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New York, New York, United States

Andrew McCarthy's 42nd Street

Travel + Leisure Guide, New York City

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Difficulty: Easy
Length: 2.7 miles / 4.3 km
Duration: Full day
 
Overview: From the U.N. to the Hudson, 42nd Street is both New York’s central artery and its pulsating heart. T+L strolls from river to river and discovers a microcosm of the city—and the world.

From November 2010 By Andrew McCarthy

I moved recently from Greenwich Village, where I lived for 25 years, to midtown Manhattan. It’s barely two miles away, and yet it feels like I’ve gone to a new city. What used to be a 20-minute subway ride is now a two-minute walk. What was near is now far. Routines worn deep from years of familiarity have been turned upside down. So I’m getting a good second look at terrain I thought I knew well—both geographic and emotional.

I’m walking a lot, staking out my turf, and finding myself on 42nd Street a great deal. I’ve discovered that much of what makes New York unique—the history and infrastructure vital to its day-to-day well-being—hangs from this “waistline” of the city. So early one morning, I hop on the M42 crosstown bus to its farthest point east and follow the great thoroughfare from one end to the other to see what I can see.

At the end of the line the air brakes hiss and the door opens, the driver shifts into park, and I see her shoulders drop. “Long morning?” I ask. “I’m off this route next week,” she says. “Thank God.” An ominous start, but then I don’t have to traverse this street 12 times a day.


Points of Interest

map

United Nations

Forty-Second crawls up out of the East River from an FDR Drive on-ramp and struggles toward First Avenue, flanked on one side by a ventilation building for the Midtown Tunnel and on the other, more glamorously, by the southern end of the United Nations campus. Today, for reasons no one will explain, members of the Hercules unit of the NYPD are on hand. Officers in SWAT-type uniforms, with machine guns, bullet-resistant vests, and black helmets, loiter with intent. None are interested in small talk. But nearby, one of New York’s finest, dressed casually by comparison in his blue uniform, is happy to chat. At one point he leans close and nods toward the tower of the U.N. “You can get a good meal in there,” he says. “The cafeteria’s pretty decent, not too expensive, either.” Tours $16.

Address:
Entrance at First Ave. between 45th and 46th Sts.
New York, New York
United States

Phone:
(212) 963-4475
Other Resources
Official Website
Building
map

Chrysler Building

Beyond the Tudor City overpass, 42nd Street begins to drag itself toward the throb of midtown. Just beyond Second Avenue, the granite mural of the old Daily News Building stands watch. Soon the Chrysler Building—the 77-story masterpiece of Art Deco architecture and detail—draws me inside. I suggest to Patel, a native of India who works the newsstand in the lobby, how nice it must feel to work amid such aesthetically pleasing surroundings. “I hadn’t noticed,” he says with a shrug.

Address:
405 Lexington Ave.
New York, New York
United States

Phone:
(212) 682-3070
Building
map

Grand Central Terminal

The blocks along this section of 42nd Street are thrumming. Perhaps it’s because the avenues are so close together. Or maybe it’s Grand Central Terminal, smack in the middle of Park Avenue, with a 58-story office tower built right on top. Three quarters of a million people pass through the station’s marble halls each day. I’ve visited the main concourse, with its astronomical ceiling, hundreds of times, and it always arouses a sense of awe and nostalgia for a past I never knew.

Address:
87 E. 42nd St.
New York, New York
United States

Phone:
(212) 532-4900
Other Resources
Official Website
Building
map

Nat Sherman

The park is an oasis in the heart of midtown, but it wasn’t always. Michele Sherman, granddaughter of Nat Sherman—who opened his “Tobacconist to the World” shop in the neighborhood in 1930—reminds me that Bryant Park was once more commonly known as Needle Park (in honor of the heroin sold and shot here). Huge swaths of 42nd Street were, as Isaiah, the doorman at the Grand Hyatt, dubs it, “a slutfest.”

Then, in the early 1990’s, things began to improve. “God bless Giuliani,” exclaims Louis Gritsipis, owner of 42nd Street Restaurant & Pizza. A Greek immigrant, he boasts of being held up at gunpoint seven times and suffering through 26 break-ins during his 43-year tenure at the diner. “Giuliani had the balls to kick everybody out. When they came through here with those mounted units.…” He waves a hand dismissively through the air.

