Thursday, April 22, 2010

The End of the Bar Car

What? You mean the "Mad Men" craze couldn't save it?

The New York Times brings us the sad, sad news that that bastion of civilization, that emblem to the notion that hardworking adults deserve to wind down on the ride home from work—the Bar Car—may be eliminated by MetroNorth, one of the few rail lines that still uses them. (One of the few rail lines period.)

According to the Times, "A new fleet of cars will soon replace the 1970s-era models now used by commuters on the Metro-North Railroad line heading to Connecticut. But with money tight, railroad officials said they could not yet commit themselves to a fresh set of bar cars, citing higher costs for the cars’ custom design. 'They’re being contemplated,' said Joseph F. Marie, Connecticut’s commissioner of transportation. 'But we have not made any final decisions.'" The big questions is if the railway, always strapped for cash, can make more money selling extra seats than drinks. The new cars will be phased in beginning at the end of 2010.

I've always wished the bar cars were more glam than they are—something akin to the lovely lounges you see in movies from the 1930s. Instead, they're rather tacky, unrelievedly brown-and-orange and look too much like the other passenger cars. And the selection of beers and drinks is terribly paltry. Still, I love them. They provide a respite from the prison of your seat, and ever-so-slightly romanticize your trip. (At least, if you can keep the frat boys and yahoos out of the car.)

Long Island Rail Road trains and MetroNorth trains to much of Westchester County and other points upstate do not have bar cars; only the trains to Connecticut. Which says a lot about living in Connecticut, both good and bad.

Mr. Marie, the commissioner, offers some tantalizing hints as to what new bars cars might look like if they were indeed built into the new trains.  "It would be nice to create a row-bench type of environment," he said. "Kind of like in a pub." OK, so we can see the man is not totally without enthusiasm about drinking.

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