Here at Untapped New York, the secrets of New York City are our specialty. Over the last twelve years, we’ve aimed to deliver the city’s most surprising secrets daily. We even have a new podcast about it, called The Secrets of New York. We also wrote a book about the secrets of Brooklyn. We’ve uncovered the secrets of New York City’s most famous places and revealed places you’ve never heard of. We’ve gone deep into the ordinary infrastructure you might not think about as having secrets and gone inside many of the city’s most off-limits place to share them with you. What we have not done yet is pull them together! So without further ado, as we approach our twelfth year anniversary in 2021, here are 160 of our favorite secrets of New York City!
1. Each of Central Park’s lampposts have a hidden navigational code on them.
The first two numbers indicate the closest cross street, and the last two numbers indicate which side of the park the lamp is closer to: even numbers mean the east side, and odd numbers mean west. The last two digits also indicate location, with the numbers increasing as you move closer to the center of the park. It’s one of our favorite, little-known secrets of New York City that are hidden in plain sight.
2. The Brooklyn Bridge used to have vaults that stored champagne
The champagne vaults of the Brooklyn Bridge, with the Pol Roger & Co. sign still visible. Photograph by undisclosed photographer.
The cavernous vaults, which are located closer to the foot of the bridge, were rented out as storage space holding wine, champagne and liqueurs. We point out where these vaults are on our Tour of the Secrets of the Brooklyn Bridge.
3. Two of the old New Year’s Eve balls sit in a “ball vault” deep below Times Square.
4. There’s a secret train track under the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel that was used by FDR and other U.S. Presidents as a way of getting into and out of the hotel unseen.
Known as Track 61, this mythical track is rarely visited by the public and has become chock full of myths. We debunked a big one that was often cited as a secret of New York City — the train you see above did not belong to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but the former U.S. President did use this siding to get into the hotel.
5. The Cathedral of St. John the Divine is the largest cathedral in the world.
Sound doubtful? It’s true. A cathedral is defined as a church that is also the seat of a bishop. St. Peter’s in Rome is therefore not a cathedral, so the title goes to St. John the Divine. The church is massive, even though it remains unfinished.
6. A fake townhouse in Brooklyn Heights hides a subway ventilation facility.
One townhouse is not like the others, and not just because it has all black windows…Another one of our favorite secrets of New York City.
7. There is a secret art installation emanating from a subway grate in Times Square.
8. There’s a museum tucked into a freight elevator.
This tiny museum is located on Cortlandt Alley, a popular filming location and secret spot in Chinatown. The freight elevator is jam packed with items that take you quite some time to peruse. It’s open 24/7, and you can call the phone number on the door to get an exhibition audio guide guide.
9. There’s a river that runs below the Empire State Building.
10. New York City gets its water from reservoirs built by drowning many towns in the Catskills.
11. The United Nations had a hidden apartment for the Secretary General
12. NYC used to have a pneumatic tube mail system that whisked mail underground at 30 MPH.
14. It’s possible to go inside the Washington Square Park Arch (and the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch in Brooklyn).
15. There are two time capsules under Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. One will be opened in the year 6939.
16. There’s a bowling alley under the Frick Collection.
We’ve bowled here! Here’s a video. Henry Clay Frick commissioned a stylish subterranean bowling alley in 1916, along with a billiards table for playing billiards or pool. This fabulous secret of New York City is not open to the public, but it’s in great working condition. (It’s not the same was the bowling alley in There Will Be Blood, which was filmed in the Greystone Mansion in Los Angeles).
17. Einstein’s eyeballs are stored in a safety deposits box in NYC.
19. Cheese is being aged in beer tunnels in Brooklyn.
There are so many secrets of the Flatiron Building and Sonny Atis, the superintendent of the landmarked building knows them all. Above, you can see him showing us the former plant that used to power the Flatiron Building. Want to see what it looks like on the roof too? Check out our article going behind the scenes inside the Flatiron Building).
21. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the facade is unfinished (and the walls of the original museum are hidden in plain sight inside!)
22. The New York Public Library has remnants of the original Croton Reservoir, where NYC got its water, inside.
23. The Woolworth Building has direct connections to the subway that have been closed off for decades.
24. Some buildings are so large in NYC, they have their own zip code.
26. Most of New York City’s Art Deco skyscrapers have observatories you can visit.
27. Columbia University was built at the site of a former mental asylum, whose remnants you can still see.
28. There’s a Quaker Cemetery inside Prospect Park.
Inside Prospect Park, there are 2,000 gravestones and buried bodies, many older than the park itself. The 10-acre cemetery is the only private property in the park, owned by the Religious Society of Friends, more commonly known as Quakers. Established in 1849, though it is believed there are graves that date to the 1820s. It’s one of the many secrets of New York City to be found inside Prospect Park alone.
