Undiscovered New York: Top 5 Grand Central Hotspots

Today marks the first post in a new series for Gadling called “Undiscovered New York.” According to the latest statistics, there were 46 million visitors to New York City in 2007. There’s no doubt New York ranks among the world’s great tourism destinations in the U.S., if not the world. And with hotspots like the Empire State Building, Times Square, shopping in Soho and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it’s hard to argue otherwise.

But beneath the glitzy veneer of shiny skyscrapers, gaudy neon lights and trendy downtown boutiques, lies a New York that some visitors never get a chance to see. Beyond Broadway and away from Times Square are more than 300 square miles of territory spread across 5 unique boroughs, just begging to be explored. Join along as Gadling’s New Yorker-in-residence takes you inside some of the city’s lesser known highlights, hidden gems and forgotten spaces. We’ll hit some old favorites with a fresh look, and also visit some out of the way spots that wouldn’t find their way on to a “typical” New York tourist itinerary.

First up is this week is a closer look at one of Manhattan’s most famous landmarks, Grand Central Terminal. Though a train terminal has sat in this location since the 1870’s, the building as it is seen today dates to 1913. Sure, thousands of commuters pass through this majestic old structure every day without a second glance. And plenty of visitors also hurry through its wide passageways, stopping to check out the amazing ceiling in the main atrium before heading to the United Nations and Chrysler Building nearby. But If you haven’t had a chance to meander through all the parts of this amazing structure, here’s five reasons you should give it a second glance. Keep reading after the jump for our top 5 Grand Central hotspots.Hotspot #1 – The Campbell Apartment
Gaining its name from railroad magnate John W. Campbell, who used it as his office, the ornately appointed Campbell Apartment was built to resemble a 13th-century Florence-style Italian palace. After Campbell’s death, it was transformed into a closet for the transit police to store their guns and also as a jail. Thankfully, some kind souls have returned the room to its original glory in form of a swanky bar for your drinking pleasure. If you’re facing north, the entrance is on the west side of the terminal building. Oh, make sure to wear dress shoes – I know from personal experience they won’t let you in otherwise!

Hotspot #2 – The Oyster Bar
Another gem of Grand Central is the building’s Oyster Bar, a restaurant which first opened with the terminal back 1913. Except for a fire in the 1990’s, the restaurant has been serving delicious seafood ever since. Not a lot of restaurants can make that claim! Save an appetite if you’re around for lunch because the Oyster Bar has some of the best seafood around. I’m partial to their raw bar – toss back a few oysters while you take in the cavernous space and old-school interior furnishings. And make sure to stop at the Whisper Gallery just outside the entrance.

Hotspot #3 – The Food Court
It’s not widely publicized, but New Yorkers in the know will tell you that Grand Central boasts one of the best food courts in the whole city. If you’re thinking of the Orange Julius and Burger King at your mall back home, guess again. This food court is up to demanding New Yorker foodie standards, including sushi, Indian food, cheesecake and local favorites like Two Boots pizza, Brother Jimmy’s BBQ and a mini-kiosk of legendary midtown eatery Dishes. If you didn’t already stuff yourself on seafood, grab a table and some lunch here and watch thousands of frantic New Yorkers rush to catch their trains. It’s people watching at its best.

Hotspot #4 – The Main Concourse
No trip to Grand Central would be complete without a stop at the glorious main concourse atrium. The astrological mural on the ceiling was created by artist Paul César Helleu. Did you know Helleu actually painted it backwards? Woops. Apparently it was painted based on a rendering the artist found in a medieval manuscript. Also of interest is the hole in the ceiling above the image of Pisces. Back in 1957 the concourse played host to an exhibit of the new American Redstone rocket. The problem was the missile was so large it couldn’t fit through the doors – hence the hole to get it inside. The mark from the hole remains to this day.

Hotspot #5 – The Secret M42 Basement
Unbeknownst to most visitors, but deep within the bowels of this huge building is a secret basement known simply as “M42.” The room contains the electrical converters used to power the building and the electrified tracks. During World War II, the room was a closely guarded secret, as the power it provided was critical to all rail traffic along the Eastern Seaboard. Apparently even Hitler was aware of the room – rumor has it he tried unsuccessfully to send spies to sabotage it! This one is off limits unfortunately – you’ll just have to take my word for it…