Home on Top of the Empire State Building

So I did that crazy thing no one really does. I went to the top of the Empire State Building at one in the morning.

I had assumed it closed at some reasonable hour like midnight or eleven, because the only thing in New York open after eleven are bars and strip clubs. Technically the city never sleeps, but the people working and living in it have to, and there is just no reason for places to be open at two in the morning when no sane person wants to be awake at that hour, worker and tourist alike.

I had been happy to marinate in my obliviousness until I read a post from The Saint Germain where he talked about not quite wanting the night to be over, and went to the top of the Empire State Building at the hours where the bars are in full swing and everything else is lights out. Well, he really talks about his life, but has this ongoing story, posts every Monday, and has this interesting flirtation going on with his neighbor. I highly recommend reading it, but learned from him that the Empire State Building is in fact open at 1am.

Keeping that tid bit in my back pocket–or front, depending on which pants I am wearing–I waited for the chance to use that information. As fate would have it, a friend from home, from Palos Verdes, CA, where the weather’s always mild and transportation reliably unreliable. This friend came to visit, her spring break falling a week behind mine, and her study of choice happens to be architecture. Coincidentally, New York City has some decent architecture.

People go on vacation differently. Some people opt for a beach and a piña colada (not a bad choice, I might add), while others prefer more of a trip than vacation, with more movement and “things to do” than simply lounging requires. Even in traveling to the same city, people want to see their own sights, and New York City contains more than a single person could do in a lifetime, forget about trying to cram it all into a week.

Prioritizing necessarily takes place, and I get to act as the tour guide, even though chances are I haven’t done or seen much of the inevitable itinerary. My goal always is to get it all done. For instance, one friend, Neda, came to visit back in January, and we completed all of her list, comprised largely of trying coffee, baked goods, and doing the cutesy classics, like grabbing a bagel and coffee to eat Breakfast at Tiffany’s, or walking the Brooklyn Bridge.

Now as I already said, the friend who stayed this past week is one studying to become an architect, Lauren. Her list was not of the typical tourist points, but interesting places I enjoyed, mostly buildings and museums. I am ashamed to say that I hadn’t been to many on the list, but now proud to say I have and want to go back. I’ll write more on the specific museums later, what I liked and didn’t, but wanted to just emphasize how important buildings were this past week. And we nearly didn’t do the Empire State Building.


We were finishing dinner, and desert of course, at OTTO Enoteca e Pizzeria. We left around 11:40pm, shutting the place down, and made our way up to 33rd st and 5th ave. Our progress to the top of the building was I am sure quicker than others because, there was no line. None. We weaved our way through rooms of barren velvet ropes. And by the time we reached the top, it seemed much windier and distinctly colder than when I had thrown on my leather jacket earlier in the day.

Even in my chill, I could not help but gape at the immeasurable beauty of the city I had come to call home. The blocks of background and culture seemed far more condensed from the 86th floor than it did on the ground. I could almost wrap my arms around the city from that floor of the Empire State Building, and believe me I tried. And yet, I found comfort in being able to really identify bits and pieces of New York. To an extent, it hard to call a place home if you don’t know where all the different rooms are and what their purpose is, but now I would like to think I know a considerable number of rooms in the estate of Manhattan. The bridges, the buildings, the streets and avenues, especially the neighborhoods are all so distinct and worth knowing. To acclimate even marginally to a city of this nature is a process, one I started, but am sure will never finish.


Manhattan is this amorphous being, the grows and shifts constantly. It would be impossible to know this city completely, but even being able to claim a bit of it is something that makes me feel… I don’t know that there’s a word for it, this feeling of fulfillment and joy, understanding and mystification.

Being able to look out over this city and call it home is a moment only attainable from the ability to be fairly secluded. This tourist spot usually is packed with people. But there couldn’t have been more than twenty, guards included, people standing on the 86th floor of the observation deck. As such, I could marvel at my belonging to this city without the intrusion of fifty people on either side of me wondering what they were seeing, when I could see the streets and remember the feel of them beneath my feet, see the city and be able to call it home. A moment that could only have occurred at one in the morning on top of the Empire State Building.


One response to “Home on Top of the Empire State Building

  1. Claire, This is awesome and it makes me want to experience the 86th just before mid-night along with you. Jack and I did it years ago with LOTS of tourists. Really enjoyed this! Marion


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