Of the fifty four million people who visit New York City each year, I’m guessing that fifty three million and some change would tell you that the center of the city is Times Square. They would be wrong. By a mile. (Almost exactly).
The center of the center of the universe (yes, I’m ethnocentric) is actually Columbus Circle. It is the point from which all official distances in New York City are measured. Times Square may arguably be considered the heartbeat of the city, but Columbus Circle is its belly button. And my ‘hood. Completed in 1905, it fulfilled Frederick Law Olmsted’s vision for a “grand circle” at the Eighth Avenue Merchant’s Gate entrance to Central Park.After laying awake most of last night unsuccessfully counting imagined sheep in Sheep Meadow across the street, it occurred to me that there is some powerful synchronicity in being a die-hard insomniac in the absolute center of city that never sleeps. Why fight it? As soon as the sun came up I decided to take a tourist’s walk around Columbus Circle. Like me, Christopher Columbus never sleeps. Since 1892 he has stood vigil atop his seventy-six foot pedestal, which was spit-shined up a few years ago with a $1 million restoration. Translated, the rousing inscription at the base of his statue declares:
JOY AND GLORY / NEVER UTTERED A MORE THRILLING CALL / THAT THAT WHICH RESOUNDED / FROM THE CONQUERED OCEAN / IN SIGHT OF THE FIRST AMERICAN ISLAND /LAND! LAND! /
In the summer he is cooled by the fountain sprays designed by the WET Company of Bellagio Las Vegas fame. If you don’t mind dodging the skateboarders who careen off the stone benches surrounding the statue, it’s a great place to sit and enjoy a cup of gelato from the Turin, Italy-based Grom shop across the street.Some of the best views of the Circle are from the surrounding restaurants. If you can afford it, a perch at Thomas Keller’s Per Se is the perfect spot for a salute to Christopher Columbus. For us mere mortals, Mr. Keller’s Bouchon Café is easier on the wallet and affords a splendid view of the Circle from the third floor of the Time-Warner Center. Another option is to plead, cajole and shamelessly abase yourself (yes, I’ve done it), in hopes of scoring a window table for a special lunch or dinner at Robert Restaurant atop The Museum of Arts and Design. Drink tabs at the Lobby Lounge of the Mandarin Oriental are stratospheric, but the view of the Circle from there is priceless. Another way to enjoy the view is to attend a Jazz at Lincoln Center performance where the Circle provides a spectacular backdrop to Dizzy’s Club and Appel Room performers. Sometimes late at night when the window is open, I will hear a last-call horse carriage clop around the circle and wonder what it must have been like back in the days before taxi cabs whipped around Columbus Circle blaring their horns. The West Side Rag has published some historical photos of the Circle, including this one below from the early 20th century, when things were distinctly quieter than they are now.
Wherever the center of your universe is today, I hope, like Christopher Columbus, you are discovering exciting new worlds. As for me, with this whole great city at my feet, I think I’m going to…take a nap.