Courtesy of Pennsy
The One Bright Spot in Penn Station’s ‘Summer of Hell’
When Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency over New York’s dreadful commuting situation in late June, locals didn’t think things could get any worse.
It turned out they could, at least at Penn Station, the epicenter of the so-called summer of hell. Earlier this year the Pennsy, the year-and-a-half-old food hall at 2 Penn Plaza at the northeast corner of the complex, unexpectedly shut down.
Unlike the transportation problems, however, the Pennsy's issue was relatively short-lived. It’s reopening less than one month since closing, with a revamped line up of vendors, an expanded bar, and three times the amount of outdoor seating. There are now 380 outdoor seats and stadium-style benches on a patio overlooking the 33rd Street pedestrian corridor. The outdoor space was designed by Icrave, a design studio that also reinvented Jet Blue’s Terminal 5.
The changes were made to accommodate the approximately 650,000 commuters who come through Penn Station daily, as well as residents and employees in the surrounding neighborhood, said Edward Hogan, executive vice president of leasing for Vornado Realty Trust, the company that owns 2 Pennsylvania Station. (Vornado won't confirm the cost of the renovation, which is estimated to be a few million dollars.) To address the perceived needs, the space has evolved from one focused on grab-and-go food, with fought-over seating, to one that allows for more leisurely hangouts—especially if your train is delayed. It's open from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., seven days a week.
Changing Food Scene
Gone are two of the marquee vendors, Mario Batali and Marc Forgione.
“We were responding to customer demand,” said Hogan, regarding the lineup changes. When asked about what needed to be fixed, he pointed to increased popularity of food from independent operators and their ability to meet high-volume demand.
The most popular vendor, butcher Pat LaFrieda, is still there; it’s his only brick-and-mortar location. As part of the new Pennsy, the menu has been expanded: Besides his popular meat-filled sandwiches, he now offers more dinner-style options, such as braised short ribs. Still there, too, is the Little Beet, with grain bowls and poke, and the vegan street food seller Cinnamon Snail.
New food vendors include Ribalta, pizza specialists with signature pies such as the Parma, with mozzarella prosicutto di parma and cherry tomatoes, as well as a side dish of tender meatballs made from porchetta. Sabi Sushi gives diners the opportunity to get raw fish rolls at Pennsy for the first time. The third new tenant is Taco Dumbo, identifiable by a pink neon sign, which riffs on dishes from its Brooklyn location, such as tacos wrapped in nori instead of tortillas, stuffed with sushi grade spicy tuna. Alongside are more conventional corn tortilla tacos filled with rotisserie chicken, tamarind braised short ribs, or vegan chorizo. Taco Dumbo's cold-pressed juice margaritas offer diners the opportunity to choose their liquor (lots of tequila selections, but also vodka and sake); their juice (lime/orange is one, cucumber/mint is another); and the spice rim on their glass (from salt to sugar to cilantro).
More and Faster Drinks
It will be much easier to get drinks at the new Pennsy bar.
“The bar was underserved, especially on game night,” said Hogan. While the old bar could accommodate three bartenders, it now has room for eight of them. Operated by HPH (which owns Dead Rabbit and Harry’s), there are 48 beers on tap, along with ciders, wine, and cocktails. Those sitting outside have the option of waiter service. There’s a DJ booth, too.
What you won’t find are the kind of meticulously mixed cocktails you would get at the Dead Rabbit, voted the best bar in the world. Hogan noted the high volume of the Pennsy, as well as the pressure of serving drinks at the country's busiest rail terminal. “If you're catching a train, [you] don't have time for a mixologist to make you a 10-minute drink,” he said. “We’re excited that the Pennsy will be a place for commuters to be patient and relax. And have something to eat while they wait for the next train, whenever that is,” said Hogan, before getting on a train out of Grand Central Station.