Tavern on the Green Heckling Begins

Tavern on the Green render

A rendering of the soon to be renovated Tavern on the Green.

Shortly after Tavern on the Green opened as a gift shop in 2010, I walked in to take a look at the fancy touch screen maps and the twenty dollar t-shirts that proudly proclaimed “Tavern on the Green: Since 1934,” and was greeted to a fairly typical New York scene. A woman who lived on the Upper West Side had wandered in to inquire about dinner reservations for Thanksgiving. The Conservancy staff politely informed her that Tavern on the Green was now a gift shop but she scoffed at the and told them they didn’t know what they were talking about. She dropped a few names, probably Danny Meyers, Donald Trump, and a few others and declared that they’d told her things would be running normally again shortly. She stormed out refusing to acknowledge the building’s transformation and declaring that she would make a reservation over the phone.

Even in its absence, everyone seems to feel a certain sense of ownership of Tavern on the Green and New York has always been a city of people who are firmly convinced that whatever is being done, they could do it better. When the city announced its $10 million dollar renovation of the famous restaurant, Donald Trump proudly proclaimed that it would be a failure and nobody would go there. Recently the restaurant, which is slated to reopen at the end of this year has come under fire for being classist, having financial difficulties, unfairly favored above other groups, and for having a poor eye for design.

The new operator, Emerald Green Group’s (originally owners of a French creperie in Philadelphia) rep Steven Hall told the New York Post, “Their backer is not coming up with as much [cash] as they expected, so they are looking for extra funds.” Now every publication in the city is concerned whether the new restaurant will be able to pay the city its licensing fee in addition to, you know, the rest of the fees associated with running a high profile, union restaurant in New York City:

But the problems could hit home when the Philly boys start paying for food, labor and utilities, which can be tens of millions of dollars annually. – “Tavern no green [Exclusive] Cash shortfall could delay eatery’s reopening.” New York Post

Such speculation is rather unwarranted at this point. Particularly since the new Tavern will have significantly less overhead by design thanks to the lessons the city learned from the failing of Warner Leroy’s famed previous establishment. However, it will remain to be seen whether the restaurant group will gain the needed backing. We find it unlikely however that such a prominent and potentially lucrative location will fail to entice backers.

Numerous other groups have taken jabs at Tavern on the Green in past weeks too. Community Board 7 doesn’t like the color of maroon that was selected for Tavern’s awning. Interesting…. where have I seen a maroon awning before? Oh! Wait, that’s right.

Warner Leroy's Tavern on the Green

Warner Leroy’s Tavern on the Green

Yes! The former iteration of Tavern on the Green had a maroon awning also. Perhaps that’s the reason they don’t like it. Community Board 7 has been fighting to change Tavern on the Green from an upscale institution to a casual jeans and t-shirt establishment. The awning will likely remain maroon as it’s now being touted as the original color used in 1934. However the assault from CM7 doesn’t stop there. They feel the separate entrance for cheaper take out entrances (very similar to the one found at The Boathouse restaurant in the center of the park) will have a second class feel to it.

Last but not least, New Yorkers are astounded that a small restaurant group from (gag) Pennsylvania is going to get a shot at the big time. How did it happen? The New York Post again has a theory.

Post City Hall Bureau Chief David Seifman revealed that Salama is the brother-in-law of former Deputy Mayor Kevin Sheekey, a close pal of Mayor Bloomberg and a top executive at Bloomberg LP.

Could it be nepotism? Hmm… City Comptroller John Liu says his office will “investigate.” You never know? Liu’s office revoked the contract of the former Central Park Carousel operator for not keeping up with required maintenance. It’s entirely possible. But if it is true, we’ll probably never find out. At least the menu looks good. Check out our concurrent post with a preview of the new menu for Tavern on the Green.

What do you think? Are things falling apart before they’ve begun? Or are New Yorkers simply always hungry for controversy?

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Menu for the new Tavern on the Green

Former Tavern on the Green's Roasted Chicken

Former Tavern on the Green’s Roasted Chicken

Straight from the source, Tavern’s new chef Katy Sparks gives us a sneak peak at what their menu may look like:

BAR SNACKS
Red Chili and Almond Caramel Corn with Smoked Sea Salt
Fried Organic Chicken Livers with a Hot Mustard Sauce and Pickled Golden Raisins
Baked Chorizo with Medjool Dates
Seasonal Crudites with Anchoiade
Roasted Marcona Almonds
Oven-Warmed Olives

SMALL PLATES FROM THE GRILL
Warm Montauk Squid Salad with Fennel, Olives and House-pickled Hot Peppers
Stone Church Duck Livers on Rosemary Skewers with Celery Root-Dried Apricot Slaw
Baby Octopus with Golden Potato Croutons, Red Wine Dressing
Bruschetta with Burrata Cheese, Blistered Tomatoes and Anchovies, Salsa Verde

LARGE PLATES FROM THE GRILL
(served with signature Chimichurri sauce)

