The Booziest Train Station in America

By Kenneth Garger 07/15/11

No need to brown-bag it here. Come rush hour, vendors at New York's Penn Station roll out carts crammed full of booze right up to the tracks.

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Penn Station never dries up.
Photo via thinkstockphotos

New York's Penn Station is the busiest train station in North America. Located in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, it serves an estimated 300,000 commuters on a daily basis, mostly stolid businessmen and women waiting to get back to their families in Woodside, Queens or Sayville, Long Island after a hard day's work.

Penn Station is divided into several hubs, one of which serves commuters traveling on the Long Island Rail Road. Catering to these oft-cranky commuters are dozens of stores and newsstands that serve up huge boatloads of booze. Out of 34 retail entities crammed into the main concourse, 38% serve up alcoholic beverages. At one popular joint containing a Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and a Nathan's, you can purchase an endless variety of ice cold brews piled high on an icy cart stationed prominently at the entrance, featuring 12 to 22-ounce cans of popular domestics and import brands. More budget-conscious passengers favor a well-known hot-spot called Rosa’s Pizza, which serves mammoth 32-ounce beers at the bargain price of $4.00. Riders seeking something a bit harder cram in to the station's fully stocked liquor store, Penn Wine & Spirits, which reportedly sells up to 1,000 bottles of vodka a day, which customers carry through the fluorescent-lit concourse in dingy brown paper bags. But just as many dispense with the bags, apparently unconcerned over the city’s open container law. Does the otherwise strictly enforced law get a pass at Penn Station? “Yeah, you can drink freely out there,” replies a weary LIRR customer representative from behind her plexiglass booth. An NYPD officer stationed inside the station is more circumspect. “Well, there are some technicalities involved," he warns. "It's kind of a gray area. You can drink as long as you are not making a scene and you are keeping to yourself. But don’t try that on the NYC Subway System or on the streets. It’s very strictly enforced there; here it’s more loosely enforced.”

And if commuters are in too much of a rush to pick up their drinks on the main level, they need not worry. Come rush hour, LIRR-sponsored vendors roll out their carts of booze-filled right down to the tracks where the trains arrive and depart every ten minutes. Beer, even mixed cocktails, are on the menu. And once on board everyone can ditch the brown bags because drinking alcohol on the LIRR trains is fully legal. It certainly makes for some interesting rides. Last year alone, close to 2,300 commuters were ordered off the train for drunk and disorderly conduct. And one particularly inebriated couple pulled off their clothes and dashed naked through the train. In the winter.

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Ken Garger is a reporter for the New York Post. You can follow him on Twitter.