To most, the idea of eating in a subway station -- or riding the subway, for that matter -- is repulsive. Too much heat, too little space.
But in April 2016, TurnStyle, a food court and shopping center, opened in the Columbus Circle subway station. The premise was simple: Turn a subway station into a destination for commuters, tourists, residents, and employees of nearby office buildings.
The execution would be more difficult. Could you transform one of the most of the unpleasant environments in New York City into the kind of place one would be eager to visit?
I made my way to the underground market on a Wednesday afternoon, hoping I'd find more than oversized rats and irritated commuters.
TurnStyle is located beneath Columbus Circle, at the intersection of 8th Avenue, Broadway, Central Park South, and Central Park West.
The signs pointing you toward the market are subtle in some places...
...and more colourful in others.
I make my way toward the station, hoping it's cleaner than the staircase leading into it.
There's decent foot traffic during the interval between lunch and dinner. Perhaps the developers' optimism is justified.
First up is Panda Bubble Tea, run by the same people who own the Chatiime coffee shop on the Upper East Side.
Its mascot is a panda, naturally.
The peach tea samples are sweet, but not overwhelmingly so.
TurnStyle also has pre-packaged options for those on the go. Nutbox offers an astounding variety of mixed nuts.
I make my next stop at Blossom du Jour, a vegan fast-casual restaurant known for its meatless burgers, sandwiches, wraps, and bowls.
Though I've never once considered becoming a vegetarian, let alone a vegan, I order the protein bowl, curious to see if its 'lemon un-chicken' could make a persuasive case.
It does. According to Blossom du Jour's website, the 'un-chicken' is made from a 'soy based protein provider.' While that doesn't sound terribly appetizing, I was impressed by the flavour -- almost a dead ringer for lightly breaded chicken -- and texture -- softer than real chicken, but without the flimsy, collapsible quality of tofu.
There's more than food available in TurnStyle. Lovepop makes intricate, 3-D greeting cards.
Like these elephants...
...or this recreation of the Beatles' iconic 'Abbey Road' album cover
Botany Bar has a colourful assortment of flowers.
And, if you're willing to drop $22, 'Money Trees.'
I'm impressed by some of the food vendors' unique decor. Yong Kang Street has comic book-inspired wallpaper.
Arepa Factory decided to decorate one of its walls with positive messages from customers.
As I pass the other food vendors, I start to given serious consideration to buying a second lunch. Bolivian Llama Party's display is tempting...
...so is Champion Pizza's...
...and Casa Toscana's.
I settle for samples from the Mediterranean vendor Semsom Eatery.
But then I turn around and find a cart full of '90s hip-hop references. I'm hooked.
So I decide to negate all the health benefits from my meal and pay $6 for a scoop of cookie dough. I choose the Nas-inspired 'The World Is S'Mores.'
After that, not even mini doughnuts from Doughnuttery can tempt me.
But I am fascinated by a couple of dog-centric businesses. Dog & Co. sells a variety of dog costumes.
And Marc Tetro specialises in dog-themed art and accessories.
My final stop is the Hell's Kitchen Hot Sauce kiosk. I'm intrigued by a sauce with a warning label on it, which I'm told is not actually a sauce, but capsaicin concentrate, which is basically a distilled version of the thing that makes hot sauce hot.
Hell's Kitchen also makes its own sauces, which owner and founder Ron Menin invites me to try. My tolerance for hot sauce is iffy, at best, but I accept his offer after he assures me none of his creations will ruin my day.
I try a total of seven different sauces and I'm surprised by the depth and variety of flavours Menin uses, ranging from honey and raspberry to chocolate and cinnamon. I work my way up to his hottest sauce, Cinnamon Ghost Punch.
Menin tells me it's not unbearable, but I'm sceptical.
...for the most part.
I head back to the office with my tongue in recovery mode, impressed by the quality of the offerings at TurnStyle. I'll definitely be back.