Bar cars make last run on NYC-area commuter trains

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Nan Buziak Lexow, left, Srikanth Reddy, center, and Mark DeMonte, right, raise a toast while riding the bar car on the 7:07 p.m. train from Grand Central Terminal in New York to New Haven, Conn., Thursday, May 8, 2014. The trio toasted the bar car, being retired from Metro-North’s New Haven Line after Friday’s afternoon rush hour. The cars were a fixture on Metro-North Railroad trains for at least a half century. The cars, decked out with orange walls and faux wood paneling, are being retired Friday, because they cannot be coupled to the new fleet of train cars on the New Haven line. (AP Photo/Michael R. Sisak)

Nan Buziak Lexow, left, Srikanth Reddy, center, and Mark DeMonte, right, raise a toast while riding the bar car on the 7:07 p.m. train from Grand Central Terminal in New York to New Haven, Conn., Thursday, May 8, 2014. The trio toasted the bar car, being retired from Metro-North’s New Haven Line after Friday’s afternoon rush hour. The cars were a fixture on Metro-North Railroad trains for at least a half century. The cars, decked out with orange walls and faux wood paneling, are being retired Friday, because they cannot be coupled to the new fleet of train cars on the New Haven line. (AP Photo/Michael R. Sisak)

Mark DeMonte, right, of Wallingford, Conn., join other riders in the bar car on the 7:07 p.m. train to New Haven, Conn., at Grand Central Terminal on Thursday, May 8, 2014 in New York. DeMonte, a bar car regular, has been dubbed “Mayor of the 5:48″ by friends and riders of his usual train. Metro-North is retiring bar cars from the New Haven Line after Friday’s afternoon rush hour. They were the last commuter bar cars in the U.S. (AP Photo/Michael R. Sisak)

The bar car on the 7:07 p.m. train from Grand Central Terminal in New York to New Haven, Conn., is empty of riders after its run on Thursday, May 8, 2014. The bar car is near the end of its run as Metro-North is retiring it from the New Haven Line after Friday’s afternoon rush hour. The cars were a fixture on Metro-North Railroad trains for at least a half century. For some riders, they were more than a place to have a drink on the long ride home from work. Commuters played dice, formed friendships, talked business, pulled pranks and even had Christmas parties with a jazz band. (AP Photo/Michael R. Sisak)

A commuter at Grand Central Terminal in New York boards the bar car on the 7:07 p.m. train to New Haven, Conn., on Thursday, May 8, 2014. Metro-North is retiring bar cars from the New Haven Line after Friday’s afternoon rush hour. They were the last commuter bar cars in the U.S. (AP Photo/Michael R. Sisak)

A posted on a Metro-North train directs riders to the bar car on the 7:07 p.m. train traveling from Grand Central Terminal in New York to New Haven, Conn., on Thursday, May 8, 2014. Metro-North is retiring bar cars from the New Haven Line after Friday’s afternoon rush hour. They were the last commuter bar cars in the U.S. (AP Photo/Michael R. Sisak)

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STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) — The bar cars on trains between Manhattan and Connecticut were making their final run Friday after decades as a gathering place for commuters who played dice, found jobs and had annual Christmas parties with a jazz band.

With their faux-wood paneling on the walls and red leather lounges, the bar cars that have run on the Metro-North Railroad for at least a half-century evoke New York’s “Mad Men” era of martini lunches.

On the 7:07 p.m. train to New Haven on Thursday, commuters snapped photos and recorded videos of the rolling taverns that were much more than a place to 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, and bartenders sent flowers.

The bar cars 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.

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 a prank, like gluing cans to the bar to trick a 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

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