Central—that gives this homage to Louisiana its spicy edge.

French Macarons
Eli Zabar’s Bread and Pastry  
Grand Central Market
(866) 354-3547; elizabar.com
Macarons are the new cupcakes, though close behind are thick, square, homemade marshmallows. Eli Zabar’s Bread & Pastry, which opened in the space formerly leased by Corrado Bread and Pastry (in the Market on the main floor) takes the cake (pardon the pun) when it comes to these two sweet treats. The French macarons are huge—the size of a small child’s fist (three inches across!)—and come in flavors like vanilla, chocolate, coffee, raspberry, caramel, blueberry, and pistachio ($3.50 each). You can also get them in a box of seven or 12 ($6.95; $12.95). House-made marshmallows are $4.95/4 oz.
—Jeanne Muchnick

Where To?

Use this map to get around the terminal.

 

Browse, Buy, and Brag

Most people don’t consider Grand Central a shopping mall, but it is; there are more than 100 retail establishments operating in the terminal. That doesn’t include the annual holiday fair, which brings in another 70-plus vendors in November and December. Here are four stores that are not to be missed—and one that almost can’t be.



Pylones’s candy-colored offerings

Pylones  
Shuttle Passage
(212) 867-0969; pylones-usa.com
This outpost of a French retail chain will have you chuckling at everyday objects. Cheese graters are given heads and arms and become ladies wearing A-line dresses ($24 to $32), staplers come in the shape of funny-looking chickens ($8), and kitchen whisks are turned upside-down and into “giant” squids ($20).
 

 Photo by M.K. Wong

Sweet-smelling soaps at Cursive New York

Cursive New York  
Lexington Passage
(212) 867-5550; cursivenewyork.com
Letter-writing may be a dying art, but it’s still an art. At least it is at this tiny boutique filled with fine papers, letterpressed cards, and handmade stamps that’ll make you want to trade your iPad for an ink pad. Here’s where you can find things you won’t see in any Westchester mall, like a free-standing, sustainably harvested birch recipe book with letterpressed recipe cards ($34). But the shop is not just for ink-stained wretches: you’ll also find great-smelling soaps (love the vegetable-oil-derived Savon de Marseille liquid soap for $28), ceramic vases, candles imported from Italy, and other gifty items.


New York Transit Museum Gallery and Store  
Shuttle Passage
(212) 878-0106
transitmuseumstore.com
To get to the Transit Museum, you have to go all the way to Brooklyn. To get to the gift shop, though, you only need to head to Grand Central. There, you’ll find the New York City subway map and its unmistakable icons emblazoned on everything from magnets ($3) to mugs ($12) to T-shirts ($20) and even rain boots ($38). Also for sale: mosaic artwork inspired by the tiles in subway stations ($44 and up). For kids, there are plenty of model trains.

The gleaming new Apple store



Kidding Around Toys  
42nd Street Passage
(212) 972-8697; kiddingaround.us
Forget video games and toys that make obnoxious noise. The playthings at Kidding Around try to engage kids’ low-tech imaginations. Toys have an international bent, such as the Haba Lotta and Friends dolls ($40), which come with names like Lotta and Fay Finja. But you can also find Schleich’s popular animal figurines ($3 to $20), Zibits robots ($15 and up), and towering Citiblocs block sets ($18).
And you may have heard about a certain genius-staffed retail chain setting up shop in the Main Concourse this past December. Yes, Virginia, there is an Apple in Grand Central (212-284-1800; apple.com/retail/grandcentral). Sure, the products offered are no different than those you can find all over the place, including The Westchester—but this one is a sight to behold. It takes up 23,000 square feet on the concourse’s northern and eastern balconies. Thankfully, Apple didn’t try to set up a translucent cube in the beautiful Beaux Arts space, like the company did outside FAO Schwarz on Fifth Avenue. But it is slightly odd to see the glowing Apple logo mingling among Grand Central’s marble walls.

 

 

Grand Central: By the Numbers

You think dividing the amount of time you have to run to your train by your average running velocity is the only calculation happening at Grand Central? Here are some other numbers to be aware of.

