Reporting Jay Lloyd
“Meet me at the clock.”
That was the rendezvous point for college and service buddies heading back to classes and bases in Connecticut after a dazzling weekend in the Big Apple. The “clock” is atop the gleaming information booth, smack in the middle of the cavernous concourse at Grand Central Station. The venerable rail terminal held the promise of opportunity and opulence for transcontinental travel before flight became the norm. This grand old architectural wonder in the heart of Manhattan is celebrating 100 years of landmark status and countless memories. Grand Central station has starred in movies and legends — even after railroad travel started to fade. The storied Twentieth Century Limited that carried Hollywood-bound stars may have given way to an alphabet soup of airline companies, but Grand Central kept its luster. What’s there now? Climb on board for a tour! – Jay Lloyd
Start your visit by getting an eyeful of the iconic structure, which evokes images of ancient Greece. Solid columns accent a building topped by the sculpted god of travelers, Hermes, a symbol of speed. Hermes looks out over 42nd street, just a few blocks from Times Square. He’s surrounded by a modern Hyatt and the needle of the landmark Chrysler Building.
Enter on the 42nd Street side and head straight for the concourse. Sunlight fills the space through windows designed to brighten the interior, the still famous clock and the brass-trimmed ticket windows. There are more visitors than travelers now. The pace is less hurried, and as a nod to modern commerce, one of the largest Apple stores occupies a prominent place overlooking the entire concourse.
Apple holds a central position, but it is one of many shops — some unique, some familiar — that are found on both the concourse and lower levels. As a major rail terminal, much of the structure is below street level. Some shops to visit for the experience as well as the goods are:
THE NEW YORK TRANSIT MUSEUM GALLERY ANNEX AND STORE
This store offers exhibits, model trains, artwork, railroad memorabilia and rail themed clothing, jewelry and souvenirs. Exhibits celebrating the station’s centennial will be changing throughout the year.
KIDDING AROUND TOYS
Stop here for toys, crafts and family-oriented items, many of which aren’t found in the big boxes. If you’re a kid at heart, roaming thought this shop on the 42nd Passage is a venture into the possibilities of imagination.
For anyone who still prefers putting pen to paper over text and e-mail, Papyrus on the Biltmore Passage is a stroll through an elegant past when the quality of the paper and pen were almost as important as the message itself. There are few stores like it – even in New York.
This is a more than just a handy spot to browse for New York City maps and guides; it’s a major element in the declining world of well stocked book shops. Located on the Shuttle Passage, it’s the spot to look for a unique read during down time between touring and dinner.
Over 65 different shops line the passages catering to the fashion conscious and cosmetic seekers – or even visitors who simply need a tooth brush.
DINING AND SIPPING
From pastrami to pastries, you’ll find upscale seafood and fine steaks here, or you can share space in a food court — undreamed of a century ago when travelers filled the lower levels. Many of the fast food spots here are spinoffs of popular New York eateries. Stroll past nearly three dozen food outlets that vary from Southern-style favorites to Asian entrees. The crown jewels, however, are:
THE CAMPBELL APARTMENT
Twenties décor and modern cocktail chic. This business chatter after-work bar is in the restored apartment of a pre-Depression tycoon and exudes the flavor of the time (minus the cigar smoke!). It’s a good spot to drop anchor for a pre-dinner or theater drink.
MICHAEL JORDAN STEAK HOUSE
Aged steaks, fine wine and a west balcony table overlooking the concourse make the New York entry of the Michael Jordan restaurant stable a top people-watching spot. The restaurant is railroad-themed to stay in tune with the past splendor of train travel in a day when some of the best meals to be had were found in dining cars that departed from Grand Central.
THE OYSTER BAR
The most complete raw bar in a restaurant town, The Oyster Bar imports from key oyster producing beds around the continent and serves them up bursting with flavor and perfectly shucked to capture the juices. Combine the oysters with plump clams, shrimp and half of a chilled lobster for a shellfish high. An impressive beer and wine list caps the experience. For a substantial price break, tap into happy hour and combine it with dinner.
The Oyster Bar was part of the Grand Central story when my father rode the train from here to West Point during World War I. In this — the year of the Grand Central Centennial — it still plays a key role, offering a leisurely break during a tour of an American centerpiece.
Take any subway that stops at Times Square followed by the convenient shuttle to Grand Central.