Tavern on the Green
|Tavern on the Green|
Main entrance of Tavern on the Green, November 2008
|Closed||December 31, 2009|
|Head chef||Brian Young|
|Street address||Central Park West and West 66th Street – Manhattan|
|City||New York City|
Tavern on the Green was an American cuisine restaurant located in Central Park on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, in New York City. It remained in operation from 1934 to 2009 under various owners. As of October 15, 2010, the building is a public visitors center and gift shop run by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, retaining the name Tavern on the Green.
The restaurant in 2007 had gross revenues of $38 million, from more than 500,000 visitors, making it the second-highest-grossing independent restaurant in the United States (behind The Venetian's Tao restaurant in Las Vegas, at $67 million).
History and location
The restaurant was located in New York City's Central Park off Central Park West at West 67th Street on Manhattan's Upper West Side. It was originally the sheepfold that housed the sheep that grazed Sheep Meadow, built to a design by Calvert Vaux in 1870. It became a restaurant as part of a 1934 renovation of the park under Robert Moses, New York City's Commissioner of Parks.
From 1934, the landmark restaurant was managed by restaurateurs licensed by the City of New York's Park Department. In 1943 Arnold Schleifer and his nephews, Arthur Schleifer and Julius Berman, won the contract to operate the restaurant. During their tenure, the dance floor was enlarged and nightly music was enjoyed. A large outdoor patio offered dining al fresco. Trees were first wrapped in the well-known twinkling lights around the property, and the Elm Tree Room was built to surround one of the city’s classic American elms. The menu was designed to be elegant but affordable for New Yorkers. Luncheon and dinner offerings changed regularly, and Mr. Berman would often add special desserts to celebrate family events, e.g., "Parfait Ruth" to honor the birth of his granddaughter.
The Berman-Schleifer family ran numerous restaurants they owned and other New York City concessions. Among these were the moose venues at Orchard Beach, the Claremont Inn (1934–1948) in Riverside Park, accessed from Riverside Drive, United Nations Caterers, Manny Wolf’s 49th Street Chop House on Third Avenue, and New York City's first air-conditioned restaurant, Schleifer’s Fashion Center on 7th Avenue.
In 1956, the infamous Battle of Central Park, a scandal instrumental in the eventual downfall of Robert Moses, occurred over Moses' attempt to expand the Tavern's parking lot by half an acre. The event is chronicled in Robert Caro's "The Power Broker"
In 1974, Warner LeRoy took over the restaurant's lease and reopened it in 1976 after $10 million in renovations including the addition of a glass enclosed Crystal Room overlooking the restaurant's garden (one of several dining rooms), which doubled the seating capacity to 800. According to city officials it was illegal but the city, wanting the restaurant expanded at a time when the city was having its own financial problems, did not stop the expansion. Since LeRoy's death in 2001, it was managed by his daughter, Jennifer Oz LeRoy, until its closure in 2009.
During the 1980s, the restaurant was periodically victimized by the disturbing wave of "wolf pack crime" that swept New York City. On at least one occasion, dozens of young hoodlums perpetrated a barrage of robbery and assaults against the Tavern and its patrons by swarming the parking lot and scaling the walls of the prestigious eatery before making off with purses and cash registers.
Tavern on the Green was frequented by prominent actors, musicians, politicians, and writers. Regular patrons have included former New York City Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia, actresses Grace Kelly and Fay Wray and many others. Tavern on the Green hosted the wedding receptions of several prominent Americans, including Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler and film director Walter Hill. John Lennon was a neighbor to Warner LeRoy and his son, Sean, was a playmate of Warner LeRoy's son, Max LeRoy. As a result, John and Sean celebrated numerous birthdays at Tavern on the Green during the late 1970s.
In May 2008, the restaurant and the Westfield Group announced plans to open a second, 40,000-square-foot (3,700 m2) location in the Metreon mall in downtown San Francisco, California, in summer 2009. The plans had not materialized as of late 2009.
In June 2008, Tavern on the Green agreed to pay $2.2 million to settle a sexual and racial discrimination lawsuit over claims by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission of "pervasive harassment" of women and minority employees.
On August 28, 2009, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation announced that it had declined to renew the restaurant's license, granting it instead to Dean Poll, operator of the Central Park Boathouse. The LeRoy management was required to cease operations and remove all furnishings from the location before January 1, 2010.