 

 

 

Run These Errands Before You Run for the Train

Grand Central can be a godsend for multitaskers who want to commute and tackle their to-do lists at the same time—or for procrastinators who leave everything to the last minute.

Commuters can now ask: “Tennis, anyone?”


Play a Round of Tennis
Vanderbilt Tennis Club  
Fourth Floor
(212) 599-6500; vanderbilttennisclub.com
Sure, you have time for a quick set or two of tennis before you get home. Didn’t know there was a court inside the Terminal? Actually, there have been courts in the property since the ’60s, but the last one—operated by Bedford neighbor Donald Trump—closed in 2009. Tennis fans and commuters had nothing to do but sit tight until last year, when the Vanderbilt Tennis Club opened in the same spot. But the cool location—light comes in from the top of those beautiful arched windows—comes at a premium: court time costs $90 to $210 per hour (and good times book fast). Racket busted? Fix it or get a new one downstairs at Grand Central Racquet (45th Street Passage 212-292-8851; grandcentralracquet.com).

Shine Your Shoes
Eddie’s Shoe Repair  
Biltmore Passage
(212) 499-7488
You can get your shoes shined in most every corner of the Terminal, but we recommend Eddie’s, because, if you feel a bit sheepish about sitting up in those big chairs for everyone to see (and we do), Eddie’s is tucked in an out-of-the-way section of the Biltmore Passage. Shines are just $4 ($5 to $6 for boots), and the shop also specializes in repairs and dyeing.


Buy Flowers for Your Sweetie
Dahlia  
Biltmore Passage & Lower Level
(212) 697-5090; dahlia-nyc.com
This charming flower stand started selling blooms at some upscale food markets—Dean & DeLuca, Fairway, and Gourmet Garage—before branching out on its own with locations in Grand Central and Rockefeller Center. Better yet, the bouquets aren’t going to bankrupt you: Zagat named Dahlia one of the “Top 50 Bangs for the Buck” in New York City.

Dahlia: the best blooms for the buck.


Upgrade Your Glasses
Grand Central Optical   
Lexington Passage
(212) 599-1221; grandcentraloptical.com
Waiting for a train? Kill two birds with one stone by getting new frames before you depart. Grand Central Optical keeps lots of lenses onsite, and new glasses can be made in as little as a half-hour (and contact lenses even faster). Then you’ll be able to actually see where you’re going on your drive home from the station.  

Get a Quick Haircut
Francesco’s  
Shuttle Passage
(212) 682-3157
You may not have noticed this salon, tucked between counters selling bagels and beverages in the Shuttle Passage. But ascend the flight of stairs between the two and you can get a quick blowout before the big meeting. Services include haircuts, color, waxing, straightening, and even manicures, pedicures, and facials. And, lucky for you, walk-ins are accepted.

Pick Up Your Favorite Magazine
Hudson News  
42nd Street Passage, Shuttle Passage, and Lower Level
(212) 697-1302
Left your subscription copy at home? Look for a copy of Westchester Magazine on Hudson News’s shelves.

Errand tip: The ornate, antique-looking letterboxes aren’t just for show. Though they’re not the bulky, blue boxes we’re used to, the USPS does collect mail from these locations, so feel free to bring your bills and birthday cards to the terminal.

 

Q&A: The Informant

Audrey Johnson’s photo by Patrick Cashin

We’re giving you most of the information you’ll need to get through Grand Central. For the rest, there’s Audrey Johnson-Gordon, who’s been a customer service representative there for nearly 23 years. We asked her about life in the information booth.

What’s the number one question you’re most often asked? How to get out of the building. Since the place is so big, and there are so many different exits, visitors come in one way and get turned around. A lot of times, people ask me where the ticket booth is—it’s right in front of the information booth. Or they’ll ask me how to get downstairs. They just don’t see where the stairs are.

What do you need to be a good customer service rep? A sense of humor. We have the Apple store here now, and, when people come looking for it, we say, ‘Oh, do they sell apples?’ And when they say, ‘No, the Mac store,’ we say, ‘McIntosh apples?’ Some people are too serious for that, but you can pick them out.

