Last Call For The Bar Car

For decades, it’s been an enduring image of suburbia.

The business executive lingers over a 3-martini lunch. Later, he (it’s always a man) boards the train to Connecticut, heading straight to the bar car. In Westport he steps off the platform and rolls intoย Mario’s.

You can still order 3 martinis at lunch (unless you have a job). Mario’s will be here forever (we hope).

But — as of Friday — the bar car is gone. It’s joined the coal car and steam engine in that great switchyard in the sky.

Bar cars in 1968 (left) and 2010. (Photo courtesy of the New York Times)

Bar cars in 1968 (left) and 2010. (Photos courtesy of the New York Times)

Metro-North‘s bar car — part of the commuting experience since the 1930sย — fell victim to (of course) progress. Their design was incompatible with the railroad’s new M-8 cars, which have gone into service at the same time Metro-North has done 2 things previously believed impossible: take longer, and be less reliable.

Yesterday’sย New York Times assured readers (and riders) that drinks will still be available at Grand Central, via carts near the tracks.

“It’s a rebranding,” said MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan. He’s a Staples grad (Class of 1994), so he may or may not have 1st-hand knowledge of the bar car.

But tens of thousands of Westport commuters do. Click “Comments” to share your memories. Due to the what-happens-in-the-bar-car-stays-in-the-bar-car nature of this topic, we’ll allow anonymous comments just this once.

32 responses to “Last Call For The Bar Car

  1. Iain Bruce

    To each his own, but I welcome their demise. They smell worse than a frat house on Sunday morning: stale beer and chemical toilet combining in the olfactory equivalent of Normandy. They are loud, rude, sticky-floored petri dishes, filled with garrulous boors. And the railroad insisted, as recently as Thursday, on running them during the morning rush, as though they were regular cars. Run on a morning rush hour train, they reduce seating capacity by over 100, creating more standees and a safety hazard (though if you are forced to stand in the bar car, you won’t go anywhere in a train wreck because your feet will be glued to the floor by the adhesive properties of fermented barley). And they run in the morning with no coffee service, which might have made them a marginally tolerable nuisance. With the arrival of hundreds of new M-8 cars, why did the management insist on running bar cars in the morning rush? Surely they could wait till late in the day to be put in service?

    They deserve more than retirement. They should be sunk in the Atlantic to provide a habitat for fish and a recreational ground for scuba divers. That, at least, would constitute some societal utility.

    • Bar car aficionado

      Funny, except you called us boors, you pompous ass.
      Some of the best and non pompous brains from Wall Street and the rag business rode the bar car and lasting friendships were started.
      We are so glad that prudish Casper Milk Toasts like you did not join us.

      • Gary Singer

        Hear, hear. To each his own, and my own was the fun, friendy bar car.

    • Party Girl

      Agree MTA’s use during morning rush constitutes yet another MTAbuse —

      However, me thinks, Mr. Bruce, it is you who is the “bore” here.

    • Bye Bar Car

      So true. reading this I had to hold down the gag reflex because that is exactly what I had to do when walking through this car. it wasn’t healthy for anyone, the passengers, the staff, etc.

  2. One night several years ago, I got on the bar car, found an empty spot along the bar, and opened the NY Post, hoping a few stories on page 6 would divert me from the long ride ahead. As the crowd filtered in, a guy to my left asked for a little more room, and before long we struck up a conversation. He was an iron worker who commuted to NYC from way down the line in Connecticut to build the new World Trade Center. It had been a windy day, and I asked him about working up so high in such conditions, and he kidded, at least I thought he was kidding, about how all the modern safety precautions had taken much of the fun out of being a thousand feet up. I bought a round and later he did the same. After talking about work, we talked about our families. Before long, the train arrived in Westport and we said so long. On that night, I wished the commute had been a bit longer.