In September 2009, the restaurant filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, located in New York City, citing the 2009 national financial crisis and the August 28, 2009 loss of the restaurant's operating license.
Tavern on the Green had its last seating on December 31, 2009. It auctioned off its interior decorations and closed its doors after filing for bankruptcy. Central Park Boathouse operator Dean Poll was given rights to reopen the restaurant but could not reach an agreement with the Hotel and Motel Trades Council, affiliated with the AFL–CIO, which represents the employees of the restaurant.
On October 15, 2010, the city re-opened the building as a visitors information center with a gift shop selling city-themed t-shirts and hats and other memorabilia. Street vendors sold food outside. Adrian Benepe, New York City Parks Commissioner, said at the opening ceremony that the future of the building remains open depending on how well the visitors center does. The glass-enclosed Crystal Room was removed, exposing the original 19th-century architecture.
In January 2011, Donald Trump said he obtained an agreement from the union employees and that he would invest $20 million in the restaurant, including rebuilding the Crystal Room if he were granted a 20-year lease. He said he would keep the Tavern on the Green name. "I don't think every place needs to be called Trump," he joked. Trump earlier had completed Wollman Rink (and continues to operate it) after the city for several years had been unable to repair and reopen it. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Central Park Conservancy officials did not respond to Trump's proposal.
Later in 2011, the street vendors stationed in Tavern on the Green's courtyard were given notice that their operating contracts wouldn't be renewed. After food truck operators left the site, construction, "basic stabilization and renovation work" according to the city, began on the building. In February 2012, the city hosted a walk around for potential operators of a new Tavern on the Green. The new restaurant was presented as a more casual restaurant than its predecessor and would be housed in a renovated building which reflected its initial design as a sheepfold. There would be no hanging lights in the trees and the restaurant would close at 1:00 am, at the same time the park closes. The winning bidder, Emerald Green Group, previously restaurateurs from Philadelphia, were scheduled to open Tavern on the Green in fall of 2013 under the direction of head chef Katy Sparks. There has been speculation that they are having funding issues.
In April 2014, the new owners announced that Tavern on the Green would reopen for dinner on April 24, 2014. This will be followed by a grand opening on May 13, 2014, after which the restaurant will also serve brunch and lunch. Caiola stated that the tavern's new interior would be more reminiscent of "old New York" than more recent incarnations, featuring dark wood paneling and a more open, bucolic feel.
Dispute over rights to restaurant's name
The rights to the name of the restaurant became an additional source of contention between the LeRoys and the city of New York during the bankruptcy court procedures in October 2009 after the LeRoys claimed the trademark was theirs while the city challenged them. At the time the trademark was appraised at $19 million. In November 2009, Poll registered a backup name with New York State: Tavern in the Park.
In March 2010, Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum, of United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, ruled that the trade name was owned by the City of New York and that Warner LeRoy had trademarked the name "fraudulently" in 1981. She wrote: "Because the undisputed facts show that the city established and continuously maintained a restaurant under the name 'Tavern on the Green' at the same location in New York's Central Park since 1934, the city has a protectable interest in that name."
Where magazine named Tavern on the Green the best restaurant on New York City's Upper West Side in 2006 and awarded it "best ambience" of any New York City restaurant four years earlier, in 2002. In 2003 and 2004, Wine Spectator named the restaurant's wine list its "Best Award of Excellence."
New York City Marathon
Tavern on the Green is next to the finish line of the New York City Marathon. The Barilla Marathon Eve Dinner, a pre-race pasta party on the eve of the marathon for 10,000 guests (including registrants, who attend for free), took place at the Tavern in 2005.
In popular culture
In the film Ghostbusters, a character tries unsuccessfully to get into the restaurant to escape from a monster. His cries for help aren't noticed by the patrons inside.
The 1989 musical Prince of Central Park includes many references to the restaurant including a musical number set there.
The Tavern featured prominently in the 2011 film, Mr. Popper's Penguins, which recreated the defunct restaurant during its heyday. Jim Carrey plays a real estate professional attempting to purchase the restaurant from its owner, played by Angela Lansbury, on behalf of owners who wish to tear it down. The film references Donald Trump's later attempts to buy the restaurant in order to reopen it, and the restaurant's importance to the culture of New York City.
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