What’s your favorite thing to eat in Grand Central? Oh, I do like Mendy’s downstairs. I like their tuna.

Have you seen any celebrities walk by the booth? I have seen Charles Oakley from the New York Knicks. We’ve seen Tom Hanks, Diana Ross, and Beyoncé. The Kardashian sisters were here—I didn’t see them myself, but other people did.
What’s one of the most memorable things you’ve gotten to witness? There was a young lady who worked in the MetLife building, and her boyfriend wanted to propose. Quite a few of us knew about it. We took a banner that said, ‘Will You Marry Me?’ and draped it over the Northeast Balcony. We also had people post, ‘’Will You Marry Me?’ on one of the information boards, where we usually announce train delays. The message flashed as she was coming down the stairs—and she was so angry! She said no! I guess it was because everybody knew but her. But she did eventually say yes. They were married in 2010.

We’ve heard that there’s a staircase inside the information booth. Is that true? Yes. It goes down to the lower level, to the information booth down there.

What’s the best thing about working in Grand Central? There’s always something going on. There’s a squash tournament going on right now; they’ve had boxing matches. There are always giveaways and promotions—we’ve gotten cookies, pies, breakfasts. And you’re always meeting new people. Most people are pleasant.

Is there a downside? The marble floors. They’re hard on your feet and knees.

 

 

Terminal Timeline

1869: “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt, owner of the Hudson River Railroad, purchased the 42nd Street site to build a terminal. Vanderbilt was a Staten Island native who founded the Staten Island Ferry, as well as a ferry service in Peekskill.

Cornelius Vanderbilt

1895


1871: The Grand Central Depot opened with a building designed by John B. Snook. If you think it’s chaotic in there now, back then three different lines operated out of the station—each with its own ticket counter and baggage claims. The building was later expanded and renamed Grand Central Station.

1902: A horrific train accident led to public outcry to switch from steam-powered to electric trains. Shortly thereafter, plans were in development for a new station to accommodate newer and safer trains.

1913: Grand Central Terminal opens with a Beaux-Arts building designed by two architectural companies: Reed and Stem (of Seattle’s King Street Station) and Warren and Wetmore (of the New York Yacht Club). More than 150,000 visit on its first day.

1904

1941

1947: All aboard! Train travel is exceedingly popular, and 65 million people visit the Terminal this year. The good times don’t last, though, as air travel starts to replace long-distance train travel.

Pam Am Building


1963: It’s a bad year for architecture. Penn Station—the pretty one—is demolished. At the same time, the hideous PanAm building is erected at the rear of Grand Central Terminal.

1965: The Landmarks Preservation Commission is founded, partially influenced by the loss of Penn Station. Two years later, it designates Grand Central Terminal as a landmark.

1976: The National Register of Historic Places names Grand Central Terminal a National Historic Landmark. Jackie Onassis, working with the Municipal Art Society, was one of its supporters, and today there’s still a plaque dedicated to her preservation efforts in Vanderbilt Hall.

Jackie Onassis

 

1978: A lawsuit between Penn Central and the City of New York goes all the way to the Supreme Court. The Court upholds the landmark law, paving the way for the Landmarks Preservation Commission to grand landmark status to more than 27,000 other New York City buildings between then and now.

1983: Metro-North takes over the operation of Grand Central Terminal and begins making improvements to the terminal. A few years later, it commissions a $425 million master plan for the Terminal’s restoration and revitalization. Think about that next time you curse the MTA for running five minutes behind.

1998: The new, spiffed-up, restored Grand Central is rededicated in a grand ceremony.

Now

2011: The Apple store finally opens.

 

Watch Grand Central Get Its Close-Up

Good movies know there’s northing more thrilling than a dramatic exit. And what better exit could you ask for than racing through the Main Concourse to catch a train—bound for some life-altering destination in the West—at the last minute? Grand Central is often the backdrop for movies—here’s where you can find it looking glamorous on screen.

