You know your way round New York – you’ve done the Empire State Building, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Macy’s, the deli from When Harry Met Sally. So what should you do on your next trip to the city? What are the things that even people who know New York don’t know about New York?
Start with the whispering arch in Grand Central. It’s right outside the Oyster Bar, formed by the two tunnels that cross at right angles. Stand facing one of the four corners, speak quietly (with your mouth a few inches from the wall), and the sound will reflect up and over the arch, enabling a friend in the diagonally opposite corner to hear you clearly. While you’re in Grand Central, look up at the famous ceiling – you’ll already know it shows a map of the night sky, but you probably don’t know that it’s the wrong way round: they unwittingly used an old ‘God’s eye’ map of the constellations, looking down through the stars, rather than as we look up at them from Earth. Also, try to spot the small rectangular section at the western (Madison Avenue) end that was left uncleaned when Grand Central was renovated a few years ago: this was done deliberately to show how dirty the beautiful old building had become.
Film fans should head to the south-west corner of the intersection between Lexington Avenue and 52nd Street – the subway ventilation grate here is the one which blows Marilyn Monroe’s dress upwards in The Seven Year Itch. Or to 14 North Moore Street in Tribeca, a firestation that was Dan Ackroyd and Bill Murray’s HQ in Ghostbusters. (It’s the first stop on a film locations road trip just launched by Hertz.) But for sheer longevity in the movie stakes, you need the Hotel Edison – it was where Luca Brasi’s murder in The Godfather was filmed, it was the lobby of Nick Valenti’s penthouse in Woody Allen’s Bullets over Broadway and Michael Keaton drinks at its Rum House bar in Birdman. The hotel opened in 1931, its lights turned on by Thomas Edison himself, via a switch in New Jersey. (Edison also designed some of its doorhandles, incorporating a special element so the patent-savvy inventor would know if they were ever copied). Today the Edison runs free walking tours for guests – the tour at the moment takes in the Christmas window displays of New York’s famous stores.
When it comes to food you need PJ Clarke’s on Third Ave at 55th Street – if its burgers were good enough for Gene Hackman in The French Connection II they’re good enough for you. (The chilli is legendary as well.) The restaurant, here since 1884, is packed with history: for instance you can sit at the table where Buddy Holly proposed to his wife, having known her for all of five hours.
If you get lost in Central Park (surprisingly easy to do when the skyscrapers disappear from view), look at the four-figure code on the base of the nearest lamppost. The first two figures tell you which street you’re level with, while the other two denote the east (even numbers) or west (odd) side of the park.
Downtown is always a joy to visit, either when jetlag wakes you early (go and people-watch as the financial workers arrive for work), or for its own sake. Look down at the corner of Broadway and Maiden Lane: there’s a clock set into the pavement by a local jeweller, which even people who have worked round there for years never notice. 40 Wall Street (now owned by a certain D Trump) thought it had bagged the title of world’s tallest building only to see the Chrysler Building, built at the same time, push up the famous spire it had deliberately kept hidden. 70 Pine Street has a model of itself built into the frontage above its front door. But of course these days height-bragging rights go to One World Trade Center, New York’s $4 billion dollar response to 9/11. Its observatory is well worth a visit – the views are stunning, but the elevator ride is worth it alone: screens fill its interior, showing as you rise to the top how that part of Manhattan has developed over the centuries.
Want to see the original toys that inspired Winnie the Pooh? Head for the New York Public Library – use the entrance on 42nd Street just west of Fifth Avenue (the Stephen A Schwarman Building), turn right and enter the Children’s Center. There in a glass case are the bear, kangaroo, tiger et al bought by AA Milne for his son Christopher Robin. Your youngsters will also enjoy Tannen’s, New York’s oldest magic store (their collection of different-sized thumb tips is astonishing), as well as the Museum of the Moving Image out in Queens – who could fail to be charmed by Kermit and the other Muppet puppets, Chewbacca’s head and the chance to make your own film?
Brooklyn is the place to be seen these days – the Egypt Collection at the Brooklyn Museum is great, as is the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Or if you prefer things more cutting edge, take a guided tour of the area’s graffiti run by Graff Tours. The company also does hands-on workshops where you can hone your own tagging chops. Sample tip: don’t stop moving until after you’ve finished spraying a line, otherwise it’ll finish with a splodge.
Finally, if you like some religion with your hidden New York, check out the Jewish ‘eruv’ (wire) which runs around a large section of Manhattan. This circumvents the rule against carrying objects outside on the Sabbath – the wire is seen to denote the whole area as ‘indoors’. You can observe it (often strung between poles, buildings and the like) at various points on the map here.
Non-New York tip: for this trip Mark Mason stayed at the Heathrow Yotel, a handy alternative to having to get up early for a morning flight.