MADISON SQUARE GARDEN
STADIUM DUDE’S NHL ARENA RANK: #9
- Location: New York City
- Opened 1968 | Renovated 2013
- Capacity 18,006
- Games attended: 2
- Last visited: 2020
Madison Square Garden bills itself as the world’s most famous arena. I doubt you could prove them wrong.
The fourth facility to use the Madison Square Garden moniker, it’s one of the busiest facilities in North America, hosting events 320 days a year. Its location in the heart of midtown Manhattan, blocks from the Empire State Building, is the best of all the New York sports venues, and one of the best in all of sports period. It sits atop Penn Station, one of the largest transportation hubs in the world. Don’t drive; take the subway, train, or taxi (or just stay in a nearby hotel and walk). Because Penn Station is beneath it, fans need to take multiple escalator rides up to get to their seats: the lower bowl is on the 6th floor.
The arena itself, the oldest in the league, has been renovated several times, with the last one costing an eye-popping billion dollars. Yet despite all the updates, history oozes from MSG. Plates commemorating some of the performers that made history in the building are laid in the floor of the lobby of the Chase Square entrance. Inside, the Defining Moments exhibit outlines a timeline of the arena’s history, featuring landmark events such as the Rangers 94 Stanley Cup and the first Ali-Frazier fight. In a sport where an “old arena” is 25-years-old, it’s nice to be in a building with a past that pre-dates Melania Trump.
The arena features warm, slightly dim lighting that projects the aura of an office building or mid-century modern amphitheater. It’s essentially a lower bowl/upper bowl set up with the new Chase bridges offering a cool vantage from up high. Concourses are navigable and spread over multiple levels, but can only be so large given the footprint of the original building. Concessions are strong with several New York eateries having an outpost here: Arancini Bros, Paulie Gee’s Slice Shop, Big Gay Ice Cream, Bouchon Bakery and Fuku chicken are among the delights. The Carnegie Deli, which closed its midtown location at the end of 2016, has its last remaining restaurants here. It’s a rare arena that’s serves food worthy of arena pricing.
No city is just naturally more electric than NYC, and that translates into amazing sports experiences. My last game was against the rival Islanders, and though both teams were fighting just to get into playoff position, the crowd was buzzy, especially for a January Monday night. New York Ranger fans have a tendency (like many New Yorkers) for bombast and fatalism, and that loud angst creates a fantastic vibe in the arena. They also have long memories: in 2020, I heard a “Potvin Sucks” chant from the 400-level (Ranger-killer defenseman Dennis Potvin retired in 1988). And they are smart hockey fans whose armchair coaching suggestions often make sense.
Rolling Stone recently dubbed the Garden the coolest venue in America. For hockey fans, it doesn’t get much cooler than getting to watch an Original Six team in an amazing atmosphere in the heart of the Big Apple.