It’s a sentiment echoed by numerous people I encounter throughout the day, mostly immigrants—because it is immigrants, and out-of-towners, that I meet on my walk. Of the nearly 100 people I speak with on this day, I find exactly one native of Manhattan: Regina, who’s giving out free copies of the New York Post on a busy corner. Everyone, it seems, is from somewhere else. Mustafa, leaning against a coffee cart eating a banana, is from Afghanistan. He’s been here for 20 years. “I go back—who I see? Old people all dead. Young people gone,” he shouts at me. Pablo, a waiter from Uruguay, pulls on a cigarette and tells me, “I don’t have time to miss my family.” And Brenda, a hostess at Métrazur who came to New York to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology, isn’t going back to Carol, Iowa, any time soon—“I’m here now.” Everyone, it seems, is here to stay.

Address:
12 E. 42nd St.
New York, New York
United States

Phone:
(800) 692-4427
Other Resources
Official Website
Building
map

New York Public Library

The Beaux-Arts New York Public Library building, praised by the New York Herald as a “splendid temple of the mind” when it opened in 1911, anchors the southwest corner of 42nd and Fifth. I grab a sandwich at Pret A Manger and the Nigerian-born employee I speak with tells me the shop has sold nearly 3,500 sandwiches today. “We ran out of bread. Crazy!” he says. I slip into Bryant Park, the library’s backyard, and settle into one of the few empty chairs beneath the London plane trees. An old man wearing a beret dozes beside me. Two women train a seeing-eye dog. A man walks past screaming into a cell phone—“First of all, don’t yell at me. I’m not yelling at you, don’t yell at me!” A breeze softens the hanging heat and I look up to take in the Empire State Building to the south. A low-flying plane crosses behind its radio tower and I’m reminded of thoughts and feelings that have become normal over the past nine years.

Address:
Fifth Ave. at 42nd St.
New York, New York
United States

Phone:
(917) 275-6975
Other Resources
Official Website
Building
map

New Victory Theater

Housed inside a revitalized building constructed by Oscar Hammerstein in 1900, the New Victory Theater is New York City’s premier theater for young people and their families. The theater strives to maintain affordable prices, making its productions accessible to a wide audience. Since its opening in 1995, the New Victory Theater has hosted productions of a number of well-known shows, including Peter & Wendy, Henry V and Puss in Boots, and has presented several theater festivals, such as The New Victory Theater Danish Festival in 2007. Tickets from $14.

Address:
209 W. 42nd St.
New York, New York
United States

Phone:
(646) 223-3010

Other Resources
Official Website
Building
map

Madame Tussauds Wax Museum

It’s kitschy. It’s fun. And it’s probably the only way you’re ever going to get your photograph taken with Morgan Freeman or Justin Bieber. A Times Square staple for years, Madame Tussauds is home to hundreds of impressively lifelike wax figurines of famous people, from actors to political figures and even your favorite comic book characters. Don’t miss: A show at the 4D theater. In addition to watching a 3D movie, wind, snow, mist, and even smell is incorporated to make the experience truly transporting. Tickets $36.

Address:
234 W. 42nd St.
New York, New York
United States

Phone:
(212) 512-9600
Other Resources
Official Website
map

Circle Line Cruises, Pier 83

Beyond Ninth Avenue, the blocks become longer and the sky opens up again. This far reach of 42nd Street—“the wild west,” as a real estate broker friend calls it—I find to be the most inspiring part of my walk. If the east side of 42nd Street is venerable and solidified, out here it feels forward-looking and alive. The blocks beyond 10th Avenue are seeing construction of several 40- odd-story, high-end apartment towers. It doesn’t feel so much that an old neighborhood is being transformed as that a new one is being born.

I reach the Hudson River and watch the Circle Line dock at Pier 83. The sun sets over the Palisades of New Jersey. I feel like I’ve walked out of my old rut and into my new life. Out here, with the vast sky and the light turning the water a deep purple, it’s easy to feel that there’s still so much opportunity, so much left to be created. Tickets from $23.

Phone:
(212) 563-3200
Other Resources
Official Website
Pictures in this guide taken by: vpbermudez, ranster, teodorip, kozik, pcp, fasching, philipc, veltmana, micha, amt233

Andrew McCarthy's 42nd Street Map


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krbose
krbose
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We like to travel and get outside. With two young children, it's always an adventure! Our oldest loves...

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