STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) — 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.
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