Co-owner of Tracks Saloon Near MSG Plans to Open 1st Restaurant Inside Grand Central Madison

This October will see the opening of a real sit-down space offering a raw bar, drinks and snacks for hungry and thirsty passengers on the Long Island Rail Road, brought to them by an old friend, Bruce Caulfield a co-owner of Tracks on W. 31st St.

| 14 May 2024 | 01:33

Bruce Caulfield is a Manhattanite on a mission.

The restaurateur is a born, bred, and educated New Yorker, a graduate of Chelsea-based Xavier High School and then Fordham University and a long time resident of Peter Cooper Village on the East Side. After co-owning two iterations of Tracks Raw Bar & Grill with partners, he is gambling he can pull off another successful launch of the iconic bar, this time as a sole proprietor. A new Tracks will return to its underground roots when it is slated to become the first restaurant to open in the new Grand Central Madison terminal in October.

The terminal of the Long Island Rail Road is currently a restaurant desert. It has been open over a year with only a few wheeled food and coffee stands. The facilities inside are so sparse, when one passenger finally descended to the GCM terminal 15 stories below street level and asked the LIRR ticket clerk where he could buy a cup of coffee, he was told that his best bet was to traverse back to the street level and buy it from a cart up there. Needless to say, there is little retail and no place to sit and sip or get a bite.

That will change in the near future.

In October, a new Tracks Raw Bar & Grill will be opening a 60-seat, 2,700 square foot location underground that will add to some buzz to the currently quiet corridors of the station.

“The MTA is excited that a new location of Tracks will be coming to Grand Central Madison before the end of 2024,” said Janno Lieber, MTA Chair and CEO, in an official statement when the deal was announced earlier this year.

Caulfield was a previous newsstand owner on the UES and then owner of a casual coffee café. He encountered the brothers Michael and Patrick O’Brien while he was just a few years out of college, running his newsstand and they were still high school students who actually read newspapers and stopped the stand regularly. He said he first envisioned what eventually became Tracks during his 1987-2000 ownership of Le Café on the Long Island Rail Road level at Penn Station.

Towards the latter end of that run, he had an epiphany. “Why am I doling out coffee,” he said, “when I could be pulling Guinness from the tap?”

The original Tracks Raw Bar & Grill took hold after he teamed up with the brothers who were his former newsstand customers who by now were out of college and dreaming of opening a bar. They partnered with Bruce’s father, John Caulfield, to open their own place together. After a contractual time lag after 9/11, Tracks opened in 2003 in the LIRR level of Penn Station where it stayed for over 16 years building a royal following for its fresh, raw seafood and a 105-foot long bar where commuters could quaff a few beers before hitting the rails.

Unfortunately, after more than 16 years, Tracks was forced to vacate the venue in Penn Station when the MTA renovated the LIRR station. Tracks moved above ground, to the current W. 31st St. location across the street from Madison Square Garden. The partners continued Caulfield’s passion for trains with railroad and transit memorabilia. The new GCM space will play on the rail theme as well, Caulfield said.

Caulfield had been scouting for potential new outlets when suddenly in 2023, the MTA sent out a Request for Proposal for a separate location at the new Grand Central Madison to build a restaurant in the underground concourse below E. 47th and 46th Streets.

What is in store for Grand Central Madison?

For at least the next few years, Tracks may have a monopoly. Eventually, it is expected a flurry of other retail outlets will join Tracks underground. The MTA last month released a Request for Proposals for a developer to bring and manage retail and dining to 32 vacant spaces to be converted to retail across 25,000 square feet of space in the terminal.

Tracks is a separate ten-year lease which will charge the restaurant about $300,000 in rent for its first year, plus 12 percent of all its gross sales that exceed $2.5 million.

Caulfield is going to refine the menu, since the new terminal did not incorporate ventilation systems for a full restaurant at the spot where Tracks will build its new space into its original multi-billion dollar master plan.

“The menu will continue our traditional raw bar, with soups, sandwiches, salads and snacks, to be consumed on premises or grab -and-go foods to nibble on while heading east on the train to Long Island,” Caulfield said.

“There will be beer and wine to start, and a full array of spirits once a full liquor license is granted. However, there will not be any grilled or broiled food; even with a separate food preparation area, there is no proper venting for this.”

The first restaurant located in Grand Central Madison will be next to the ticket office, which should help attract some customers. Currently, only about 60,000 commuters a day pass through the new terminal, compared to 600,000 passing through Penn Station.

What about the consumer base at GCM?

Caulfield acknowledges that the lure of Madison Square Garden helped Tracks survive when it was forced to move above ground. “Unlike West 31st, there are no sports or entertainment venues nearby. The West Side location has attracted lots of Rangers and Knicks fans, along with other events at Madison Square Garden—the Grand Central area has no large entertainment venue near it.”

Having a monopoly at least for the first few years should help build a following. And he hopes a modern open air design will entice customers as well.

The unique space requirements made the search for a wow-factor design team vital, he said. Caulfield found the Italian-American design team of Alepreda Architecture to handle the 21st Century space.

“Alessandro Preda came highly recommended, “ Caulfield noted. “Alepedra has good experience dealing with the MTA and complying with their regulations. They are easy to work with. We pivoted from a classic wood finish to a modern design very quickly.”

Unlike the other operation where he is a co-owner, Caulfield will be the sole proprietor of this new space. The total cost of building out the new space should be about $1.3 million, which does not include the 10-year lease costs from the MTA.

“If each customer has two beers and some food before dashing for a train, we’ll be fine,” says Caulfield.

“If each customer has two beers and some food before dashing for a train, we’ll be fine.” Bruce Caulfield, owner Tracks Raw Bar & Grill