  3. Friday Afternoon, probably the 6:05, packed. I’m sitting just forward of the bar car with a bunch of my friends in the 5 seat waiting for the train to start.
    Beautiful lady sitting with us asks me if I want to smoke a joint before the train leaves. “Why not!”
    Just as we get to the doors the bell goes off and the doors close. She says let’s go into the bathroom in the bar car and smoke there. I’m chicken, but what the hell.
    I tell her I’m going in the bathroom first and she can come in right behind me quickly. We get to the bar car, all jammed up around the bathroom and I push down on the handle, but it doesn’t open. A guy standing across on the other side says there’s somebody in there, the guy standing next to him says there’s two of them in there and everybody starts laughing. It’s pretty obvious they’re trying to draw the attention of the beautiful lady standing next to me, who turns to me and says “well, if there’s two of them in there, then we can go in together.” I say loudly to her “lady you can do whatever you want, all I know is I’m first.”
    Door finally opens and the guy comes out by himself. All guys over there start laughing. I open the door, jump inside and she comes in behind me and we slam it shut.
    About five minutes later. We come out. She’s first I’m behind her and we are trying to move fast and return to the next car and our seats.
    One guy says “give me the money.” He had obviously bet somebody whether or not there was a man and a girl in the bathroom.
    Another guy screams out “how was it?” I yell back “it was great,” trying to keep moving to the door.
    Beautiful lady stops, turns around, gives me a dirty look, looks at the guy and says “great? It was fantastic!.” The crowd roars!

    Third guy yells out “buddy, i’ve been riding this train for 30 years and that’s the best I’ve ever seen!”

    Those were the days ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. What happened to real names?

    • Last Line Of Dan’s Article:

      “Due to the what-happens-in-the-bar-car-stays-in-the-bar-car nature of this topic, weโ€™ll allow anonymous comments just this once.”

    • Anybody = dumbbody

      Good thing you didn’t use your real name ! ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Hath No Shame

        โ€œDue to the what-happens-in-the-bar-car-stays-in-the-bar-car nature of this topic, weโ€™ll allow anonymous comments just this once.โ€

        We’ll allow comments once because my blog is more important than keeping what happens in the bar car stay in the bar car. Shameless.

  5. Matt Murray

    I’m wagering Dan is giving a pass in this thread as the statute of limitations *may* not have expired yet. I agree, this one should get the exemption on anonymity.
    My stories though not as colorful do not require a nom de plume. Yes the bar cars were pretty grungy. I remember the earlier versions (pic on the left) as well as the M2 cars. I remember jumping on the back of the “Southport car” that was the last car of the 5:20 out of GCT (circa mid-seventies). It was a private club funded by those who rode it. I was running to get the train and jumped on as the train was moving down the platform (that wasn’t the first time nor the last time I had done that, just the only time on the Southport car). I had long hair, beard and very young (none of which applies now). I and the club members knew I wasn’t to be there but I moved through the car quickly to get to the steerage cars. It was nice in there. They may have had their own bartender there. Now those platforms/boarding ends of the cars I had many a beer and smokables while watching the world go by and even sticking my head outside like I was an engineer.

  6. Jamie Walsh

    Mr. Bruce… Although, I can say that I was never a regular in the bar car, it was a staple of my youth, heading back from a trip to the city with my grandfather and later with my friends. To use deductive logic in concluding that all who frequented the bar car were ,in your words, “garrulous boors” is unfair. While not my scene, I knew plenty of people who were terrific and enjoyed the camaraderie on the way home.

  7. Mary Ann West

    Winter, 1976 as a young 20 something: Caught a CT bound commuter out of Grand Central ahead of a snow storm and parked myself in the bar car. At some point our train pulled down the cantenary wires, so they rerouted all the trains around us. During the 5 hour/ untold drink combinations later, I arrived home knowing that I would move to Los Angeles; it changed my life.

    PS, back in the day they did sell coffee, pastry and papers in the AM bar car, plus you could smoke.

    • Tom Feeley

      U FUNNY GUY ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Tom Feeley

      Delete U FUNNY GUY…that was for Gary…glitch, SNAFU

      You, Mary Ann were scheduled to receive:
      because of the line that goes something like:
      “LA’s fine, but it ain’t home;
      “New York’s fine, bit it ain’t mine no more.”

      When I read “move to Los Angeles,” that song popped into my head ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Gary Singer

    I believe, with the help of a powerful magnifying glass, I can find myself in that 1968 photo. Note that we all wore dark suits, polished shoes and hats.
    Attache cases were neatly stowed by our feet. In my right hand you’ll find a dry Martini with a lemon twist.

