A wash of holiday feeling has come over Grand Central Station and over me as well. After a meeting for business (the business of possibly writing a new book) I went home via the train station, stopping en route at I think my favorite place in all of New York, the Oyster Bar, where the same chef has been working his station at the counter for as many years as I’ve been coming.
I did not slurp down the Fanny Bay or French Kiss shellfish or the Peconic Pearls, but I did have the oyster pan roast, a slight digression from my usual oyster stew and deliciously tomatoey.
Even the dregs are delicious.
The other night at the Union League I met one of the authors of a current book about the restoration of Grand Central and the architect in charge of that effort, Grand Central: Gateway to a Million Lives. During the holiday season the place is at its most bustling, with suburbanites coming in to see The Tree — the ones in my car yesterday stoking themselves with booze on ice before strolling Fifth Avenue, and everyone very cheery about it — and Vanderbilt Hall given over to an overpriced bazaar of gift items.
Tucked in a corner by Track 42, an element of the station overlooked by all the tourists: a vintage board detailing the comings and goings of trains, in a giant vitrine high on the wall. My picture doesn’t due it justice, with its gold paint and dusty old chalk.
That’s one vision of Grand Central. Another is on display in the Ticketed Passenger Waiting Room.
This is the all-natural Grand Central Station, made exclusively with organic materials, bark, twigs, stems, fruits, seeds, and other fibers, on loan from the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, which does a Holiday Train Show every year featuring iconic New York landmarks, such as the original Penn Station, Radio City Music Hall, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, The New York Public Library on 42nd Street, and the Brooklyn Bridge. If you go there you can find out how artists manage to make magnolia leaf roof shingles. This appeals to that part of me that was obsessed with the children’s book The Borrowers. I spent hours crafting furniture out of acorns and pebbles to stash Hobbit-like between the roots of trees. I love the grand houses I have been writing about but the small, slight, mysteriously miniscule appeals to me just as much.
Grand Central is, of course, grand in every way, but retains pockets of intimacy, like the 2,000-square-foot whispering gallery just outside the Oyster Bar, where I saw passersby keenly huddling to hear each other speak from one arch end to another under Guastavino’s ingeniously constructed tile vaulting. A whisper is a powerful thing on a merry afternoon in old Grand Central.