Tavern on the Green
|Tavern on the Green|
Main entrance of Tavern on the Green, November 2008
|Current owner(s)||Jim Caiola and David Salama|
|Head chef||Bill Peet|
|Street address||near Central Park West and West 66th Street|
|City||New York (Upper West Side, Manhattan)|
Tavern on the Green is an American cuisine restaurant located in Central Park in Manhattan, New York City, near the intersection of Central Park West at West 66th Street on the Upper West Side. The restaurant has been open under current operators Jim Caiola and David Salama since 2014. From its grand opening in 1934 to a closure in 2009, the iconic restaurant changed ownership several times. From 2010 until 2012, the building was used as a public visitors center and gift shop run by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. After a multimillion-dollar renovation, Caiola and Salama's Tavern on the Green reopened to the public on April 24, 2014.
In 2007, the restaurant 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).
The building housing the restaurant 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.
1930s through 1970s
From 1934, the 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. The owners enlarged the dance floor and offered nightly music. 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, such as "Parfait Ruth" to honor the birth of his granddaughter.
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 book 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 New York 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. From LeRoy's death in 2001 until the restaurant's renovation in 2009, Tavern on the Green was managed by LeRoy's daughter, Jennifer Oz LeRoy.
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 of Warner LeRoy's, and his son Sean Lennon 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.
Troubles, bankruptcy, and rebirth: 1980s to 2000s
In July 1983, a dozen youths leaving a nearby concert robbed patrons and stole a cash register.
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 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.
Closure, renovation, and reopening: 2009–14
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. The rights to the name of the restaurant became a source of contention between the LeRoys and the city 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."
Tavern on the Green had its last seating on December 31, 2009. It auctioned off its interior decorations and closed its doors. 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.
In March 2010, Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum 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."
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. The glass-enclosed Crystal Room was removed in 2010, 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 would not 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.
In April 2014, the new owners announced that Tavern on the Green would reopen for dinner on April 24, 2014, followed by a grand opening on May 13, 2014, after which the restaurant began also serving brunch and lunch. Jim Caiola, one of the new managing partners, 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. The new owners secured the restaurant location rent-free from the city until 2019.
In the wake of reopening, the restaurant cycled through head chefs. Katy Sparks was head chef at reopening. She was replaced by celebrity chef Jeremiah Tower after half a year. This was Tower's first restaurant in 15 years, since he closed his iconic Stars restaurant in San Francisco and retired. Half a year later, Tower left to be replaced by John Stevenson, who survived a year. Stevenson was then replaced by Bill Peet in 2016.
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The Central Park mainstay that boarded up New Year's Eve 2009 is slated to reopen two weeks from now. 'There's zero garish about this version, and much more Old New York, says Jim Caiola, one of two managing partners for the property.
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