29. You can find two pieces of Plymouth Rock in New York City.
30. There are many abandoned subway stations in New York City.
31. Washington Square Park used to be a graveyard (and new burials were found in recent years!)
32. The famous red Macy’s bag on 34th Street hides a building.
33. The Statue of Liberty wasn’t originally green.
35. There are hidden gardens on top of Rockefeller Center’s buildings.
Not visible from street view, the secret gardens at Rockefeller Center provide a respite from the urban jungle. One is an event space and the other is part of an office.
36. Cleopatra’s Needle is the oldest object on public display in New York City from 1443 BC.
37. The second oldest object is a column in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park from 120 AD.
38. The oldest man-made structure in Manhattan is on display in the South Ferry subway station.
39. There’s an abandoned subway station under City Hall.
This is one of the few abandoned subway stations you can visit (on a tour with the Transit Museum) or by taking the 6 train loop past Brooklyn Bridge (something we do on our subway tour). For many, it’s a favorite secret of New York City and a place on their list to visit.
40. Part of Trinity Church is built from the rubble of WWII in London.
41. The Guggenheim Museum was supposed to be red.
42. There’s a secret apartment inside Radio City.
43. JFK Airport has a backup landing strip for the NASA space shuttles.
44. There’s an abandoned hotel at JFK Airport.
45. There used to be a slave market on Wall Street (another was at the Bronx’s Grand Concourse)
46. In Queens, find the World’s Largest Architectural Model, a Panorama of NYC.
You can actually adopt a building in this Panorama in the Queens Museum and it gets updated (although The World Trade Center towers have remained). It was recently featured in the Netflix documentary, “Pretend It’s a City” from Martin Scorsese and Fran Lebowitz. You can see this and other fun finds in our tour of the Remnants of the World’s Fairs.
47. There’s a desk of George Washington’s in City Hall.
48. There’s an abandoned basketball court on Governors Island
49. There are multiple pieces of the Berlin Wall in New York City.
51. NYC has a vast abandoned island called North Brother Island
North Brother Island is one of the most inaccessible and secret places in New York City because it’s now a bird sanctuary, There are remnants of a tuberculosis, former streets, a drug rehabilitation facility, housing for returning WWII vets and more.
52. You can find wooden escalators at Macy’s.
53. Hart Island in the Bronx is NYC’s mass burial ground.
54. Those numbers in Union Square count up and down the number of hours to the nearest hundredth of a second.(More recently it was used as a climate countdown clock)
55. Roosevelt Island has a pneumatic tube trash system.
56. There have been multiple earlier versions of Madison Square Garden. The first two, not surprisingly, were located next to Madison Square Park.
57. You can find George Washington’s teeth at the Fraunces Tavern and his dentures at the NY Academy of Medicine.
58. You can find parts of a lost mansion that once stood in Fort Tryon Park.
60. There’s a hidden tennis court in Grand Central.
This is a popular spot we show on our tour of the Secrets of Grand Central Terminal.
61. NYC’s former subway cars and bridges have become reefs.
62. There are two time capsules in Bloomingdale’s.
63. The Alongquin Hotel has a resident cat.
64. Damage left from of a plane that crashed in Park Slope in 1961 is still visible.
65. There’s an abandoned shooting range below the Park Slope Armory that dates to before the Civil War.
66. A part of Manhattan, Marble Hill, was chopped off and became part of the Bronx when the Harlem River was rerouted.
67. There used to be a 13th Avenue in Manhattan.
68. There are catacombs in Green-Wood Cemetery and Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
These creepy secret spots in New York City are also used for events sometimes, which is your way to get access!
70. Monk parrots from Argentina are thriving in Brooklyn.
71. Parts of Ellis Island, Governors Island, and other parts of NYC were built from rubble excavated from constructing the subway.
72. New York used to have a hyphen in its name: New-York.
73. New York City has two of the most polluted waterways in America: The Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek.
74. The 9/11 Memorial contains the largest man made waterfalls in North America
75, There are many spots on the Underground Railroad still standing in New York City.
76. Nuclear warheads used to guard New York City at Fort Tilden.
77. NYU used to be located in the Bronx.
78. Nathan’s on Coney Island has the oldest beer license in NYC.
79. The New York Public Library has a copy of the Declaration of Independence.
80. The Bronx used to be full of Gilded Age mansions.
81. In Greenwich Village, you can find a triangle denoting the smallest plot of land in NYC.
82. On top of apartments buildings, you can sometimes find suburban-style homes or beach bungalows.
83. An angled townhouse in Greenwich Village marks the site of a 1970 explosion.
84. The “Treasures in the Trash Museum,” showcases over 50,000 items a sanitation worker collected over 30 years.
Another one of the great secrets of New York City. This collection is located inside a sanitation facility, only open for special events.
