By LOIS WEISS
Who wants to have some fun?
The newest contender in New York City’s observatory war is the Summit, which sits on top of SL Green Realty Corp.’s office tower, One Vanderbilt, and like the circus ringmaster says, it’s for children of all ages.
But don’t try to get there by walking into the lobby — the Summit’s entrance is tucked away off a western corridor of the now connected Grand Central Terminal.
And there are rules: you have to wear either your sunglasses or theirs so you don’t burn your corneas in the reflected sunlight, and you have to wear black booties they supply over your shoes so you don’t scratch their floors. High heels are a truly bad idea, as are skirts, because after all, you are standing over mirrors and glass floors.
The floor is slippery and the frosted portions near some of the walls are even more slippery and made worse by the booties. The place is a slip and fall nuisance with plenty of gotcha spots for ambulance chasing lawyers so mark my words.
The elevator ride up was nothing special, probably because my ears started to plug up and I shut my eyes and started madly swallowing to clear them. I think there were flashing lights and noise, too. There certainly is on the way down so if you tend to have seizures, shut your eyes.
Exiting the elevator you go into a pitch black hallway with some lights on the floor. This is the truly worst section because it’s as if the designers wanted to do something dramatic to make you go from dark to light. Instead, I wanted some photos or exhibits on the walls of — well, anything really. The construction of the tower, the history of New York, history of Grand Central Terminal, photos of Mr. Vanderbilt, maps of what you will see outside, photos of the designers, the owners, photos of someone’s kids. Instead, nada.
Walking down the dark hallway was not only boring but scary because I don’t like walking in the dark. I don’t know what I will step on or into or trip over. A big fail.
Then you enter a pastel cave-like hallway which is lighted but again boring, and finally, you walk into a magnificent mirrored atrium with the city spread out before you. And the petty annoyances slip away.
Then, as you step into the sunlit room…whoops, you just fell on your butt in that frosted floor area.
If you manage not to fall, enjoy every moment. It’s truly a special place, like being inside a disco ball.
The 91st through 93rd floors are called Air and designed by Kenzo Digital. The main double height room faces south with the Empire State Building at Fifth Avenue and West 34th Street — roughly eight short blocks away — showing off as the extraordinary guest all puffed out with it’s own observatory and experience.
The World Trade Center is but a stick in the distance, but check out the crossed buildings of the XI and Six Senses in lower Chelsea, the towers of Hudson Yards and Manhattan West and Times Square. And then gaze northward to the residential Billionaire’s Row and Central Park.
Further north, the Bronx, Westchester and Connecticut are all there to kvell over.
Look East and the Chrysler Building is right below — and planning its own observatory — with the United Nations, Queens, Brooklyn and Long Island spread into the hazy distance.
At the packed Summit ribbon cutting, Bill Rudin of Rudin Management pointed out his new Dock 72 in the Brooklyn Navy Yard to Dan Garodnick, the former City Councilman who is now head of the Riverside Park Conservancy. Rudin had been to the WeWork party earlier that morning to celebrate it being listed on the stock exchange.
Marc Holliday, SL Green’s CEO, showed the presumptive next mayor, Eric Adams, that when they had hosted schoolchildren from the Bronx, they were just in awe. They had never seen the city like that before. He told Adams, “Give me 50 kids a day and we’ll take them up here.”
I think Adams brain was spinning on the logistics of permission slips, parent volunteers, and transporting the kids, but hey, the city does own a lot of buses, and if anything, it’s a great place to pull together some history lessons. There isn’t a descriptive placard anywhere to tell you what you are seeing or which way you are looking so take a paper map with you or use your phone to ID the buildings and other distant nabes.
Whether sunrise or sunset, blue sky or clouds, rain or snow, weather patterns are magnified. On bright days, you feel warmth on your skin from every angle, as if you’re floating amidst the orbit of multiple suns. On rainy days, you feel as if you’re inside the storm, the vitality of the cloudscape enveloping everything around you. Whatever form the sky takes, Air changes your relationship to it, delivering a wondrous range of perspectives and promise
— Kenzo the designer of Air.
Adams was like a moth, running right to the windows to check out the scenery. Holliday showed him around, first to the northern room, with floating metallic balloons that will make everyone happy. The little kids can stay in there the whole time — with supervision, of course — while the rest of the family checks out the buildings. The balloon wranglers have tiny nets to keep the wayward crowd pleasers inside.
