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10 of New York’s best-kept secrets revealed – and you can visit them all

Did you know that the world’s largest gold vault is in New York, or that the whip used by the explorer who inspired the Indiana Jones character is stored in a clubhouse in the city? 

No Access New York City by Jamie McDonald – who writes, directs and hosts the Emmy award-winning PBS television series New York Originals – is a fascinating new book that lifts the lid on the bustling city’s hidden treasures and forgotten haunts. 

And McDonald has kindly allowed MailOnline Travel to reveal 10 of the gems covered in the book. Scroll down to see some of the places lurking away from the glare of Times Square… 

The world’s largest gold vault

Unbeknownst to many, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York is home to the world’s largest gold vault with some half a million shimmering bars weighing 6,000 tons stored in its belly

Unbeknownst to many, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York is home to the world’s largest gold vault with some half a million shimmering bars weighing 6,000 tons stored in its belly.   

The ‘fortress’, as McDonald describes it, is located at 33 Liberty Street in the Financial District and it is one of 12 Federal Reserve Banks in the U.S.  

Incredibly the vault – which is 80 feet below ground level – is open to the public, and tours can be booked for free on a first-come, first-served basis. Describing the tour, McDonald writes: ‘Upon entering the building, one is surrounded by intimidating state of the art security and well-armed officers. But there is also an air of cordiality and openness.’ 

Giant cheese cave

Murray's Cheese makes its own cheeses in specialist caves and aging facilities (pictured) that 'provide just the right surroundings for the product to age to its peak flavor'

Murray’s Cheese makes its own cheeses in specialist caves and aging facilities (pictured) that ‘provide just the right surroundings for the product to age to its peak flavor’

McDonald notes that Murray’s Cheese has been a ‘Greenwich Village mainstay since 1940’ when it started out as a an egg and dairy wholesaler. Today, it sells a plethora of goods, from cured meats to cooking utensils, and there is also an accompanying cheese bar and outlet in Grand Central Station.  

But he highlights that not many people know that the retailer makes its own cheeses in specialist caves and aging facilities that ‘provide just the right surroundings for the product to age to its peak flavor’. 

There are apparently four caves and one drying room owned by Murray’s Cheese, located in a ‘rather industrial’ section of Long Island City. Each room is set to a specific climate to produce different kinds of cheeses. McDonald says that the caves are rarely open to the public but occasionally tours are arranged.

Unused nuclear reactor

As part of a nuclear science and engineering program at Columbia University, a nuclear reactor was built for educational and research purposes. Above, what the defunct contraption looks like today

As part of a nuclear science and engineering program at Columbia University, a nuclear reactor was built for educational and research purposes. Above, what the defunct contraption looks like today

As part of a nuclear science and engineering program at Columbia University, a nuclear reactor was built for educational and research purposes. 

In his book, McDonald reveals that the contraption was finished in 1967 and cost one million dollars to build – four times the initial grant awarded by the National Science Foundation.

Despite the investment, the reactor was never fuelled and never radioactive. After being dormant for quite some time, the related instruments were donated to other institutions and today, the only thing that remains at Columbia is the concrete shell of the reactor. Tours of the university, which include a peek at the reactor, can be arranged.

An English village

For homesick Britons, McDonald recommends heading to Pomander Walk off 94th and 95th streets between Broadway and West End Avenue

For homesick Britons, McDonald recommends heading to Pomander Walk off 94th and 95th streets between Broadway and West End Avenue

For homesick Britons, McDonald recommends heading to Pomander Walk off 94th and 95th streets between Broadway and West End Avenue. 

The quaint lane of two-storey cottages was apparently built in 1921 by businessman Thomas J. Healy as a short-term measure to generate some rental income. His plan was to eventually knock them down and build a hotel on the site. 

However, the entrepreneur passed away and the houses, inspired by an English village as depicted in Broadway show Pomander Walk, remained. McDonald says that the architect hired by Healy took a ‘slyly humorous delight’ in making the buildings miniature copies of ‘much more pretentious town mansions’. The abodes, fashioned out of brick and stucco, are privately owned and some have fetched more than $2.5million (£2million) after hitting the market.

Speakeasy-style burger joint 

For a different kind of dining experience, McDonald suggests heading to the speakeasy-style 'burger joint' secreted within a swanky uptown hotel

For a different kind of dining experience, McDonald suggests heading to the speakeasy-style ‘burger joint’ secreted within a swanky uptown hotel

For a different kind of dining experience, McDonald suggests heading to the speakeasy-style ‘burger joint’ secreted within a swanky uptown hotel.

Revealing how to access the hidden eatery, the author writes: ‘One must first traipse through the five star Le Parker Meridien hotel lobby… Off to the northwest side of the lobby is an enormous, floor-to-ceiling curtain. Peek around the corner – and a wordless neon burger sign beacons that this is the spot.’ 

The menu prices appear to be as quirky as the restaurant’s location, with burgers starting from $8.96, milkshakes priced at $6.66 and a pickle setting you back $2.07.  

Defunct subway station

New York City's very first subway ride left from the City Hall station in lower Manhattan in 1904, but now the station is defunct

New York City’s very first subway ride left from the City Hall station in lower Manhattan in 1904, but now the station is defunct

New York City’s very first subway ride left from the City Hall station in lower Manhattan in 1904 but now the station is defunct and McDonald says most people don’t know about its existence. 

