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A time-traveling toast when the whistle blows

Times Staff Writer

Even if you’re not going anywhere, walking into a train station is the start of an adventure. Passing through the enormous arched doorway at Union Station automatically makes you a traveler -- a time traveler.

If the very notion of traveling by train isn’t enough to inspire a flashback to 1939, when the grand station was built, then standing beneath the 52-foot wood-beamed ceilings and soaking in the elaborate Moorish and Spanish Colonial tile work is a quick ticket through history.

In a place like this, it’s best to savor the experience slowly, even if every other person is attached to a rolling suitcase and radiates a jangle of can’t-be-late anxiety. You could sit in one of the leather upholstered waiting room chairs that are as straight and square as soldiers.

Or you could slide into Traxx Bar.

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In what used to be the phone room, where operators once connected your calls by hand, the lovely little bar has been quietly thriving across the concourse from its big sister sophisticate, the white-tablecloth Traxx Restaurant. During the weekday rush hour, roughly from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., the bar is the spot where all manner of people wet their whistle before riding the rails home.

Businessmen study the sports page over a brew, while a gaggle of office workers knocks back celebratory cocktails, basking in the martini-olive green and red decor. At the bar, a lone lady traveler pulls her tote bag close while slowly draining a bottle of dark ale.

Though the 40-seat bar is on the small side, a two-story ceiling keeps it airy, the upholstered armchairs and linen-covered tables give it luxury and the atypical layout makes it quirky. Inside, there’s the cozy privacy of the banquette seats tucked behind three tables -- great for hiding from the world. Seven bar stools let you turn your back to the crowd and stare into ESPN. Groups of low tables and chairs can be arranged for large or small groups.

Every table is anchored by the upscale snacks -- Mediterranean tuna salad, crab cakes, white corn empanadas or a bushel-basket-size bowl of crispy pommes frites. That’s the benefit of a bar run by a chef, Tara Thomas, who also owns Traxx Restaurant. She says the bar menu doesn’t really accentuate the strengths of the restaurant, but after eight years in the station, she’s come to know her customers.

“There are people who come every single night before their train,” she said. Most aren’t also restaurant regulars. “Our clientele is completely different in the bar,” Thomas said. “They are people who are looking for something quick.”

“The bar is a bizarre animal around here,” said Thomas. “We’re also the closest bar to the jail. I hate to say it, but you get some scruffy people. There’s never a dull moment in the train station.”

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Traxx Bar

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Where: Union Station, 800 N. Alameda.

When: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays; 4 to 11 p.m. Saturdays.

Cost: Wine by the glass $6 to $10; by the bottle $28 to $100; beers $4 to $5; cocktails $6 to $10.

Info: (213) 625-1999, or www.traxxrestaurant.com

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