Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Le Train Bleu


I'd never been to Le Train Bleu, the quasi-hidden restaurant atop Bloomingdale's, so when the Times reported it was closing at the end of 2016, after 37 years, I went.

Le Train Bleu, as James Barron explained, was "the nickname for a famous French train that carried passengers coming from London and Paris to the Riviera. The engines were blue. The restaurant, in Bloomingdale’s flagship store, mimicked the train’s dark-green interiors, with velvet on the walls, along with mahogany paneling and a Victorian-style ceiling."

Bloomingdale’s will be renovating the sixth floor, and that means no more Le Train Bleu.

You got there by elevator or escalator, winding your way through the housewares department, and climbing a set of carpeted stairs to an odd little corridor. The dining room looked like a dining car, long and narrow, framed with tables.

I sat by the window, with a view of some plastic shrubbery and a bunch of brutal luxury apartment buildings. The view inside was better.

Almost everyone around me was white-haired and definitely local. It is a rare pleasure these days to be surrounded by real New Yorkers in New York. Turns out, they'd been hiding at Le Train Bleu, dressed in tweeds, stylish coats, and--in one case--a pair of purple sequined earmuffs, kept on throughout the entire meal.

Women reapplied their lipstick in snappy compact mirrors. Snippets of conversation came in and out of range.

"She's a little coo-coo," said one woman to her dining partner. "She was always strange. I always, from the very beginning, thought she was strange."

"I read it in The National Review," said a dapper gentleman to his wife. "He is absolutely the new Hitler."

Many of the diners seemed to be Bloomingdale's employees. They all knew each other. They knew the waitresses and gave their condolences and advice, especially to the two seniors, a pair of women who looked strikingly alike in their weary faces and dyed-red hair. Women who, after what has probably been decades, will now be out of work.

"Have you gone to HR? You must. Go to HR and I'm sure they'll have another position for you. I'm sure of it!"

I sat and waited for the dining room to rumble and jolt, for the whole thing to take off down some invisible train track, up and out over the city. Gone.



Le Train Bleu is also the name of a famous restaurant located inside the Gare de Lyon train station in Paris. It was of course named The Train Bleu (in 1963) after the famous train mentioned in this article. Today, it still stands as a classic Paris restaurant and it is famous for its beautiful decoration.

G. Alessandrini

Hushpuppy212 said...

The view used to be much better before all those tall buildings went up. You could see the East River and watch the Roosevelt Island trams glide back and forth. So sorry to see it close.

Tal Hartsfeld said...

It's amazing how many eccentric businesses put together with such imagination (and, occasionally, humor) exist (or existed) in the NYC area.

Never having been to NYC myself (I've been in the state of New York, but never in "the city") I find it a bit intriguing the extent to which a lot of these architects and designers went.

Tragic, though, the modern-day urban rebuilders don't share the same visions, and only see fit to do things too clinically and with a totally perfunctory approach.

Hushpuppy212 said...

Bloomingdale's used to be run by a visionary man by the name of Marvin Traub. He started with them, fresh out of college in the late 1940s, and rose through the ranks to become president and chairman.

The store we all know as Bloomingdale's was built by Mr. Traub and other visionary people he hired. Prior to his remaking of the store, it was a dowdy, promotional-based store under the Third Avenue elevated train. When the el came down in the 1950s, Traub saw a chance to remake the store into a fashion mecca on the Upper East Side. Back then, top designers wouldn't even consider selling their wares at Bloomingdale's so he remade the store department by department, starting with home furnishings. Their model rooms were the stuff of legend. Soon designers were approaching him to sell their goods in his store.

He wanted a dining room that was unique instead of just another boring department store restaurant, and the rectangular shape of the space atop the Third Avenue building lent itself to a replica of a train car.

You are so right that today there is nobody with that kind of approach to retailing, and as you can see by the recent large number of closings, the industry is suffering because of that.

If you're interested, Mr Traub's book 'Like No Other Store' describes how he rebuilt Bloomingdale's. It's in interesting read.

If you