Photo courtesy of Turner Entertainment Networks, Inc.

North by Northwest (1959)
Poor Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant). Everyone thinks he’s a killer. What’s an innocent man to do? Thornhill, hoping to flee the cops, heads to Grand Central, thinking the train is a safer bet for an escape than a plane. After taking a moment to call his mother from a phone booth—remember those?—he fails to get a ticket on the 20th Century Limited from the ticket counter, so he sneaks on board instead.


Midnight Run (1988)
By the late ’80s, there weren’t that many good excuses to choose a long-distance train over a plane. Fear of flying is a good one. In Midnight Run, Jonathan Mardukas (Charles Grodin) has a fear of planes, so bounty hunter Jack Walsh (Robert De Niro) has to drag him through Grand Central and get him on a train.

Photo courtesy of City Light Film

Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures Corp.

The Fisher King (1991)
It’s Grand Central as only director Terry Gilliam can imagine it. When the more-than-eccentric Parry (Robin Williams) follows the object of his affection through the bustling, rush-hour crowds of the terminal, he sees the place as a grand ballroom with commuters waltzing through the Main Concourse to a stunning light display that emanates from the information clock. We wish.


Carlito’s Way (1993)
Ex-con and small-time gangster Carlito Brigante (Al Pacino) is so close to starting a new, above-board life—he just needs to catch a train. Oh, but some bad guys are after him. Director Brian De Palma orchestrates a chase scene so epic it starts on 125th Street. At one point, Carlito even lays down on the escalator between the Main Concourse and what’s now the MetLife building to avoid being spotted. We don’t recommend trying the same.

Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures Corp.

Men in Black II (2002)
We don’t remember a time when you could rent a locker in Grand Central, but Men in Black does, as agents J and K find the key to one while on a mission. Then again, the locker was filled with a tiny race of aliens, so maybe that’s why they got rid of them altogether.


Arthur (2011)
Hey, we never said that all movies filmed in Grand Central were great. But the station sure looks fine in this remake. Naomi Quinn (Greta Gerwig), Arthur’s love interest, makes her living by lovingly giving unlicensed tours of New York City landmarks. You can hear her spilling the station’s secrets—ones you can find elsewhere in this article.

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Not enough? You can also find shots of Grand Central in Spellbound • The Out of Towners • Superman • The Cotton Club • The Freshman • Hackers • Armageddon • The Bone Collector • K-PAX • Unfaithful • Men in Black • Party Monster • I Am Legend • Revolutionary Road • The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3  • and many, many others. 

 

Look Closer

 Photo by Frank English, courtesy of Metro-North Railroad

Some of the many oak leaves and acorns—symbols of the Vanderbilt family—that you can spot in GCT.

Grand Central is big—48 acres in all—and there are lots of nooks, crannies, galleries, side rooms, ramps, and stores to get lost in. Mostly, we’re not in the mood to slow it down and take in all of the details, but there are some things worth noticing if you have a spare moment between trains.

✱ A stately stone eagle sits overlooking the entrance on the corner of 42nd Street and Vanderbilt Avenue. He pre-dates everything else; he’s a remnant from the Grand Central Depot, the building that was demolished to make way for the Beaux-Arts Grand Central Terminal (and its new electric trains).

✱ In the Main Concourse, there are two grand staircases: one to the east (leading up to the Apple store) and one to the West (by Michael Jordan’s steakhouse). They look identical, right? They’re not. Pay close attention and you’ll see that the western staircase has more intricate carvings in its stone handrail. That staircase dates back to the beginning of the terminal. Though there were always plans for two staircases in the Main Concourse, for some reason, the eastern staircase was never built. (One theory is that at the time there was no good reason to go to the east side of Manhattan.) When the terminal was restored, the second staircase was added, but the stone handrail was left unadorned as an acknowledgement that it was a more recent addition.  

✱ There are nods to the Vanderbilt family woven throughout the décor of Grand Central. Oak leaves and acorns were a symbol of the family—see how many you can spot throughout. (Hint: look above the doorways when heading to your platform.) Okay, we’ll give you the first one for free: there’s an acorn-shaped hanging lamp in the Vanderbilt Avenue entrance of the Campbell Apartment.

