It’s last call for bar cars on trains

Last call came Friday for the bar cars on commuter trains between Manhattan and Connecticut, a final run for rolling taverns where city workers gathered for decades to play dice, find jobs and hold annual Christmas parties with a jazz band.

The cars on the Metro-North Railroad are believed to be the last of their kind in the United States. With their faux-wood paneling on the walls and red leather lounges, they evoke New York’s “Mad Men” era of martini lunches.

On the 7:07 p.m. train to New Haven a day earlier, commuters snapped photos and recorded videos of the cars that became much more than places to simply have a drink.

“I moved to Connecticut 10 years ago, but I never would have met as many friends as I’ve met. It all started on the bar car, really,” said Nan Buziak Lexow. “It’s a sad day for all of us.”

Her husband, Fred Lexow, was a regular bar car rider for more than 20 years and was one of the original dice players. When he died in September 2012, she described him in his obituary as “a former regular rider of the 523 Club from Grand Central.” Fellow bar car riders attended his wake. Bartenders sent flowers.

The bar cars, which date back at least 50 years, are being retired because they cannot be coupled to a new fleet of train cars on the New Haven line. Transportation officials are hoping to buy new bar cars or retrofit some, but no decisions have been made yet.

Amtrak still serves alcohol in its dining cars. But the American Public Transportation Association says Metro-North is believed to be the last commuter rail line with bar cars.

“It was part of the commuter railroad experience,” said Art Guzzetti, the group’s vice president for policy. “One by one they’ve been going away.”

The annual Christmas party until a few years ago featured a five-piece jazz band underwritten by a rider. The bar cars were also a place to make contacts for new jobs and for pranks, like gluing cans to the bar to trick one man who would come through and guzzle half-drunk beers, riders say.

Kyle Elliott said he started riding in the bar car 10 years ago but a job change two years ago has kept him away. He returned Thursday after hearing they were making their last runs.

“I know all these people,” Elliott said. “I’ve been to parties in the summer at their homes. I know their children. I’ve been to funerals of people that I’ve known in this bar car. We’ve shared all the things that you share with your friends in life through meeting each other in this bar car.”

Meghan Miller, of Branford, who’s been riding the bar car since 1997, said she showed up for the birth of a fellow rider’s child before he did because she was on an earlier train and the rider’s wife had called her as his emergency contact. She said bar car riders would buy her drinks and smoking used to be allowed.

“This is very much 1963. It is a very ‘Mad Men’ vibe,” she said. “That would be incredibly appropriate. If females are going to be on the bar car, you’re expected to hold your own.”

Mark DelMonte, of Wallingford, was known as the “mayor of the 5:48,” sending email alerts to fellow bar car regulars updating them on which of the dwindling number of bar cars were rolling.

“I wanted to take one of these cars, because they’re going away, and put it in my backyard,” DelMonte said. “It’s ugly. It’s orange. But it’s nostalgic and we love it.”

More in Herald Business Journal

Tulalips break ground on new Quil Ceda Creek Casino Hotel

A 150-room hotel was added to what is now a $140 million complex expected to open in spring 2019.

For modern women, 98-year-old rejection letters still sting

In a stark new video, female Boeing engineers break the silence about past inopportunity.

Angel of the Winds pays $3.4M for Everett arena naming rights

The casino replaces Xfinity as the lead sponsor for the publicly owned downtown Everett events center.

Teddy, an English bulldog, models Zentek Clothing’s heat regulating dog jacket. (Ian Terry / The Herald)
Everett clothing company keeps your dog cool and stylish

Zentek uses space-age fabrics to moderate the temperature of pets and now humans.

Providence Hospital in Everett at sunset Monday night. Officials Providence St. Joseph Health Ascension Health reportedly are discussing a merger that would create a chain of hospitals, including Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, plus clinics and medical care centers in 26 states spanning both coasts. (Kevin Clark / The Daily Herald)
Merger would make Providence part of health care behemoth

Providence St. Joseph Health and Ascension Health are said to be talking. Swedish would also be affected.

Bombardier promotes its C Series airliner as American made

It says more than half its all-new jet is made in US factories with final assembly near Montreal.

Everett engineers learn lessons from Mexico City catastrophe

Structural scientists went to help after the September earthquake there and studied the damage.

Justice Department confirms criminal probe in Uber case

A former Uber executive is accused of stealing self-driving car technology from Google.

Trudeau snubs Boeing, unveils plan to buy used Aussie jets

Trudeau will be assessing the impact fighter jet contracts have on his country’s economy.

Most Read