A Journey Through Time on the New York Subway System - Atlas Obscura

A Journey Through Time on the New York Subway System

Atlas Obscura and Chase Sapphire® took cardmembers on an exclusive trip aboard the MTA’s historic trains.

A woman makes her way through the train, traveling through over 50 years of New York City history.
A woman makes her way through the train, traveling through over 50 years of New York City history. James Sprankle

It takes something special to get New Yorkers to look up from their phones while they’re commuting. But on October 19, 2018, Atlas Obscura and Chase Sapphire® achieved the near-impossible by taking a vintage train for a ride through active transit stations.

On subway platforms, onlookers’ jaws dropped before giving way to smiles and waves at the surreal vision. A vintage train car packed with partygoers jamming to sounds from big band to electronic music is not something you see often, even in New York.

As Dan Daly, a Chase Sapphire cardmember put it, “It’s not just that we were part of a spectacle, we were creating one for New York City.”

A guest joins in the vogueing fun.
A guest joins in the vogueing fun. Bess Adler

The night began at the New York Transit Museum , where visitors can explore antique train cars during museum hours. On special occasions, the Transit Museum will take them for a ride, but “New York Through Time” represented the first time the museum partnered with outside organizations to create an unforgettable evening.

The event was exclusive to Chase cardmembers, who were greeted at the entrance with glasses of sparkling wine. A short reception gave them the rare opportunity to explore the current Navigating New York exhibit and permanent collection after-hours.

A sparkly attired attendee embarks on the journey.
A sparkly attired attendee embarks on the journey. Bess Adler

Then, it was time for the train to depart. Over the course of a little over an hour, it made its way from downtown Brooklyn and through East New York before traveling back to Manhattan.

Women dressed in vintage attire take a seat in the train's oldest car.
Women dressed in vintage attire take a seat in the train’s oldest car. James Sprankle

In homage to New York’s vibrant nightlife in the 20th century, each car reflected the entertainment of its time. An army green-hued, wicker-seated car with a 1940s aesthetic hosted George Gee, a swing bandleader with over 36 years’ of experience, plus dancers who gracefully sidestepped the train’s twists and turns.

Psychedelic projections inspired by Andy Warhol’s Factory screen tests filled the next car, conceived and executed by artist Sean Dack. It was a fitting segue into the next, a 1970s-influenced scene filled with musicians led by violinist Adriana Molello and featuring trombone player Dave “Smoota” Smith, playing funky covers from the era. “If you’re feeling groovy, shake your booty,” a vocalist crooned as guests glided through the car.

Chauncey Dominique strikes a pose.
Chauncey Dominique strikes a pose. Bess Adler

The next train recreated one of the 1980s’ most influential musical movements: vogueing. Bathed in sapphire lights, dancers led by Chauncey Dominique delighted guests with invigorating dance moves, infectious energy, and hilarious banter. (Dominique playfully referred to the car as the “House of Sapphire” throughout the evening.)

The last car called to mind a future redolent of the past. A collaborative installation by artist Coby Kennedy and Superchief Gallery played on Art Deco design motifs. Geometric patterns were laid onto the subways’s glass dividing panels, and Chrysler Building-colored tin foil was shaped into angles on the floor. Meanwhile, Flex performers (a dance style born in NYC that straddles street performance with the avant-garde) injected some forward-thinking energy into the train.

A saxophonist from Gato Loco serenades New Yorkers en route to De Kooning's loft.
A saxophonist from Gato Loco serenades New Yorkers en route to De Kooning’s loft. Bess Adler

An aptly-outfitted guest dances her way down a New York City street to the tunes of Gato Loco.
An aptly-outfitted guest dances her way down a New York City street to the tunes of Gato Loco. Bess Adler

The evening was not over once the train reached its final stop: 14th St. and 6th Ave. Gato Loco, a “psycho mambo” band, led guests through the streets to the next destination, playing music in full swing with Chase Sapphire cardmembers and a sizable crowd that decided to join in on the jaunt. Passersby took pictures and hooted and hollered while cars joined in a chorus of honks.

