Retail space at Grand Central Madison awaits the opening of...

Retail space at Grand Central Madison awaits the opening of new restaurants on Monday. Credit: Ed Quinn

The first bar and grill to open at Grand Central Madison will be one very familiar to Long Island Rail Road commuters, the LIRR’s chief said Monday.

Tracks, which has been a staple for hungry and thirsty commuters in and around Penn Station for more than two decades, is coming to the railroad’s new Manhattan terminal, acting LIRR president Robert Free announced at a meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s railroad committee Monday. MTA officials said they expect the business to open this fall.

“The iconic bar will be making its debut later this year, to the delight of our customers,” Free said. “This is great news, and will only add to the incredible experience, as we further progress our efforts to make Grand Central Madison a world-class facility.”

Tracks Raw Bar & Grill opened in Penn Station in 2003 on the eastern end of the LIRR concourse. When a major renovation of the station forced its closure in 2019, the eatery moved to its current location just outside of Penn, on 31st Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues.

While Penn has recently opened several eateries following the four-year long renovation project, Grand Central Madison, which opened in February 2023, hasn't had a place where commuters could get a meal or drink, aside from a few vendor carts.

Tracks owner Bruce Caulfield said he's long wanted to bring his business to Grand Central, and seized the opportunity to be back inside a Manhattan LIRR station.

“My pitch was: I'm a known entity. The customer is a Long Island Rail Road customer. I can hit the ground running,” Caulfield said. “They know who we are. They'll see some of the same staff, and my face, and the raw bar.”

Although the Metropolitan Transportation Authority still has not put out to bid a contract for a “master tenant” that would operate the 25,000 square feet of retail space at Grand Central Madison, MTA officials have promised a new bar and grill would open by year’s end near the station’s ticket offices and waiting room.

According to the lease agreement approved by the MTA's finance committee Monday, Tracks was the only bidder for the contract to operate “a high-quality, full-service bar and café” in the customer concourse between 46th and 47th streets. Under the terms of the 10-year lease, Tracks will pay around $2 million in annual rent, which will include a percentage of sales. Tracks is also investing $1 million to design and build out the 2,702-square foot space.

Free announced another milestone in Grand Central Madison’s progress too. On March 19, some 25,800 LIRR commuters took the train into Grand Central Madison during the morning rush hour, the most since the station opened more than a year ago. That week, 40% of Manhattan LIRR commuters used Grand Central instead of Penn, Free said.

Free also used his monthly remarks at the meeting to acknowledge one of the railroad’s most famous passengers. Free shouted out Billy Joel after the “Piano Man” revealed in a Newsday interview that he rides the train to his Madison Square Garden concerts.

“Evidently, Long Island’s own Billy Joel prefers to take the Long Island Rail Road even over a helicopter to his shows. As he says, ‘It’s still a great way to go,’” Free said. “I would certainly love to see him on the train and thank him for being a loyal customer.”

MTA Board member Sammy Chu recommended a spot for Joel to get a drink after his last MSG show, scheduled for July 25: “Billy Joel’s wrapping up his residency. Perhaps he could consider Tracks as his next stop.”

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