Great station cafes
December 6, 2008 3:49 AM   Subscribe

The Gare de Lyon in Paris has Le Train Bleu. Grand Central Staion in New York has a superb Oyster Bar; Washington Union Station has this neo-classical wonder; while Prague this prime example of art nouveau; Helsinki, meanwhile, offers something suitably democratic. With cafes as good as this, railway stations become destinations in themselves.
posted by MrMerlot (17 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Mmmmm. :)
posted by caddis at 3:59 AM on December 6, 2008

Wonderful places.

Sadly, the last grand station café I was in was the champagne bar at St. Pancras, which is a nice enough place to wait for a train, but downright naff compared to the cafés in the post. I also love the bleak cafés and abject pubs at small stations. Come to think of it, I just love train stations!
posted by jack_mo at 4:30 AM on December 6, 2008

Yes, I was deeply disappointed by the champagne bar at St Pancras.
posted by ninebelow at 5:11 AM on December 6, 2008

Don't forget Bonapartes in Bristol's Temple Meads station.
posted by hnnrs at 5:32 AM on December 6, 2008

Some trivia about what came before the Center Café at DC's Union Station: it's a fairly recent development which covers up a failed attempt to restore Union Station into an official "National Visitors' Center" back in the 1970's, when rail travel was flagging.

Back then they dug a recessed pit in the middle of the Great Hall floor, then built in walkways facing a giant multi-screen setup called the P.A.V.E. (Primary Audio Visual Experience), which opened up to much fanfare as part of the 4th of July 1976 Bicentenntial celebrations. "The Pit," as it came to be called, failed spectularly, mostly because the multi-screen A/V presentation of Washington sights showed stuff you could easily see by just walking out the door and going the few blocks down to the Capitol and National Mall.

The whole affair was closed just two years later due to low popularity, lack of parking, and the building suffering condemnation-worthy structural decay. During later renovation into a shopping mall and updated rail station, The Pit was covered over, the basement space transformed into movie theaters (now closing due to low popularity thanks to hordes of rowdy teens), and the space above filled up with the round bar and café we all know today.

I'm told the bartenders there are the best in the city, and they serve great margaritas, but the artichoke and spinach dip is pretty meh.
posted by brownpau at 6:04 AM on December 6, 2008

Unfortunately, the Oyster Bar in Grand Central is just not what it used to be. The food's below average pub food, and the place needs to be closed down and steam-cleaned for days -- the last time I had a drink and oysters at the bar fruit flies literally drove us out. Now, Michael Jordan's offers, (kind of surprisingly for what you might expect from a sports/athlete themed place), excellent food and service, overlooks the grand concourse, and has a sophisticated, New York, non-touristy vibe. The T-bone is to die for.
posted by thinkpiece at 6:18 AM on December 6, 2008

Don't forget Bonapartes in Bristol's Temple Meads station.

I don't go to Bristol so much anymore, but whenever I walked into Temple Meads I would take one look at the ticket office and the tired old WHSmiths, and think 'I am getting out of this place as fast as possible.' I'm sorry to hear there was somewhere nice in there all along.
posted by marmaduke_yaverland at 6:21 AM on December 6, 2008

Platform Zero in Rotterdam used to be a fine place to buy a bag of heroin or a rock of crack.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:46 AM on December 6, 2008

Boston's South Station has a food court! But it's across the street from the best new restaurant in the US, so that helps.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:07 AM on December 6, 2008

Don't forget Birmingham's wonderful New Street Station where the architects have done an amazing job of creating the ambiance of a car park crossed with a shopping mall basement that prepares visitors to the city for the beauty that is too come when they venture out of the station. They even went so far as ensuring that even blind people can appreciate the quality of the station by constantly announcing that every single train is late randomly every 7 to 24 seconds.

There was a train on fire once and it took several minutes before anyone noticed the slight change in the consistency of the grit in the air.
posted by srboisvert at 8:47 AM on December 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ah, Grand Central is Grand but the Oyster Bar is big stinking cave full of tourists and Wall St. Wankers filling up on whiskey before getting on Metro North. The Campbell Apartment is the real deal. All elegant and quiet and shit.

Also, is the Prauge train station actually *open* now? Cause when I was there it was more like a stabilized ruin.

We (My traveling partner and I) had plans to see the Czech countryside and various Sites Of Note (Franz Ferdinand's chateau, that bone place, ect). So we check where the train station is and timetables and head off. There is a huge, looming, art-nouveau dome in the distance. Surely that is Prague's train station! But we can't seem to get to it. It's behind a huge roadway with no crosswalks and ...ominously enough, seems completely fenced off. Unable to cross the street, we spy a parking garage entrance and climb inside. Suddenly we're in some underground, neon-lit souk. Best sign "INTERNET SEXY BEER!" There is no sign of any train station anywhere and the smell of burning meat in a confined space is getting to my head. We move toward the dome and walk up a service stairway and up into the station.

It's totally empty. Not just empty, deserted. Clearly it *was* a train station at one point, and an unspeakably beautiful one as well. Elaborate paintings are covered in dust, pigeons roost on the huge old ticket offices. Plastic chairs are overturned on the marble floor. It's ..profoundly still and unsettling, there is no one anywhere. Office doors are open, filing cabinets stacked up, it looks like it's about to be demolished.

Creepy and mysterious as it was, we still wanted to, you know, get on a train. There seemed to be working tracks outside and after some getting lost in the unending bowels, we find the actual ticket office. It's in the subway station UNDER the station. We walked past the "real" entrance to the train station seven times cause I thought it was a subway stop.

posted by The Whelk at 8:58 AM on December 6, 2008

My boss a few jobs ago took us to the Oyster Bar to celebrate something or other (we were right near Grand Central.) It was, without a doubt, the most stereotypically WASPy meal I have ever eaten (almost no seasoning and accompanied by a small handful of vegetables boiled to death).

Good fish, though.
posted by teferi at 10:28 AM on December 6, 2008

There's a new gelato place downstairs in DC Union Station. For gelato, it's nowhere near as good as the Ciao Bella counter in Grand Central, but the sandwiches are pretty good because they bake their own bread and everything is fresh and homemade.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:01 AM on December 6, 2008

I miss living near union station it was such a cool place to walk through every morning, or, more often, job miserably through carrying a bunch of shit and tucking my shirt in and trying not to puke. Somehow the gravitas helped.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:26 PM on December 6, 2008

If you are passing through the rural backwater that is Manningtree in Suffolk, England then I would recommend the Station Buffet - it looks like something unchanged since "Brief Encounter". You can tuck into a pie or a pickled egg and mumble to yourself something like:

"This can't last. This misery can't last. I must remember that and try to control myself. Nothing lasts really. Neither happiness nor despair. Not even life lasts very long. They'll come a time in the future when I shan't mind about this anymore. But I can look back and say quite peacefully and cheerfully how silly I was. No, no I don't want that time to come hither. I want to remember every minute, always, always to the end of my days."
posted by rongorongo at 2:37 PM on December 6, 2008

Two things:

The previously mentioned Campbell Apartment is where it's at currently as far as Grand Central high society venues go. Amazing room and great place to see and be seen.

Also, right in front of the Oyster Bar, you can experience a little physics phenomenon. Stand in opposite corners of the masonry arch supports with someone you are trying to impress under the parabolic ceiling and you will be able to hear each other easily even though being over 30 feet from each other.

/live in boston now, miss NYC
posted by Lectrick at 4:54 PM on December 6, 2008

Seconding the Campbell Apartment as a classic.
posted by rush at 3:17 PM on December 18, 2008

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