85. The New Yorker Hotel has an underground tunnel that once led to Penn Station.
86. At the New Yorker Hotel, you can visit the room where Nikola Tesla lived and died in.
87. The NYC Department of Environmental Protection has its own police force.
88. Grand Central Terminal has the largest basement in New York City
89. There used to be an art gallery and art school inside Grand Central.
91. The FDR Drive was built from rubble from World War II.
93. Many of NYC’s most famous sculptures are cast in the former carriage house of the Steinway estate.
Sometimes the secrets of New York City can be experienced — like viewing a live bronze pouring at the Modern Art Foundry in Queens. In the before times, we used to host tours here.
94. Bowling Green’s fence dates back to the American Revolution and you can touch where the crown shaped finials were chopped off by the Sons of Liberty.
95. The Alley Pond Giant is the oldest living organism in NYC, at over 450 years old.
96. NYC is home to the largest cemetery in the United States.
97. Airplanes used to land on the water at LaGuardia Airport.
99. A huge machine that bore the tunnels for the East Side Access was buried in place under Park Avenue.
100. NYC has a floating rail line for freight.
101. Riverside Church is the tallest church in North America.
102. There is a rooftop vineyard in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Photo by Augustin Pasquet
This hidden vineyard sits on top of a building in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Before covid, you could get a drink there, lie in a hammock, catch a movie, and more. This secret of New York City was also featured in our book Secret Brooklyn.
103. All official distances from New York City are measured from Columbus Circle.
104. Dozens of New York City sculptures are all modeled after one person: Audrey Munson.
105. There are streets in Staten Island named after U.S. astronauts.
106. There are documents signed by Hamilton and Burr on the upper floors of New York’s Surrogate Courthouse.
107. The Hudson River is not technically a river, it’s an estuary.
108. A plan for Marine Park won the Silver medal at the Olympics, when it had a town planning category.
109. There’s a redwood tree towering above Houston Street.
111. A room in The Player’s Club is frozen in time from when the club’s founder, Edwin Booth, died in it in 1893.
112. The colors of the globes at the entrance to a subway station are coded to let you know the status of the station.
114. There’s a Japanese house in Brooklyn.
115. There’s a secret post office used to send diamonds and priceless jewels.
116. NYC’s smallest island is only a 1/2 acre.
117. Keen’s Steakhouse has a blood-stained playbill on the wall allegedly held by Abraham Lincoln when he died
118. A former nuclear testing lab still stands in Manhattanville.
119. Seneca Village, once located inside Central Park, was home to a thriving African American community
120. There’s a “morgue” in the New York Times.
121. Metro-North once ran jungle tiki-themed bar cars.
All photos by Paul Pesante
122. That famous train car below Grand Central did not belong to FDR.
123. On 42nd Street, there are abandoned theaters hidden behind the street facade.
125. The Metropolitan Opera has its own armory.
126. People live on this abandoned airfield on Staten Island.
127. There’s a Civil Rights monument on Trump Place.
129. The Algonquin Hotel has a $10,000 martini.
130. The former eagles of Penn Station are scattered all around the East Coast, with several still in NYC.
We’ve been tracking these eagles down one at time. The secrets of New York change too — two of these eagles disappeared last year.
131. There’s a secret staircase inside the Grand Central information booth.
133. There is a French-style grotto in the Bronx.
134. There’s a hidden bookstore dedicated to Winston Churchill.
135. There’s a Frank Lloyd Wright house on Staten Island.
There are many secrets of New York on Staten Island and this Frank Lloyd Wright house is one of them!
137. The smallest cemetery in Manhattan has one grave in it.
139. Brooklyn had one of the largest free-black communities in the United States.
141. There’s a landlocked lighthouse on Staten Island.
142. There is a loft in Tribeca that is just filled with dirt.
The New York Earth Room, Walter De Maria, 1977. Photo by Samantha Schnell.
143. There’s an abandoned hospital complex on Ellis Island.
145. The smallest park in NYC can’t even fit any people in it.
146. The subway once had a bar car.
147. A pneumatic subway once ran under Broadway.
148. There are walkways inside the large glass windows in Grand Central.
149. Fordham University has a reproduction of the Sistine Chapel.
150. A Lower East Side church preserves its slave galleries for historical reasons.
151. On special occasions, you can go inside the Prison Ship Martyr’s Monument in Fort Greene Park.
This is another one of the secrets of New York right in Brooklyn. The impressive monument is dedicated to the 11,500 men and women who died as prisoners of war during the American Revolution, many whose remains are buried in this monument.