Ascending the SUMMIT: The sky high experience (and bar!) no New York trip should be without

If you haven’t travelled to the city since the pandemic, you may have not yet heard of New York’s newest observation deck. Nonetheless, SUMMIT One Vanderbilt, set in the city’s fourth tallest building, right next to Grand Central Station, saw some 1.4 million visitors walk through its doors in the year following its grand opening on 21st October 2021.

And with good reason: there is no other experience like it on the planet.

It’s the 5th observation deck in New York City (only One World Trade Center is taller), and offers up something unlike any of the others (EDGE, Top of the Rock, Empire State and indeed One World): multi sensory experiences, artwork from none other than Yayoi Kusama, an incredibly fast lift system, and an additional glass elevator that sits external of the building, above a breathtaking outdoor bar (!!) on the 93rd floor. Which honestly would be worth the trip up the 427 metre tall building alone.

Image supplied by SUMMIT One Vanderbilt

Oh and also you get to wear plastic bags on your shoes, which I don’t think I’ve experienced outside of a Mosque in Abu Dhabi!

SUMMIT takes over the top three floors of One Vanderbilt – from the 91st to the 93rd, 1,020 feet (310 m) from the ground, which you reach in less than 50 seconds courtesy of their state-of-the-art elevator system.

The experience starts before you get into the elevators, with a video, and a few steps to integrate you into the immersive experience that awaits you. They put plastic bags around your shoes to protect the glass and mirrors, you take a pair of sunglasses (the need of which will become quickly apparent), and they take a photo of you through a special machine, which may later be seen in one of the installations.

There is something of a “big reveal” experience of the space – which starts in the hallway, pulsating with light and sound as you wait for the elevator to the three floors and 65,000 square feet of sensory immersion that await you. The elevator takes the light and sound show of Top of the Rock – the Observation Deck at 30 Rock – to another level, ultimately opening the doors on the 91st floor to silence and the sound of wind. A curved entry helps block your view at first; they really want you to have a “wow” moment as you are greeted by the spectacular glass and mirror room, which looks like it was taken out of the Californian desert – and borrows the power of the sun while they’re at it.

Let’s just say those glasses they gave you are going to keep you from going blind. It is bright in there.

Sounds bounce off the walls as you traverse two floors of the mirrored space – part of the space they call “AIR” – both the sounds of people and artificial sounds added to the immersive experience.

Oh and hot tip: the view from the bathroom is also incredible – Men on the 91st, Women on the 92nd floor.

You’ll then come across an installation by famed Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama (who is no stranger to immersive installations), Clouds (2019). The oozing silver, reflective clouds that sit flat on the floor of the room, fit in well with the theme of the space, while also offering peaceful respite from the massive space that precedes it, and the busy room that follows.

You’ll likely find the busiest room in the experience is the one that follows Kusama’s piece – a room of silver balloons that float above the ground, designed by Kenzo Digital to be touched, photographed and “accidentally” thrown in the face of your loved ones (while we don’t condone such behaviour, just be prepared for it).

Every ticket to SUMMIT includes access to AIR – “four chapters of immersive art by Kenzo Digital” – LEVITATION – “Transparent sky boxes over 1,100 feet above Madison Avenue” (which is yet another great photo op moment) – as well as the Food & Cocktail concept APRÈS, with its outdoor patio (which impressively had no wind on the day we visited, and reminded me of sitting atop the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore). And there are fewer better places on the planet than their outdoor patio to enjoy a drink – especially as the sun sets.

For an extra $20, you can also upgrade the ticket to include access to ASCENT – the world’s largest external glass-bottomed elevator.

It’s a slow moving experience, so you don’t need to be a “thrill seeker” to want to jump in here – you should just be after a view unlike any you’ve experienced. Perhaps not recommended for those who suffer vertigo, however. There’s no escaping the realities of that height. And when the sun is bearing down, much like in the mirrored room you started in, you will absolutely feel that heat.

But it’s all worth it for the view.

And as the fourth tallest building in the city, it’s no surprise that iconic buildings like the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building feel dwarfed by One Vanderbilt.

There’s a lot to be excited about with SUMMIT: it may just be the best view of New York City. This is not just a great view – arguably the best in New York. It’s an art installation. It’s an outdoor bar. A fully immersive experience. It’s even something of a ride.

Mark SUMMIT as an essential activity for your next visit to NYC.

Tickets to visit SUMMIT One Vanderbilt start at $39, with discounts available for NYC residents, and reservations are essential. It’s open Wednesday to Monday (closed on Tuesdays), from 9am to Midnight, with last entries at 11pm.

For more details, head to their official website HERE.

The author visited as a guest of SUMMIT One Vanderbilt. All photos by the author, unless otherwise listed.

Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. Currently based in Toronto, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.