160 Fascinating Secrets of New York City – Untapped New York

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 150 of our favorite secrets of New York City!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Check out our latest explorations into the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Arch and the Washington Square Park Arch, two items in our secrets of New York City bucket list.

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.

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).

23. The Woolworth Building has direct connections to the subway that have been closed off for decades.

26. Most of New York City’s Art Deco skyscrapers have observatories you can visit.

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.

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.

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.

43. JFK Airport has a backup landing strip for the NASA space shuttles.

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). You can see this and other fun finds in our tour of the Remnants of the World’s Fairs.

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.

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.

These creepy secret spots in New York City are also used for events sometimes, which is your way to get access!

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.

82. On top of apartments buildings, you can sometimes find suburban-style homes or beach bungalows.

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.

91. The FDR Drive was built from rubble from World War II.

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.

95. The Alley Pond Giant is the oldest living organism in NYC, at over 450 years old.

99. A huge machine that bore the tunnels for the East Side Access was buried in place under Park Avenue.

101. Riverside Church is the tallest church in North America.

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.

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.

119. Seneca Village, once located inside Central Park, was home to a thriving African American community

All photos by Paul Pesante

129. The Algonquin Hotel has a $10,000 martini.

We’ve been tracking these eagles down one at time. The secrets of New York change too — two of these eagles disappeared last year.

There are many secrets of New York on Staten Island and this Frank Lloyd Wright house is one of them!

The New York Earth Room, Walter De Maria, 1977. Photo by Samantha Schnell.

145. The smallest park in NYC can’t even fit any people in it.

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.

Now, check out our first podcast episode in Secrets of New York and subscribe wherever you like to get your podcasts, like Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and more