SUMMIT One Vanderbilt, day and night

When One Vanderbilt, a commercial office building next to Grand Central Terminal in midtown Manhattan, was completed, it soared to 1,401 feet and became one of the tallest 30 buildings in the world. So – of course they had to create a public observation area! But, with the icons like the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock, and newer competitors like One World Trade and The Edge at Hudson Yards, certainly the developers realized they needed to do something a little different when they opened last month. Having been twice, once during daylight and once after sunset, I can affirm that they succeeded in doing just that with SUMMIT at One Vanderbilt.

To get there, enter just to the east of the Grand Concourse at Grand Central Station. At this point (November 2021), there is a vaccination check before seeing a brief film and getting booties to cover your shoes (the reason for that becomes pretty clear once at the observation area). After scanning your tickets, you have two photos taken – one of your group as well as an individual photo of each. All digital photos are linked to a wristband with a QR code that you wear while experiencing SUMMIT.

You go up to the 91st floor in a very fast elevator, and immediately see what is different about SUMMIT once you walk onto the first observation floor. There are floor to ceiling windows and you walk on mirrors (when you reserve, they do recommend that you not wear a skirt, for pretty obvious reasons!). The experience of seeing up and down, seemingly endlessly, is striking.

And what can you see? First is a picture-perfect view of the Empire State Building to the south, and much farther south, One World Trade at a distance. To the east, you look DOWN (a bit disconcerting!) onto the Chrysler Building, and to the west you can look down onto the New York Public Library and the skating rink in Bryant Park, over Times Square, and toward Hudson Yards. To the north, you see Central Park and the super-talls on Billionaire’s Row. You can see the Statue of Liberty, and every bridge, from the Verrazzano-Narrows to the George Washington.

And for bonus activities, there is a room with Yayoi Kusana’s Clouds sculptures, a place to get your picture taken stepping out over the side of the building onto clear glass, with clear glass all around you (called, natch, Levitation), and a very trippy room filled with floating silver mylar globes called Air by Kenzo Digital (see some videos of what that is like here).

When you go up one more level, you can see down to the people entering on the mirrored floor in addition to seeing the views from one level up.

One more level up has a Danny Meyer cafe as well as an outdoor observation deck with clear barriers but open to the sky above.

Of course there is a gift shop!

But what is it like at night, and with the Ascent elevator and enjoying a signature Danny Meyer cocktail? I was back two weeks later for the entire experience.

I found the experience to be much more exciting and beautiful at night, so much so that I feel just posting some full-sized photos is enough to make my point.

I mean, a full moon didn’t hurt! Also, this time I was able to catch my face in the clouds (below), triggered by scanning your wristband and linking the individual photo you took earlier to a moving cloudscape in one of the rooms.

But what of the Ascent elevator? See above, for an extra price, you can stand in a clear glass elevator perched on the side of One Vanderbilt, go up even higher, have 90 seconds to take photos, and come back down. There is an enhanced ticket that you can get that includes the experience, the Ascent elevator, and a Danny Meyer cocktail (menu seen in a photo collage above). Did I enjoy the cocktail (I got the margarita) – of course, it was delicious! But do I think you necessarily need to pay for the Ascent plus cocktail to enjoy yourself? No – if you need to save a little money, just do Summit without any add-ons. Speaking of cost, tickets cost more at night than during daylight, with an extra surcharge for sunset times. There is a $5 per ticket discount for NYC residents. Find out more here.

I read a review of SUMMIT recently in Curbed (read it here) that called it “a ridiculous experience” and said it can’t replace enjoying NYC from ground level. Frankly, I think that misses the point. Of course the quintessential way to experience the city is to walk it (my first post was about just that). That doesn’t mean that it isn’t also tremendously enjoyable and exciting to see the city in a different way – and SUMMIT is a very different experience. Whether you are a New Yorker looking for a fun new sensory trip, or a visitor wanting to add to the ways NYC can wow you, I don’t think you will be disappointed if you decide to give SUMMIT a try.

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