If the constellations in the sky ceiling appear backwards, there’s a reason.



✱ In the Biltmore Room—near the Hudson News back by Track 41—there’s a chalkboard that’s reminiscent of the old departures/arrivals boards. When Grand Central opened, that room was used for arrivals only. It got the nickname “The Kissing Room” because people would greet their incoming loved ones there with a kiss. Tip: don’t try it with the first person that steps off the train.

✱ Notice something odd about the sky ceiling in the Main Concourse? If you’ve studied your astronomy, you’d know that the zodiac symbols in the ceiling’s mural are the reverse of how we see them in the night sky. There are many theories as to why this is, but our favorite is that French painter Paul Helleu wanted to give travelers a God’s-eye view of the stars. (Feeling powerful now?) Sixty of those stars actually twinkle, too, thanks to fiber optics.

✱ If you look at the sky ceiling—over by the mural’s depiction of Cancer, where the edge of the mural meets the limestone wall—you’ll see what looks like a dark pixel. When the terminal went through its great restoration, one patch was left as is so everyone could see how dirty it used to be. It’s basically black—mostly from cigarette smoke.

✱ The interlocking tile pattern in the arches outside of the Oyster Bar are Guastavino tiles—the same as you’ll find in Ellis Island. They’re great conductors of sound: face one corner of an arch and whisper, and someone else standing in the corner across the way from you will hear you. (The same holds for inside the Oyster Bar, so watch what you say about the diners around you.)

 

Be careful when walking through hallways of Guastavino tiles—the sound carries.

…And One You Can’t See
✱ Ever leave from Track 61? You can’t. The platform is no longer in use—but, even when it was, it was the exclusive domain of The Waldorf Astoria hotel, used to sneak in VIPs without them being noticed by the public. It was used first in 1938 by General John J. Pershing, most notably by FDR to hide his polio, and most famously by Andy Warhol as the site of “The Underground Party.” The location of the platform is under 50th Street, north of (the in-use) Track 24.

 

Want to Know More?

Go ahead—be a tourist. We promise we won’t point and laugh. If you’re a history buff, or even just a bit curious about that giant building you traipse through every day, take a tour of Grand Central. Included in the story of the building is the history of business, commerce, and development in New York City, so you get a lot for your time investment.

The Municipal Art Society of New York City, which was at the forefront of the preservation movement, runs a tour starting at the information booth every Wednesday at 12:30 pm (212-935-3960; mas.org/tours). Tours last approximately 90 minutes, and there’s a suggested donation of $10 (which goes toward preservation).

Not free in the middle of the day on a Wednesday? (We do realize that you’re probably commuting because you have a 9-to-5 to get to.) Grand Central offers its own self-guided audio tours. Download it to your iPod or smartphone from orpheogroup.com/us, or get a (kind of dorky) headset from the GCT Tour booth in the Main Concourse. Depending on how much time you have, choose either the “express” or the “local” tour. The downloaded tour is $4.99, renting a headset costs $5 to $7, and the tours last 30 minutes to just over an hour.

 

The Future of Grand Central

Not everyone is lucky enough to be a Westchesterite. Consider the poor Long Islander. To get to the east side of Manhattan, said Islander would have to take the Long Island Rail Road into Penn Station; fight the crowds and navigate the tunnels; take the 1, 2, or 3 train one stop to 42nd Street; and get on the Shuttle train and take that one stop (or three stops) to get to Grand Central and the eastern subway lines. That’s a lot of effort.
To ease the burden, the MTA is in the midst of the East Side Access project, which will build another LIRR terminal underneath Grand Central. Commuters coming through Queens on the Main and Port Washington lines won’t have to stop at Penn Station—they can ride the rails all the way to the Metro-North or the 4, 5, or 6 train. Similarly, this would make it much easier for Westchesterites to take commuter trains all the way out to Long Island—should one of us have any reason to do that.