Sure, Penn Station has been characterized as a "festering exit wound"... but maybe we can slap a fresh Band-Aid on it? At the very least, through tips and hacks, we can make the dreaded moments in this loathed transit hub just a little less awful.
And the ultimate hack is one that people have been blowing up for years, so whatever, here it is: Don't wait on the main concourse level if you're taking an Amtrak train. You'll only get stuck in a scrum of people from Boston. No good!
Instead, go to the middle of the Amtrak concourse. Descend that staircase, so you're on the same level as the LIRR concourse, and head towards the corridor that's closest to Eighth Avenue. When you find a set of screens (there's one pair by tracks 9 and 10, then two other pairs by tracks 13 and 14), squint at 'em to find the train you're waiting for. Once your track number pops up, you can ~cut~ the line and board your train before the hoards get down there.
By the way, this works for NJ Transit, too, since both sets of monitors have a screen with NJ Transit track numbers.
It’s a classic pro-tip, up there with the TGI Friday’s happy hour (pints are $3.75). But there are other ways to make your Penn Station experience world class. Here’s how a few friends of We The Commuters manage to enjoy themselves in the absence of natural light.
Jim O’Grady, WNYC reporter
Don Pepi Pizza will sell you a beer at 1/2 the price as what you’ll pay on your Amtrak train. You can get a pop-top can, or they’ll remove the cap from your bottle and slide it into a paper bag, the better to smuggle it on board. All hail Don Pepi Pizza!
Lee Hill, Senior Digital Editor, WNYC
Kabooz’s inside Penn Station makes one of the best burgers in the city, in my opinion. The roasted garlic cloves as a topping are a personal fave! A must-have every time I travel from Penn. (So good that I’ve gone to eat there even when I’m not traveling!)
Nick Buono, @yourcommutesucks
I strategically don’t wait inside Penn Station. Waiting by those boards only adds stress, so you’ll never see me in the concourse until 10 minutes before my train’s departure time. My advice is to go to CVS, go to GNC, maybe grab a coffee. Do everything you can to not enter that concourse, because you’ll overheat and start thinking about moving your entire family out of the state.
Also, Rose’s Pizza is one of the best slices in New York when you have the time to let them heat it up. I’ll argue that with anyone. Tastes even better after a Happy Hour.
Jake Offenhartz, Gothamist reporter
I agree with Nick, Rosa's is surprisingly good. They'll also sell you a 24-ounce beer for like $6.
Shumita Basu, We The Commuters reporter
If you’re taking the 1/2/3 uptown to Penn Station, sit in the last car of the train. That ends up being closest to the stairs at the Penn Station stop, and it lets you out into a hallway that zips you right to the NJT track entrances.
Also, I’ve always admired the extremely-not-helpful “You Are Here” sign that’s right above one set of elevators (it leads up to the NJT area from the LIRR waiting area). Not a tip, just a thing I’ve observed.
Why on earth does it say "you are here" in tiny letters up there? What purpose does that serve? Real mystery. (Shumita Basu)
Karen Frillmann, Executive Producer of The Stakes podcast (Check it out and subscribe!)
Whenever I take Amtrak I enter at 8th Ave and 31th street. It’s the most direct pathway into the Amtrak station.
And I must say, the plethora of newspaper stands is refreshing at Penn Station. They are disappearing from the streets and I like a newspaper no matter what train I’m taking.
Jen Chung, Gothamist executive editor
If you aren't technology-averse, get the NJ Transit (or LIRR or Amtrak) app and buy your tickets in advance so you don't have to worry about the lines at the ticket office or machines.
P.S. The renovated bathrooms at Penn Station are surprisingly pretty nice ("breathtaking," as my colleague Christopher Robbins opined), considering they are in Penn Station.
Pristine Toto urinals (Amtrak)