The Rink at Rockefeller Center

by: Kent McDill

December 1, 2015
   In The Loop Extended Articles

It is arguably the most famous skating rink in the United States, perhaps in the world.

In October, The Rink at Rockefeller Center in New York City opened for its 79th season. Located one floor below ground level, under the guise of a golden statue of Prometheus on 5th Ave. between 49th St. and 50th St., the skating rink is prepared to host thousands of skaters until its scheduled closing day sometime in April.

“The Rink is still enchanting for all who visit it,’’ said Nick Valenti, CEO of Patina Restaurant Group, which operates the Rink and its surrounding restaurants. “It has been here for generations, leading to memories and long-lasting traditions. We are proud to be a part of its history and look forward to many memorable years to come.”

The Rink opens at 8:30 a.m. and allows skaters on until midnight every day. It operates for 90 minutes at a time, before a specially-built Zamboni crosses the ice for resurfacing one of the eight times a day that occurs.

The Rink is available for $25 per person ($32 during peak periods), $15 for children under the age of 11 and for senior citizens. There are skate lessons available when scheduled in advance, and there are group rates for 15 or more, again only with advance planning.

In fact, if you want to skate at The Rink at Rockefeller Center, it is best to go to the website or call the Rink at 212-332-7654 because The Rink offers special events all season long, and you just never know what (or who) might be on the ice at any one time.

Before perusing a list of special events that occur at The Rink at Rockefeller Center, let’s go back to the day in the early 1930s when there was no Rockefeller Center, and there was no skating rink there.

As the United States clawed its way out of the Great Depression in the early 1930s, John D. Rockefeller Jr. built his “city within a city”, more than a dozen buildings housing businesses above and shopping and restaurants at ground level. In order to attract families to the area, a temporary skating rink was built between the buildings in what was originally called “The Sunken Plaza”.

Built to the specifications available within the area, The Rink is only 122 feet long, 59 feet wide, and can only hold 150 skaters at a time.

In 1937, skating at The Rink became a holiday event. With the winter approaching, an information booklet about “The Rockefeller Outdoor Ice Skating Pond” offered skating for 99 cents per session, with the 2.5 hour sessions beginning at 10:30 a.m. and going until midnight.

“First of its kind in America,” the program states. “Skate in sunshine, rosy sunset, moonlight, in a wind-protected sunken garden, and such environment! Skating at its best, outdoors!”

“Plain instruction” was offered for $1 per half hour, with figure skating instruction offered for $3 per half hour. Also available for 50 cents per session were “figure or hockey skates attached to suitable shoes”. The Skate House offered a warming area, a check room, and items available for sale were shoe laces, straps, and skates sharpening.

For the well-to-do in 1937, the rink was available for private parties from 11 pm. to 2 a.m. for $50 per hour.

Today, The Rink at Rockefeller Center is home to numerous special occasions, none more important than the annual Christmas Tree Lighting, which on Dec. 2, 2015, will mark the 82nd such event. The tree itself stands on street level above Prometheus, in plain view of all the skaters on the ice below.

Skaters who want to skate in the first morning light at 7 a.m. can do so for $50 for the hour. For an extra $15 (or more) the skater can then enjoy breakfast on site.

For $60 on up, depending on the day, skaters can skip (even with skates on) past the line of people waiting to get on the ice. This VIP experience includes a skating concierge to offer advice and assist with getting skates on, as well as complimentary hot chocolate and freshly-baked cookies.  

During the Christmas and holiday season, there are numerous special events that offer experiences on and off the ice. All of them require advance reservations.

In the spring, the rink is turned into a garden dining area from the Patina Restaurant Group which owns all of the restaurants surrounding the rink during the winter.

It’s probably fair to say there is nothing exactly like skating at The Rink at Rockefeller Center.