Free enamel pin when you buy any two Atlas Obscura products. Shop now.

New York, New York

The Secret Entrance to the Knickerbocker Hotel

An unassuming secret door leads to a legendary watering hole. 

Deep in the subway system below Times Square and passed by thousands of commuters and tourists everyday lies an unnoticed white door.

Tucked away on the eastern end of the platform of Track 1 on the Grand Central-Times Square-42nd Street shuttle, the anonymous looking white door is similar to the many doors that can be found on MTA stations. But where those lead into utility rooms, workers offices, and generators, this white door holds a glamorous secret.

Atop the door is a faded metal sign which simply says “KNICKERBOCKER,” and behind it lay a secret entrance to the bar of what was once one of New York’s most splendid hotels, John Jacob Astor’s Knickerbocker hotel.

Above ground, on the corner of Broadway and 42nd Street, the Knickerbocker was a beaux arts masterpiece. Built with Astor’s millions in 1906, it had over 500 rooms, with space in the restaurants and bars for 2,000 revelers.

The hotel was the centre piece of the gilded age of old Times Square, with a 30 foot mural of Old King Cole and his Fiddler’s Three painted by Maxfield Parish hanging over the bar, and where Martini di Arma di Taggia is rumored to have invented his famous namesake cocktail in 1912, it was such a haven for refined elegance, it was commonly known as the 42nd Street Country Club.

When John Jacob Astor died on the Titanic his son took over, but the hotel fell out of favor when prohibition swept the nation. Parishes’ mural was moved to the St. Regis Hotel, and the building was converted into offices for Newsweek magazine. 

Where once F.Scott Fitzgerald and John D. Rockefeller drank, the ground floor now houses a Gap store, but plans are afoot to reopen as a luxury hotel in late 2014. But as yet there are no plans to open the secret back door to what was once one of Manhattan’s finest jewels.

 

Know Before You Go

Head for the eastern end of the platform of Track 1 of the 42nd street shuttle at Times Square.