New York City is strewn with tourist checkpoints like nowhere else in America, because there’s simply no place in America like it. There’s no place on Earth like it. New York is every consumable good and experience and opportunity in inexhaustible density, a skyscraping matrix of human experience closer to science fiction than to the Dutch fur-trading settlement it once was. It grows closer every day.
As it grows, the experience in New York changes with it, sometimes for the best and sometimes not. No other city has given life, and then theater, to the catalog of American achievement and iconography born in New York, and no city moves on from each new item so quickly. But always New York remains New York, a place to see for yourself—and for the past four decades, it has remained the home of Saturday Night Live.
I live in New York, east of the East River in Brooklyn, and Saturday Night Live is one of the few NYC institutions I’ve been able to keep relative pace with. My girlfriend has done an even better job. And now, in our city, there is a new window into the world of arguably the most iconic comedy platform ever, in the city of cities: Saturday Night Live — The Exhibition, on 5th Ave between 38th and 37th. The Westin New York Grand Central is now packaging tickets to the exhibition with select stays, and with an invite to try it out last Saturday night, we checked in live from New York in an entirely new way. It’s amazing how that continues to be possible.
The Westin New York Grand Central is just a few blocks to the east (the better direction on 42nd) from Grand Central Station. Saturday Night Live — The Exhibition is all of a 13-minute walk from the Westin entrance, so in theory a package makes sense, if there’s interest in SNL. The tickets are simply thrown in with your room booking—with free Wi-Fi to boot. As listed on the Westin site, each room comes with:
- 2 VIP anytime adult tickets to Saturday Night Life: The Exhibition
- Complimentary room upgrade based on availability
- Complimentary in-room Wi-Fi
Rack rates have SNL Experience prices starting at $299/night plus taxes and fees (looks like $347 at final billing). A Traditional Room, booked without the package, starts at $269/night (looks like $312) at final billing. But we were upgraded (per the package, “based on availability”) to a Deluxe Room, which begins at $299/night ($347 with taxes and fees, as above). Plus, tickets to Saturday Night Live — The Exhibition are $29 each, and Wi-Fi is $14.95 per day (unless you are an SPG member or have this card).
Which means: Our $347 price tag got us $420 in value. With our upgrade, the package worked out to be a Deluxe Room with free Wi-Fi and two free tickets to the SNL exhibition, to be used anytime, for the price of a Deluxe Room. Check out more here.
For the novice or ambitious New York visitor, the location of The Westin New York Grand Central is tough to beat. Just a few blocks from Grand Central Station, at 42nd St and 3rd Ave, it is Midtown East. Midtown East, if described as a singular location, could reasonably be “the Westin.” It’s minutes walking from Grand Central, where the 4, 5 and 6 trains can run you up- and downtown, the S can take you to Times Square (if you must go), and the 7 can take you into (or out of) Queens and a bus to and from LaGuardia. It’s also minutes from the Empire State Building, Bryant Park, 5th Ave and its gorgeous library, and the United Nations. More:
- Subway map from the MTA
- Guide to the area around the Westin custom-made by Afar
- Helpful map and interactive directions from the Westin (which inexplicably includes a map of London; will likely soon be fixed)
The Westin is on the right side of the street if you’re coming from Grand Central. You can’t miss it. Inside, check-in is straight ahead, with two concierge desks on the left beneath panels of dark wood stacked into a full and welcoming, high-ceilinged lobby. Check-in was smooth and quick for us (quicker for SPG members), and checkout was even smoother. There’s actually a self checkout option by the elevators. We did not use it.
Tip: After check-in, pick up your tickets to the Saturday Night Live — The Exhibition at the concierge desk.
The room—a Deluxe Room on the 28th floor—held for us a plush king-size bed, a 42″ flat-screen TV with HBO (we watched part of Tig Notaro’s new special), a shower with the pressure of a small gun, and gorgeous views of the Empire State Building. We are people familiar with this building, and yet the views of it awoke a new lust for its observation deck.
Tip: The observation deck of the Empire State Building, five minutes away, is open until 2 am, every night. It will cost you $32+ per adult.
There’s a longer list of amenities and services worth perusing, and not listed, a deeper inventory of fun highlighted by an available bagel tour of New York. For us, the hotel hit the marks that mattered—good bed, good shower, good Wi-Fi (with package or SPG membership), good location—and, for good measure, gave us rare views of two true New York icons: Saturday Night Live, via the exhibition, and the Empire State Building, via the window in our room.
The SNL exhibition
When we arrived, on Saturday evening around 7 pm, the exhibition was disarmingly barren. There was no one but staff with us in the lobby, and then for our first steps into the actual exhibition. We eventually caught up with another couple, and then a group congregating around a screen cycling through show highlights. The show is a ways into its run, and that’s great, as the pacing of traffic turned out to be comfortable.
The exhibition is structured as a walk through the life of SNL, from 1975 to present and then more comprehensively, from the beginning of a week to that week’s show’s air on Saturday night. The origins of SNL are laid out for inspection in the first few rooms of the walk. A copy of a letter from Lorne Michaels to NBC, in which Michaels lays out an early vision of the show (with stand-up sets and performances mixed in and many more things phased out), was maybe the most interesting part of the whole exhibit for me.
Video insight from cast members and treasures are in heavy supply, with replica sets (like those of Wayne’s World and Celebrity Jeopardy), actual costumes (like Church Lady’s), and real props and products from all the fake commercials. But far more engaging for me was the way the exhibit breaks the show down, at times hour by hour. In one overhead photo of a Tuesday table read you can see the intensity, the pressure.
Seeing images of the famous table reads on Tuesdays and the different offices Lorne moves between (and why), and then learning about the genesis of certain sketches, made the experience more than worthwhile for me. There was a whole section devoted to the parallel procession of creativity each week at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where staff builds custom sets every week. A full room, a replica control room, takes you through the sights and sounds of the direction and camera work. If you actually give the signs and videos a little time, it’s hard not to arrive at the final stop without a swollen sense of appreciation for the SNL final production—which you get to simulate at the end at a replica stage hosted by a video of Tina Fey. It’s actually really cool.
Now, the only thing left is to make it to a real taping. Check out more pics below:
Have you been to Saturday Night Live — The Exhibition or The Westin New York Grand Central? What did you think?