The ladies room next door is tiled in powder blue and has a window that looks onto the balloons. Holliday is really proud of all the bathrooms which are each tiled in a different color. I didn’t like the orange one on another floor, but that’s me.
Next to the balloons is room facing east that has reflective liquid metallic drips by artist Yayoi Kusama spread out on the floor. These are actually a stainless steel installation called “Clouds,” “with patina and wax in ninety parts.” There are not ninety parts here. Someone has many of them somewhere else.
But big toes will be busted here because after being with the helium balloons, you think you should kick these things on the floor. But they are hard. They will move a bit but your toe will yield. I am not making this up, the guards told me everyone tries to kick them.
Upstairs, the 92nd floor overlooks the main mirrored room on 91. It includes two huge circles that are cut through the floor and provide some extra reflective fun. The eastern room on this 92nd floor has a couple of protruding glass boxes dubbed Levitation. Eric Adams posed in one while I photographed him from another. Was it scary? Not so much.
The first time I ever had to walk on a glass floor I could not do it. I got on my hands and knees and crawled. That was many years ago in Dallas at a nightclub I was touring with the National Association of Real Estate Editors. It was daylight and only about twelve stories high but I was still a wreck, now, 92 stories up, I didn’t even blink.
The rear of this floor has a small cafe with curved wooden tables and seating that were designed to be more earthy. They do look out of place, however, with all the 70’s disco mirrors everywhere else.
An escalator or elevator will take you up to the final floor, which has a souvenir shop to the north, as well as a place to have a photo taken that you can later see on line. The best souvenir there is the one you can’t buy: metallic sneakers on the clothes models. “Everyone asks about buying them,” said one of the store workers. The designers of the store found them online, so you can, too.
This is also the place where you can go outside but you are surrounded by glass to protect you from the wind and any thoughts of jumping. Here, there are a few benches and you can chow down on food by Danny Meyer’s cafe, Après.
Choices include a $12, better-than-street hotdog or a Cuban hotdog with cukes and cheese. Or you can much on a cookie in the shape of a cloud or a yellow, blue or green hot air balloon cake pop on a stick. Expect the kids to want these and they are $5 and $6 respectively.
Alcoholic beverages are also available with a cocktail or mocktail included in one of the admissions packages.
The “Ascent” is the outside glass elevator that you enter from the inside hallway. There are tiny white dots all over the floor, so it’s not quite as see through as you’d think but still, it is another reason not to wear a skirt because everyone on the outside looks up at the elevator as it rises.
The elevator goes up on the outside of the building. If you’ve ever ridden in the Marriot glass elevator in their lobbies, I can assure you that is a better ride. This one is slow and lazy and goes up and then stays in place for 30 seconds or a minute so you can enjoy the view, and then comes slowly back down. The spiel says it goes 12 stories. It goes probably 120 feet up from the observatory’s top floor. But, meh — not worth an extra $20. The glass box Levitation walk-out is free with your $53 ticket.
Use the $20 to buy some drinks or hot air balloon cake pops or a souvenir.
Did I have a blast? Yes. It’s a real estate photographers dream with reflections and buildings and helium balloons. Only a grinch won’t like it.
How does it stack up to the other observatories?
World Trade Center — all glass, no outside, plenty of history and exhibits and a different viewpoint with a lot of water because the others are all in midtown.
The Edge at Hudson Yards — all outside with its walls slightly tilted outwards so you can see down, plus a triangle area where there’s a glass floor to get that “experience,” and a dining room that will include the observatory with dinner — so a good deal there if you can get in.
Empire State Building — lot of inside exhibits, photographs of celebs who have been there, historical exhibits and videos that are endearing, a cooler elevator experience, and great outdoor views of midtown from the 86th floor. The 101st floor is extra, a bit higher and an added cost for a small room with floor to ceiling windows.
Top of the Rock at One Rockefeller Center has a midtown view behind glass. Have drinks at Bar Sixty Five, on the adjacent terrace instead.
Also, don’t get hung up on the floor designations. While One Vanderbilt calls the Summit’s main floor `”91,” according to the city’s Building Department, it is really the building’s 57th floor. And yet the floor below is designated 72. Whatever.
One Vanderbilt tops out at 1,288 feet (before you count the spire) and its slab-to slab measurements are greater than those in most of the older buildings so the distance upwards from the street to the top floors just don’t easily compare.
And in New York, building owners re-number the floors because, well, they can.
So just enjoy the views, while walking on sunshine and moon light.