“Please, no…Wait! Wait! Wait!” I shouted at the top of my lungs, slapping the side of the bus with enough force that the bones in my hand would gradually stiffen and the skin of my palm would radiate a dull, throbbing ember of pain late into the evening. In New York City (or anywhere else, for that matter), bus drivers don’t have a reputation for being especially empathetic creatures. Maybe it’s the nature of the job: long hours, miserable passengers, impossible traffic and a lot of repetition. But the driver of this particular bus—the final one to depart from the gate at ten o’clock—must have won twenty bucks on a scratch-off or had the weekend off, because instead of tightening his sphincter and stomping on the accelerator, he applied pressure to the brakes. And so began the silver lining at the end of a brutal week of work that would extend from the long commute home and through the weekend to come.
If you abruptly shook me awake at eight o’clock the following morning and asked me where I’d like to go and what I’d like to do with my day (WARNING: I wouldn’t recommend doing so without espresso at the ready), I’m absolutely positive that the very last thing that would spring from my lips would be, “Let’s take a building tour!” But then again, I had never visited The Steven A. Schwarzman Building, the flagship of New York Public Library’s four magnificent research centers and eighty-eight neighborhood branches residing in the boroughs of Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx.
Designed and constructed by the relatively unknown firm of Carrère & Hastings and considered the preeminent example of Beaux-Arts architecture, it is the largest marble structure ever attempted in the United States. With its iconic stone lions, Patience and Fortitude, on sentry at the entrance, Corinthian columns flanking the ornate bronze doors adorning the main entrance, innumerable ceiling murals, massive chandeliers, plaster rosettes and wood paneling throughout, it is truly a breathtaking space.
And yet, inundated by all this architectural splendor, I found my mind wandering off the beaten path, into the brush and brambles, revisiting memories long forgotten. My mother is a devout woman. On the weekends (Saturdays or Sundays—sometimes both), she could be found at church, but during the week, she visited her other sanctum: the closest branch of the public library, wherever it was we were living at the time. The former was to nourish the soul, the latter the mind. I was raised to believe that whatever kind of truth one was looking for could be found within the hallowed walls of these two community institutions.
For a ephemeral moment, standing near reception in Astor Hall at the end of the tour, it occurred to me that, just as I was a lapsed Catholic, I had become, unintentionally, a lapsed library patron as well. And in a brief flight of fancy, I imagined my mother descending the floating stairway in a winter trench coat, purse hanging from her forearm, hands gloved, head wrapped in a cashmere scarf. She disappeared behind the stone pillar. Following close behind was a pale, ginger-haired boy, carrying an untenable mountain of books—books she would devour in an inexplicably short amount of time and discard, randomly, throughout the house until they were gathered up to return a week later. He, too, disappeared behind the stone pillar, neither to reappear.
5th Ave at 42nd St
Mon, Thu, Fri, Sat 10AM – 6PM
Tue, Wed 10AM – 8PM
Sunday 1PM – 5PM
Closed legal holidays
Free one-hour tours of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building begin at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Monday through Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. For additional details, visit their website.
Pair it with:
The Little Beet at The Pennsy
Located in the abject culinary desert just outside Penn Station at 2 Penn Plaza, The Pennsy is the newest of the now ubiquitous gourmet food halls. A product of the marriage of 4 chefs, a butcher and a caterer, The Pennsy, at 8,000 square feet, features offerings from (author/chef/restaurateur) Mario Batali with (caterer) Mary Giuliani, (Michelin Star recipient/Next Iron Chef winner) Marc Forgoine, (butcher) Pat LaFrieda, (chef/restaurateur) Adam Sobel and (author/chef) Franklin Becker. But it was for Mr. Becker, a Type 2 Diabetic, and his gluten-free, healthy cooking at The Little Beet that brought us to this food destination. With an assortment of bowls, rolls and beet boxes to choose from, we settled on a Cabbage with Soba Noodles box and The Garden bowl. Both were tasty, but it is The Garden bowl that will bring us back again and again.
2 Pennsylvania Plaza
Mon – Sat 11AM – 11PM
Sunday Wed 11AM – 8PM
Closed legal holidays