If Times Square is New York's crossroads, Rockefeller Center is its communal gathering place, where the entire world converges to snap pictures, skate on the ice rink, peek in on a taping of the Today show, shop, eat, and take in the monumental Art Deco structures and public sculptures from the past century. Totaling more than 100 shops and 50 eateries (including Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery), the complex runs from 47th to 52nd streets between 5th and 7th avenues. Special events and huge pieces of art dominate the central plazas in spring and summer. In December an enormous twinkling tree towers above the ice-skating rink, causing huge crowds of visitors from across the country and the globe to shuffle through with necks craned and cameras flashing. The first official tree-lighting ceremony was held in 1933.
The world's most famous ice-skating rink (The Rink at Rockefeller Center) occupies Rockefeller Center's sunken lower plaza October through April and converts to a
café in summer. The gold-leaf statue of the fire-stealing Greek hero Prometheus—Rockefeller Center's most famous sculpture—hovers above, forming the backdrop to zillions of photos. Carved into the wall behind it, a quotation from Aeschylus reads, "Prometheus, teacher in every art, brought the fire that hath proved to mortals a means to mighty ends." The lower plaza also provides access to the marble-lined corridors underneath Rockefeller Center, which houses restaurants, a post office, and clean public restrooms—a rarity in Midtown.
Rising from the Lower Plaza's west side is the 70-story (850-foot-tall) Art Deco GE Building, a testament to modern urban development. Here Rockefeller commissioned and then destroyed a mural by Diego Rivera (upon learning that it featured Vladimir Lenin). He replaced it with the monumental American Progress by José María Sert, still on view in the lobby, flanked by additional murals by Sert and English artist Frank Brangwyn. Up on the 65th floor is the landmark Rainbow Room, a glittering big-band ballroom dating to 1934; they serve a showy and very expensive brunch on Sunday, and dinner and entertainment on Monday nights. Higher up, Top of the Rock has what many consider the finest panoramic views of the city.