Designed by renowned architects Heins & LaFarge, the station features an innovative vaulted tile ceiling, elegant chandeliers and leaded skylights.

Though its track is still active as a turnaround for the number 6 line, trains no longer stop at old City Hall. Exclusive guided tours are available but they sell out quickly and are priced at $50 per person. McDonald notes that to apply for tour tickets, one must become a member of the New York City Transit Museum first. 

The Explorers Club 

McDonald says visiting The Explorers Club, which is located at 46 East 70th Street, is 'not unlike an adventure onto itself', with the grand building packed full of unique artefacts and historical treasures

McDonald says visiting The Explorers Club, which is located at 46 East 70th Street, is ‘not unlike an adventure onto itself’, with the grand building packed full of unique artefacts and historical treasures

McDonald says visiting The Explorers Club, which is located at 46 East 70th Street, is ‘not unlike an adventure onto itself’, with the grand building packed full of unique artefacts and historical treasures. 

The club was founded in 1904 for adventure minded individuals to have a place to research, support and discuss expeditions. One of the more intriguing curios, McDonald says, at The Explorers Club, is a leather whip once owned by Roy Chapman Andrews. 

He explains: ‘[As] a former president of The Explorers Club himself and director of the American Museum of Natural History, Andrews was an explorer and naturalist. Those tales were said to be the basis of the fictional character Indiana Jones, though it has never been confirmed by the character’s creators. As for the whip, at one particular event, someone requested to hold it – none other than movie maker George Lucas.’  

A state-of-the-art salad farm

Gotham Greens, started in 2009 by Viraj Puri and Eric Haley, has a number of urban farms, which use state-of-the-art greenhouses and hydroponics technology for growing vegetables on unused rooftops

Gotham Greens, started in 2009 by Viraj Puri and Eric Haley, has a number of urban farms, which use state-of-the-art greenhouses and hydroponics technology for growing vegetables on unused rooftops

It might be perceived as a concrete jungle, but McDonald reveals that there’s actually a lot of hidden greenery lurking around New York. 

Gotham Greens, started in 2009 by Viraj Puri and Eric Haley, has a number of urban farms, which use state-of-the-art greenhouses and hydroponics technology for growing vegetables on unused rooftops. 

The author notes that the company has two Brooklyn locations, one in Greenpoint and the other in Gowanus, as well as one in Hollis, Queens. He concludes: ‘Along with a facility in Chicago, Illinois, they are the largest urban agriculture company in the world.’ They grow more than 20million heads of lettuce a year.     

As Gotham Greens is a commercial-grade farm, it can’t let the public into its facilities due to food safety reasons.

However, there are tours running weekly between April to November from an observation deck at the Gowanus greenhouse, with employees giving an insight into how things are run. 

Biggest prop store on the East Coast

¿Eclectic / Encore Props Inc. is the largest prop rental company on the East Coast, boasting a 95,000-square-foot showroom and more than one million props

​Eclectic / Encore Props Inc. is the largest prop rental company on the East Coast, boasting a 95,000-square-foot showroom and more than one million props

​Eclectic / Encore Props Inc. is the largest prop rental company on the East Coast, boasting a 95,000-square-foot showroom and more than one million props.

McDonald notes that most of the items are displayed in a Long Island City, Queens, warehouse – a former bottling plant for Pepsi-Cola. 

He says that the sprawling unit ‘looks like a bizarre department store filled with vintage and wide-ranging items meticulously inventoried and cared for’ and ‘each floor is sectioned off in different rooms with particular themes’, from medicine to travels in Morocco.

Speakeasy disguised as a toy store 

The Back Room (pictured) is a prohibition-era-style speakeasy housed in a building that used to be a real prohibition-era speakeasy, called The Back Of Ratner's 

The Back Room (pictured) is a prohibition-era-style speakeasy housed in a building that used to be a real prohibition-era speakeasy, called The Back Of Ratner’s 

At 102 Norfolk Street in New York’s Lower East Side is a business that carries the name ‘Lower East Side Toy Company’.

However, as McDonald explains, ‘it is all a ruse’. There is no such business. It’s actually a fake front in a building once owned by reputed mobster Meyer Lansky that now houses a very cool prohibition-era-style speakeasy called The Back Room, where drinkers can raise a glass to a bygone era. What’s more, they can do so in a building that used to be a real prohibition-era speakeasy, called The Back Of Ratner’s.

To gain access you must find a door to the side with a peephole – and say the password (which is posted daily on the bar’s Facebook and Twitter pages). McDonald says that the interior is ‘a feast for the eyes, a two-tiered space decorated in a gilded-age-meets-jazz-age splendor – good enough for Al Capone himself’. And, just like in prohibition days, cocktails are served in teacups and beers are handed out in paper bags.

No Access New York City: The City¿s Hidden Treasures, Haunts, and Forgotten Places is available to buy via Amazon for $18.32. Jamie McDonald writes, directs and hosts the Emmy award-winning PBS television series New York Originals

No Access New York City: The City’s Hidden Treasures, Haunts, and Forgotten Places is available to buy via Amazon for $18.32. Jamie McDonald writes, directs and hosts the Emmy award-winning PBS television series New York Originals

 

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