The Secret Train Car in Bloomingdale’s

The other day, I was searching for restaurants around midtown when something came up on my phone that seemed too good to be true.

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I headed into Bloomingdale’s…

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…Passed through clothing floor after clothing floor…

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…Got lost…

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…Somehow found myself in housewares on the fifth floor…

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…and finally, found this staircase:

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I started up the stairs…

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…and arrived at the last thing I’d expect to find at Bloomindale’s: a train car.

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This is Le Train Bleu, a restaurant modeled after the dining car of the The Calais-Mediterranée Express, a luxury French night express train which ran between Calais and the French Riviera from 1886-2007.

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As you walk toward the restaurant’s entrance, the walls are lined by vintage train ads from the period. Really wish we had anything comparable in modern advertising, but I guess the romance of travel is all but dead.

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Finally, you come to a pair of doors…

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…which lead into one of the most unexpected dining experiences in New York:

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This is probably old news to a lot of you “Bloomie’s” shoppers, but for someone who doesn’t frequent department stores all that much, this completely took me by surprise. It’s obviously wider than your standard train car, but I had trouble shaking the impending feeling that the whole thing was suddenly going to start bouncing around as we headed off for the next station.

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The Le Train Bleu restaurant was the brainchild of Marvin S. Traub, who fought in World War II, received a master’s in Business from Harvard, and worked his way up from the bargain basement of Bloomingdales to become president in 1969. In his NY Times obituary, he is credited with transforming Bloomingdale’s “from a stodgy Upper East Side family department store into a trendsetting international showcase of style and showmanship.”

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In 1979, he decided to build a restaurant at the flagship store set in a replica of a dining car from the Calais-Mediterranée Express, complete with mahogany paneling, green trim, mirrors, Victorian lamps and brass luggage racks.

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The train in question was famous for transporting the upper crust of Britain during the 1920′s, earning the Blue Train monicker for its deep blue-colored sleeping cars.

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Of course, no popular European train could go without Agatha Christie murdering someone on it, as she did in The Mystery of the Blue Train, published in 1928:

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The view is a little different than what you’d find on a train headed for the French Riviera…

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The restaurant was added to the roof, pictured below. If only more buildings would make such creative use of extra space…

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I’ve had a hell of a time trying to dig up any pictures of the actual Blue Train to compare this to. The only ones I seem to find are of restored Orient Express trains, lacking any sort of colored trim…

The private Orient Express Train (Europe)

If anyone can locate a picture, please e-mail it along!

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Here’s Le Train Bleu rumbling through Europe…

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…and below, through Manhattan, in a great poster created for Bloomingdale’s by typographer/designer Michael Doret. You can read about the process here (and purchase a lithograph here).

The train ceilings, lined with Victorian lamps:

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The brass luggage racks (intended for your Bloomingdale’s shopping bags, of course):

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Michael Doret mentions on his blog that the restaurant is exactly the same as when he first set foot inside 30 years ago, which I’m really glad to hear.

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Magical little places like this don’t come along every day.

-SCOUT

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21 comments

  1. Thank you so much for sharing that. If I ever go to NYC, I’m definitely dining there.

  2. How are the prices on the menu? Great find!!

  3. Thanks for reminding me about this place; my mom and I have fond memories of dining here…and putting our Bloomie’s bags in the overhead racks just as you’ve described!

  4. This is an AMAZING FIND! WOW! I can’t wait to check this out.

    Thanks Scout!

  5. I found some stuff. All 3 pages are in French. The first & third, Chrome offered to translate for me, the second one, I had to C&P and it wound up not having useful info.

    This is recentish:
    http://www.notrehistoire.ch/photo/view/32026/

    But, this is more period (4th pic down):
    http://train.rapide.nord.pagesperso-orange.fr/annees1930/index.html

    But, both of those (and the one you have) seem to be of the Lounge Car (as captioned in the first link above) which is different than the Dining Car (as mentioned in the link below).

    This next one is of a restaurant that has been made in the former Le Train Blew terminal…utterly gorgeous. It also has a history of the Train in its left-hand column:
    http://sejfrance.arenval.com/paris2012-06.htm

  6. Wow! I had no idea that was there! I’m going to start taking people to lunch here. I’ve always heard about restaurants in departments stores (I’ve even eaten in a couple , but that was in Europe) here in NYC, but I figured that sort of thing had to have been left somewhere in the romantic past. I can’t wait to go.

  7. Stop the teasing ! Where is the menu !!

  8. Some pictures of the interior of the actual train in the heyday:
    http://www.lrpresse.fr/trains/album_mod/upload/19b0d1467b97571210ad743d896be4e9.jpg

  9. Wait, WAIT! This been functioning as a restaurant since the early 80′s? Like I needed another excuse to go to Bloomies! Bien sur!

  10. Never been much of a department store kind of guy altho the Navy saw fit to put me in places that had Nordstrom’s and I would shop there. They also have cafe’s but nothing this elaborate. Next time I am in the city I will have to check it out.

  11. There’s a popular Indian restaurant on Long Island called the Curry Club, just off the SUNY Stony Brook campus, that uses an actual vintage LIRR car as part of its dining area.

  12. Wonderful history and background to the story Nick, fabulous photos and a GREAT find!! I felt like I was on an outing with David Suchet!

  13. I first dined here with out of town guests in November 1980. A saleswomen sent us up at the end of our shopping and we had a wonderful late luncheon. We to put our shopping bags in the overhead rack. Mind you, back then Bloomingdale’s shopping bags were special limited edition collector’s items.

  14. Excellent train ! gran descubrimiento !

  15. Thanks Jack for the menu!! My own Salade Nicoise runs a bit cheaper than that but we grow most all but the tuna and capers. Scout, did you have a bite there and how was it? Value for money or a bit of a let-down, considering the venue?

  16. Hi I never knew this restaurant existed. Thanks for sharing. Can’t wait to dine there. ;)

  17. Absolutely love your blog. I found it a few weeks ago and I’m slowly working back through your archives. I love the look into NYC that I will never have the chance to get. I live in Australia, in my late 40′s, so it’s fantastic that the internet can provide us with such a wonderful view into mysterious places.

  18. I remember eating there in the early 80s. One of my coworker’s husband was the chef at the time. Amazing atmosphere and the food was superb! Glad to know it’s still there; I’ll have to go back soon!

  19. I am in fact glad to glance at this blog posts which includes lots of helpful data, thanks for providing such statistics.

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