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The first Madison Square Garden was opened in 1879 and so named as it was built on Madison Square at the intersection of 5th Avenue, Broadway, and 23rd Street in Manhattan. A newer venue was constructed in the same location in 1890, where it stood for 35 years before a more modern arena was built on 8th Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets. Although no longer near Madison Square, the new stadium retained the original name and became an iconic part of New York, hosting thousands of events during its 43-year history, including President Kennedy’s birthday party in 1962 when Marilyn Monroe famously crooned ”Happy Birthday.” However, MSG was badly designed for a multi-use venue, with terrible sight lines, particularly for hockey. The arena was also poorly ventilated and in those days, and smoking was allowed, so there was often a haze in the upper portions.
By 1964, it was clear a new venue was needed, and so construction began above Penn Station, which had removed its surface structure to allow the Garden to be built. It was a challenge to create an entirely new arena above an active railroad station, but it succeeded brilliantly and MSG became known as the “World’s Most Famous Arena,” hosting both the New York Knicks and Rangers, as well as hundreds of other events every year. Of course, with all that use the Garden aged quickly, and there was a renovation in the early 1990s, but by 2010, it was in dire need of a more thorough overhaul.
Beginning in 2011, MSG began a 3-year, billion dollar makeover that is being referred to as a "Transformation." The Transformation was self-funded by MSG, a publicly traded company, and it has certainly changed every aspect of the venue. The Garden was shut down for three consecutive off-seasons (2011, 2012, 2013), with construction continuing behind-the-scenes during the NBA and NHL campaigns. The finishing touches were applied during the third and final phase of construction, which took place during the summer months in 2013 and the grand re-opening took place in October with a Knicks pre-season game.
They got it right and now Madison Square Garden is again the iconic venue that New York City deserves.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There are dozens of concession stands scattered around the two main concourses. However, items can be very expensive, as you would expect in New York. Many famous chefs are featured here, such as Jean-Georges Vongerichten, whose Simply Chicken stands offer a chicken sandwich with mayo and frizzled onion strings for $14.25, an organic chicken hot dog for $6.25, and chicken sesame noodles for $10.95. Drew Nierpoint's Daily Burger comes in at $9.25, and for an extra dollar you can get a Daily Cheese Burger with bacon and onion jam or a BBQ burger, while fries are $4.95. Sausage Boss by Andrew Carmellini offers specialty links for $10.25, with a bag of Terra chips just $2.
Other NY favorites include the Carnegie Deli (Pastrami, Corned Beef, or Turkey sandwich for $14.95, while a Potato Knish is $5.95) and Hill Country Barbeque (Chopped Brisket Sandwich for $13.95 or Prime Rib Sandwich for $18.95). An 8-inch personal pizza at Casa Nonna is $10 and might provide the best value. Senzai Sushi is located near section 118 and offers platters ranging from $11 to $19.
The Garden Market is the most common stand, with $6.25 hot dogs ($6.75 for the foot-long variety) and $5 ice cream along with other snacks and candy. There are some seating areas where this is your only option (sections 216-220 for example) so I would recommend trying one of the signature offerings which are likely to be a bit more flavorful than the bland hot dog.
There is even a Healthy at the Garden gluten-free stand behind Section 119 with fresh fruit and other reasonably priced options. Lineups here are shorter than the other options.
Beer is plentiful, but again not cheap with 24 oz. domestics at $10 and premium or imported, such as Hoegaarden at $10.50. Fountain soda is supplied by Coca-Cola and comes in two sizes - a 24 oz. medium for $5.25 and 32 oz. for $5.50 ($6.75 if you want a souvenir cup).
As you walk in to the arena via the new, larger Chase Square 7th Avenue entrance, you will notice two video screens in the ceiling, part of the Transformation. The entire entrance includes the box office and a large merchandise store, and is brightly lit and very welcoming. Of course, you must go through security, but it is no different than any other venue.
Inside the seating bowl, you will be surprised at how beautiful it has become. In its previous incarnation, there were multicolored pastel seats that really did not mesh with the overall feel of the arena. These have now been replaced by dark blue seats that achieve a more classic style. One other thing I want to note: there used to be an inner concourse that allowed fans and vendors to block the view of those sitting in the first couple of rows above it as they walked around. That has thankfully been removed so now you get an uninterrupted view of the action regardless of your location.
Before the game, the usual NBA introductions take place as the arena is darkened and a video plays. During the action, there is the typical chanting for defense while cheerleaders and t-shirt throwers make appearances during the breaks. At times, the PA announcer mentions the score after a basket, something I had not experienced in another NBA arena.
One thing that adds to the experience here is Celebrity Row. Madison Square Garden saves some courtside seats for celebrities who agree to have their mug shown on GardenVision in return. This always gets fans excited and livens up two or three TV time outs every game.
The Garden is located above Penn Station in central Manhattan, bounded by 7th and 8th Avenues and 31st and 33rd Streets. The Empire State Building is just two blocks away, while Times Square is a few minutes-walk north. Go west to see the eclectic art galleries of Chelsea or take the subway two stops south to Union Square's happening bar scene. I could go on and on and on, but it is enough to say that Madison Square Garden is right in the middle of the greatest city on the planet and there are hundreds of restaurants and bars catering to every taste within minutes. If you must have a recommendation, try Stout, a cool bar on 33rd Street between 6th and 7th Avenues that is hopping after the game.