Arriving at De Kooning's loft in style.
Arriving at De Kooning’s loft in style. Bess Adler

The procession came to an end near Union Square in midcentury abstract expressionist artist Willem De Kooning’s former loft. Inside, former subway performer-turned America’s Got Talent star Mike Yung belted out tunes to a dancing crowd. Elsewhere, guests ate hors’ d’oeuvres, drank cocktails (including a custom-concocted “Hidden Gem Gimlet”), took photos in a subway-themed photo booth, and reflected on the unforgettable evening.

Helene Flynn, dressed in a fascinator and luxurious fur coat, has lived in New York all of her life and has never experienced anything like “New York Through Time.”

“Not on the subway, absolutely not!” she laughed.

A group shot at the subway-themed photo booth.
A group shot at the subway-themed photo booth. Bess Adler

The evening ended for many with another ride on the standard subway. “New York Through Time” ensured that they’d never look at the MTA the same way again.

Below are some more highlights from the event.

An Atlas Obscura staff member serves bubbly at check-in.
An Atlas Obscura staff member serves bubbly at check-in. James Sprankle

Guests begin the evening with glasses of bubbly.
Guests begin the evening with glasses of bubbly. Bess Adler

A finely dressed couple takes in the Transit Museum's surroundings.
A finely dressed couple takes in the Transit Museum’s surroundings. Bess Adler

A group of friends congregates among the Transit Museum's exhibits.
A group of friends congregates among the Transit Museum’s exhibits. Bess Adler

Taking a close look at the Transit Museum's collection.
Taking a close look at the Transit Museum’s collection. James Sprankle

Guests pose at the Transit Museum before the train takes off.
Guests pose at the Transit Museum before the train takes off. James Sprankle

All aboard, minutes before the train departed.
All aboard, minutes before the train departed. Bess Adler

Dancers swing to George Gee's orchestra.
Dancers swing to George Gee’s orchestra. James Sprankle.

A pair shares a laugh in the 1940s-themed car.
A pair shares a laugh in the 1940s-themed car. Bess Adler

Disco stylings in the 1970s-themed car.
Disco stylings in the 1970s-themed car. James Sprankle

A performer waves a fan while she dances.
A performer waves a fan while she dances. James Sprankle

Vogueing in a packed subway car.
Vogueing in a packed subway car. Bess Adler

Dominique cheers on a voguer, mid-move.
Dominique cheers on a voguer, mid-move. Bess Adler

A Flex dancer shows off modern moves on the retro-futuristic car.
A Flex dancer shows off modern moves on the retro-futuristic car. Bess Adler

A Flex dancer makes her way through another car.
A Flex dancer makes her way through another car. James Sprankle

A flex dancer performs an otherworldly routine.
A flex dancer performs an otherworldly routine. Bess Adler

Gato Loco leads the way into De Kooning's loft.
Gato Loco leads the way into De Kooning’s loft. James Sprankle

The custom-designed Hidden Gem Gimlet, garnished with a sapphire-colored blossom.
The custom-designed Hidden Gem Gimlet, garnished with a sapphire-colored blossom. Bess Adler

Guests get playful in the photo booth.
Guests get playful in the photo booth. James Sprankle

Images from the photo booth were projected onto the wall.
Images from the photo booth were projected onto the wall. Bess Adler

Mike Yung belts it out while partygoers dance.
Mike Yung belts it out while partygoers dance. Bess Adler

Guests dancing to Mike Yung's set.
Guests dancing to Mike Yung’s set. Bess Adler

Attendees share photos from the night.
Attendees share photos from the night. James Sprankle

Silver-sheathed women pose for a photographer
Silver-sheathed women pose for a photographer Bess Adler

Voguers reunite at the afterparty.
Voguers reunite at the afterparty. James Sprankle

We're working with Chase Sapphire to curate incredible experiences near, far and the places in between. For inspiration on where to explore next, visit Chase Sapphire.