  9. Sandy Soennichsen

    Ahhhhhh, the bar cars! Some of my fondest memories of commuting occurred in the bar car, Yeah, maybe they weren’t sterilized clean, but they had a certain ambiance. Not only could you smoke and enjoy an alcoholic beverage, or plain soda if you wished, but there was comeradery on board. Not only that, it was a great networking environment. You could possibly get a job and you could hear firsthand what was really going on in the business world.
    And boors Mr. Bruce (with two “i’s” in your first name, British)…..absolutely not. Never in all the years that I commuted did I encounter an uncouth and belligerent man, intoxicated maybe, but not belligerent. There were some of the titans of the business world on those bar cars.
    And then there were the card games, but also THE card game. A game turned legend at the flip of a card. Some mortgages won and lost, and that’s the truth, and numerous paychecks lost. The regular crowd playing poker, and the young wannabes standing around, jumping to get another round of drinks or hoping that one of the regulars didn’t show and they would be selected to play. That game was in the small room at the end of the bar car and it used to be for the postal clerks to sort the mail along the trip for that big PO in the big city.
    And the bartenders. Some had been with the railroad for years. My favorite was a man named Dick Tracy, He had been with the RR for years at that time, hardly ever missed a day, and kept the patter going just like those well known bartenders in the famous venues. Had a comment for all. Anfd the typical bartender jokes, some not all that funny, but we were enjoying ourselves, so why not laugh. Jokes like “Why is Bud Light like making love in a canoe? Because it’s f—king near water!” He used to bring $1000 in cash every day because someone had to cash those checks for the poker players, and for the occassional riders that were short of cash; and he said he never had a check bounce on him. Who could say that now?
    And yes, there were the scenarios played out that reinforced what happens on the bar car stays on the bar car. The slightly intoxicated men hitting on the pretty ladies, telling them how worldly and macho they were and traveled so extensively that they would meet the ladies anywhere, anytime. Just not in Westport, or Fairfield where their wives were waiting for them.Or how many hours were spent in an establishment like Marios from when the 5:20 pm arrived in town about 6:30 and they called their wives before they left to tell them how unfortunate they were but the boss wanted them to do some overtime on some special project. and they’d take a later train, and call them when they got into the station, about 9 or 10 pm, and wait for them at the bar.
    That’s a lot of “ands.” There could be more, but my fingers tire from the typing. For many, the bar cars were a right of passage. Where have those days gone? Now it’s sterile cars with the sounds of silence as many of the septic people keep their heads down and text for their lives. Don’t look up, you might have to say something to someone and you wouldn’t know how.

    • Tom Feeley

      Sandy, that was fabulous…brought back memories…Dick Connors and more.
      THANKS ! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Go Sandy! Like! Pack in the cells and bring back the bar cars — that was some networking.

  10. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    I have a feeling that my dear old Dad had a reserved seat in the bar car.
    If it had had a piano, he may well have moved in!
    I say this in the kindest sense. I miss him so.


  11. Sharon Paulsen

    What a great post/topic Dan! So much fun reading these stories of the riders unique experiences. Memories flood in!
    I told my Dad about this post (he now lives in Florida), and he had read about this in the NY times as well. He would have fit right in to that 1968 photo! (Incidentally, the year I was born).
    It prompted me to search for other articles about the bar car fate, and I found this one from an April USA Today report (hope this link works – is it cool to post links here Dan??). It mentions a “current” bar-car bartender from Westport – pretty cool. And apparently discussions of adding updated bar cars to the new trains was entertained here. True/not true now??
    On a side note, even with the stark contrast in men’s fashion from the 60’s to “now”, notice how the shoe style seems to have come full circle? Black, polished, longer toe, and decidedly dressy – but, paired with jeans, of course, haha.

  12. Sally Campbell Palmer

    One summer in the late fifties I was tasked to pick up my mom’s boyfriend, a big advertising exec, from the train on my way home from lifeguarding at the beach every day. He always got off the bar car, always the winner at matching dollar bills, with the bills spilling out of every pocket of his suit. People had so much fun in those days!

  13. Byron Miller

    Does anyone know what will now happen to the bar cars and how many are there?

  14. Leo Isotalo

    I’m an ex-Westporter and regular bar car rag trade commuter 1968-1976. The bar car was a rolling party with side benefits of sage business insights and sound career advice for up-and -coming young guys. The bores and the boorish didn’t fit the bar car social profile and so self-selected themselves to the comfort of the more funereal atmosphere elsewhere.
    A few years back, while on a visit to NYC, I took the rush hour bar car to meet at Mario’s with my son who was then living in Westport. It was a complete shock: The bar car was maybe half full and very quiet as the lap tops were out in force. Guys were working and worse yet, they were mostly drinking bottled water. I guess that’s “change”, but I wouldn’t call it “progress”.

    • Tom Feeley

      Bar Car Death:
      Sounds like it was dead before they discarded it…
      those were the days ๐Ÿ˜‰
      irreplaceable…the stories…the guys…and the few brave ladies!

    • Nancy Hunter Wilson

      Invasion of the body snatchers redux.