As New York is the center of tourism in the United States, and many in attendance are from out of town and not necessarily accustomed to fan etiquette. Still, the crowd can be loud and into the game from tip off, as long as the Knicks are playing well. Should they falter, which they are doing quite often these days, fans can be quick to turn on them. Their most famous fan is Spike Lee, who is notorious for getting into it with opposing players and hurting his team rather than helping them.
Getting to MSG is easy and public transit is the way to go for any visitor. The 1, 2, 3, A, C, and E subway lines all stop at Penn Station along with the Long Island Railroad, while the B, D, F, M, N, Q, and R lines are just a block away at 34th St/Herald Square. There may be some delays if you get there around game time as crowds can form at the Chase Entrance for security and ticket scanning, but be patient and you will get through. Take escalators in one of the four towers up to your seating level, but if you are looking to tour the venue, stop at the Madison Concourse (100 level) and walk around first. Concourses are bright and wide enough, even during halftime, where you'll have no trouble moving from level to level and around the venue. There are staircases throughout that are not used by many fans and provide quicker access to all levels once the game is underway.
The Garden Concourse is on the 200 level and a bit more crowded during the break, but still easy enough to navigate. There are standing areas in the end zones along here that give you a bit of freedom if you are feeling cramped in your seat.
Move on up to one of the great new attractions here, the two new Chase Bridges on the 300 level. These span the north and south sides of the arena and provide unique views of the action down below as they are directly above the first row of the 200 level seats. You might be allowed to have a peek before the game but only ticketholders are allowed in once the action starts. Seats here are very limited and due to the steep drop, are blocked by glass, which might be a problem for some, especially in row 2 or 3. The views are quite dramatic though and if you have a chance to sit here for a game, you should take it. I should note that these bridges do block the scoreboard for those in the upper rows of the 200 level, but there are TV screens that display the scoreboard so you really don't miss anything.
The West Balcony is also on the 300 level and includes some bar stool seating. Beneath this are the Blue Seats, which are actually dubbed the 400 level. Note that the top couple of rows here do not have good views of the scoreboard due to the West Balcony blocking the view.
Finally, there is a lounge area dubbed the "EIGHTEEN/76 Balcony" on the east side of the Bridge level, with direct views into the arena bowl. The seats here are very plush indeed, but reserved for ticketholders, although you can find seats here on the secondary market on occasion.
Getting out of the arena can be the trickiest part of all, especially if you are at the top. The escalators are shut off and people slowly tramp down several flights, stopping at each level as more fans pile on. Try the staircases for a slightly quicker trip down or wait a few minutes to let crowds peter out.
Knicks tickets are expensive, with the cheapest starting at $68 for the Blue Seats for a non-premium game. Again though, you are in New York City and visiting one of the great venues in the nation, which has much more to offer than just the game itself. You might be able to find tickets for less on the secondary market, but regardless, you should have a great time at the new MSG.
One thing that is not forgotten is the history that has transpired here and at the previous incarnations of the Garden. There are two excellent tributes that appear throughout the building. The first is Madison Square Garden's "20 Defining Moments," where each moment is commemorated with a special exhibit that features photos and memorabilia. See if you can find all 20 (not that they are hidden, they are scattered about the Madison and Garden Concourses).
Meanwhile, "Garden 366" is a visual retrospective wrapping the circumference of the Madison Concourse, featuring one moment in Garden history for every day of the year.
Another point for the iconic Garden ceiling that has been gloriously restored.
GardenVision is the new, state-of-the-art scoreboard which has mini-scoreboards underneath so that fans sitting low don't have to crane their necks looking up, a nice touch.
There is free Wi-Fi throughout the building and it is by far the fastest I have experienced at any sporting venue. There are also wireless charging hotspots along the 200 level, which require a case available at any MSG store.
Finally, a point for including personal TV screens along the first row of the two hundred level, an unusual perk for what is otherwise a normal seat.
Overall, the newly upgraded MSG is a vast improvement. This is especially true for those who can afford the luxury areas, but the Chase Bridges are certainly within reach of most patrons and tickets can be found online before most games. But all fans are better off with the Transformed Garden and even if you have seen it before, I would recommend another visit to appreciate the upgrades.
I always look forward to a great time when I watch the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, the "World's Most Famous Arena." Truly an iconic place, MSG has hosted some of the most exciting events in the world.
The arena always provides fans with an upbeat and pleasant experience, but it's the team that can sometimes fall short of expectations.
When you're in New York City, you're in the entertainment capital. When you want to see a basketball game live there's no place like the mecca. I'm talking about the "The World's Most Famous Arena" aka Madison Square Garden.
The Garden draws people from all over the World. In 2011, the building started under going a major renovation which will transform the whole experience of seeing basketball and other forms of entertainment for many years to come. The process is in the first phase. There will be two more phases over the next two years before the transformation is completed that will face lift the venue.
Since I've lived here all my life I've been privileged to have seen around 1,000 basketball and hockey games combined as well as concerts and other events at Madison Square Garden.
The renovations have turned MSG from a pain to a pleasure. Widened concourses, friendly staff, new seats, monitors, the west balcony, and of course the best location in the world.
Sure tickets are expensive but that's supply and demand. Getting in and out will always be a pain and Knick fans can be annoying, but ultimately MSG is worth the hassle. Celebrities in the courtside seats add an element of intrigue and the daily anniversary display that surrounds the inner concourse is unique. If you've yet to see MSG, do it now. If you've seen it before, time to revisit as the new Garden is not the same as the old Garden.
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