The Best View of Manhattan Is From This Glass-Enclosed Elevator 1,200 Feet Above Midtown

SUMMIT One Vanderbilt is the city's newest observatory delivering much more than skyline views

September 24, 2021 9:19 am
A man looking out onto the downtown Manhattan skyline at SUMMIT One Vanderbilt's mirror room.
“Trandenence 1” the walk-through, multi-sensory art experience created by Kenzo Digital is one of SUMMIT One Vanderbilt's main attractions.
SUMMIT One Vanderbilt

In the five years I’ve lived in New York City, I’ve never visited a single observatory. No Empire State Building, Top of The Rock, One World Trade Center or the city’s most recent lookout, Hudson Yards’ Edge, which calls itself the highest outdoor sky deck in the Western Hemisphere. It’s not that I’m afraid of heights or am unmoved by skyline views or anything. It’s just that I never got around to visiting them when I first moved to the city, and now, planning the time to weed through an overcrowded tourist trap doesn’t seem worth it, regardless of how breathtaking the views might be.

So when I was offered to take a tour of SUMMIT One Vanderbilt, an immersive observatory experience in Midtown Manhattan’s newest skyscraper, before it opens to the public on October 21st, I had to check it out and finally lose my NYC observatory V-card. And unlike when I lost my actual virginity, the experience was impressive and quite memorable. 

SUMMIT One Vanderbilt is accessible through the Main Concourse of Grand Central Terminal, so it’s quite easy to get to. After a bit of housekeeping (getting a group photo in front of a green screen) guests are swiftly ushered up 91 ear-popping flights (1,000 feet) in a light-and-mirror-infused elevator and spit out into a hallway of rotating colored lights. As you might surmise, there’s a lot going on already, but it’s all to get your brain warmed up for what’s to come. 

Walking from the elevator and around the corner, the first main attraction is “Air,” a walk-through, multi-sensory art experience created by Kenzo Digital, and “Trandenence 1” serves as its nucleus. It’s a giant, hypnotizing and slightly dizzying room with mirrors on nearly every surface: the ceiling, walls and floor (the reason why dresses and skirts are heavily discouraged.) The only part not besieged by mirrors is the nearly 360-degree view of the city. 

Trandenence 1
SUMMIT One Vanderbilt

After being wooshed up 1,000 feet onto a mirrored floor that totally looks and feels like you’re going to drop right down into a reflective abyss, it’ll take you a minute or two to gather your sea legs and explore, but once you do, the experience is truly surreal. Every step has you questioning reality. The space forces reflection, pushing you to look at the city, and yourself in relation to your surroundings, with a new, multi-dimensional perspective. It might seem overwhelming. It should be overwhelming. But it’s an oddly calm experience. 

Not to mention, the views! If you can manage to divert your attention from your infinite reflections and take a look out the floor-to-ceiling windows, you’ll see just about everything. Bryant Park and the Hudson River to your right. The East River and the Chrysler Building to your left (a skyscraper you easily tower over.) While Downtown Manhattan, the Empire State Building and One World Trade Center are effortlessly stretched out in front of you. 

When you’re finished taking a zillion photos, “Transcendence 2” awaits you one floor up. It’s essentially another mirrored space on a balcony looking down on “Transcendence 1.” This, as Kenzo Digital explained to my group, gives guests the opportunity to look down on other visitors encountering the multisensory room for the first time — as they themselves just did moments ago. This is the core of “Air,” a project creating a shared experience, one that makes you recognize that collective consciousness.

Transcendence 1 and 2 are just the first chapter of “Air,” which will include a couple more multisensory rooms that are currently under wraps. 

Hop on a few more elevators to head to the second noteworthy attraction: “APRÈS,” SUMMIT One Vanderbilt’s sky-high, Nordic-themed lounge and café, which features light fare and a unique cocktail menu curated by Danny Meyer’s Union Square Events. Step out onto the terrace, which, along with the interior of the SUMMIT One, was designed byNorwegian design firm Snøhetta, and you’ll find higher, even more, stellar views wrapping around the south and west sides of One Vanderbilt that easily put the Empire State Building’s lowly observatory to shame. You’ll also find the bar which makes SUMMIT the city’s most impressive date night spot. 

But you truly haven’t experienced the grandeur of New York City until you’re hovering 1,200 feet above it. SUMMIT’s final notable attraction, ASCENT, is not for the faint of heart. It’s a glass-enclosed elevator with a transparent floor suspended on the side of the skyscraper that takes willing participants to the highest viewing point in midtown Manhattan.

Again, I’m not afraid of heights. If you are, I’d sit this one out ’cause even I was getting a little shaky up there. But if you can stomach it you’ll be rewarded with, inarguably, the best view of the city and a well-deserved cocktail afterward.

The gorgeous view from the glass box death trap.
Logan Mahan

Tickets to experience SUMMIT One Vanderbilt are on sale now with tours beginning October 21st. Oh, and remember to wear pants.

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