Free Range Chicken in a Marjoram-Cumin marinade, Fresh Cranberry Beans and Blistered Tomatoes, Shishito peppers and Cippolini
Grass-fed Ribeye Steak with Pickled Bone Marrow, Grilled Leeks with Romesco and Patatas Bravas
Local Lamb Chops with Saffron and Ginger, Farro with Medjool dates and Almonds
Honjake Sustainably Farmed Salmon with New Potatoes,Wild Arugula and Harissa Aioli
Marinated Skirt Steak with Red Onion Marmalade, Dandelion greens and Golden potato croutons, Fresh Farm Egg
Heritage breed Pork Chop, Cauliflower Gratin, Caramelized Apple-Sage
Grass-fed Beef Burger on Rosemary Focaccia with Aioli and Homemade Potato Chips

SMALL PLATES FROM THE PLANCHA
Crimini Mushrooms with VT blue cheese, Red Chili and Basil, Baguette
Blistered Citrus Salad with Feta, Radish and Mint
Spice-seared Shrimp on Creamy White Grits, Meat Hook Chorizo
Fresh Sardines in vine leaves with Lemon and Sumac
Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras with Burnt Orange and Coriander
Local Sea Scallops with Citrus Butter, Fried Shallots and Capers

LARGE PLATES FROM THE PLANCHA
Chickpea Polenta with Lamb Ragout and Fava Beans with Mint
Marinated Vermont Quail, blistered Red Grape and Pinenut relish
Whole Baby Chicken with Apple, Sage and Garlic Potatoes
Honjake Salmon with Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage,
Horseradish Crème Fraiche
Skate with Meyer Lemon, Toasted Almond and Wild Arugula

SEASONAL SIDE DISHES
Grilled Local Asparagus with Lemon Aioli
Grilled Leeks with Romesco
Sliced Heirloom Tomatoes with Sel Gris
Wilted Greens with Lemon, Anchovy and Garlic
Blistered Young Carrots with Orange and Sumac
Farro with Medjool dates and almonds
Cauliflower Gratin
Creamed Kale
Golden Potato Puree
Patatas Bravas

DESSERTS
Warm Apple Tart with Anise Ice Cream
Mast Brothers Chocolate Torte with Burnt Orange Ice Cream
Meyer Lemon Panacotta with Huckleberries and Toasted Pistachio
Medjool Date and Honey Semifreddo with a Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce
Butterscotch Pudding with Red Chili and Almond Caramel Corn

Selection of 3 Farmstead Cheeses with Spiced Toasts

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Who Will Operate The New Tavern On The Green?

Tavern On The Green

The new Tavern on the Green will not resemble the former storied Warner LeRoy restaurant at all. It’s best to get that out of the way right off the bat. Yes, it’s sad, but the great thing about New York is that legends are born all the time. More on that if you take our tour.

It’s been two and a half months since the deadline for proposals to run the new incarnation of the restaurant were due and we’ve heard precious little about who will take over the iconic location. In February of this year, the city invited approximately one hundred restaurateurs to take a tour of the restaurant and learn about their plans for the site, “a casual restaurant, outdoor café, and bar that will honor the original design intent of the Olmsted and Vaux park plan and exist in harmony with its naturalistic park setting.” A ten million dollar renovation will soon restore the building to its original design as a sheepfold. After restoration, it will be approximately 30,000 square feet, nearly half its recent size. The new restaurant will not be allowed to hang lights, play loud music after ten, shut down for private events, or be open after 1am (when the park closes).

This did not sit well with many of the attendees, notably Donald Trump. It is just too small a deal now,” Trump told the New York Times. “Nobody is going to go there.” Trump had planned to rebuild the the Crystal Room. The New York Times wrote a rather detailed article with quotes from many who decided not to submit proposals for the restaurant. The article was quoted by bloggers the internet over claiming that “nobody good will bid on Tavern on the Green” or “only two restaurant groups are interested in running the property.” This may be the case, but it may not.

As we mentioned, about one hundred restaurateurs were invited to take the tour and the Times article mentions nine of these groups, seven of which weren’t interested and two of which were. This means there are a number of groups out there who may have put in bids. Until we’ve heard who is awarded the location, we’re going to compile a list of those who are interested, not interested, and otherwise.

YES

Legends Hospitality:Legends runs the concessions and food and beverage departments for Yankee Stadium, and while they are responsible for some delicious garlic fries, it’s hard to imagine what sort of restaurant they would bring to the table.

Beau Monde: This Philly based restaurant group is responsible for a successful French creperie. However, one has to wonder if they would be able to thrive in New York City, particularly when they might have to work with the Hotel and Motel Trades Council, the union that formerly represented staff at Tavern on the Green and currently represents workers at The Boathouse.

City Winery: The Gotham branch of this Chicago and New York wine bar operates in SoHo and makes its own wine.

MAYBE

B&B Hospitality: Mario Batali, Lidia Bastianich, and Joe Bastianich’s restaurant group.

Dave Arnold: of the French Culinary Institute and Booker & Dax bar at Momofuku Ssam Bar

NO

Michael O’Neal: Owner of the Boat Basin

Drew Nieporent: Of Corton and Nobu fame.

Orient-Express Hotels: Owner of the “21” Club;

The Glazier Group: Owns Michael Jordans, Bridgewaters at the South Street Seaport.

Bill Telepan: chef at Telepan

Lawry’s: The steakhouse chain

Mario Carbone and Jeff Zalaznick: of Torrisi Italian Specialties

Dean Poll: Operator of the Boathouse

Donald J. Trump

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The Return of Tavern on the Green?

Tavern on the Green

Tavern on the Green

Tavern on the Green was arguably the most famous restaurant in New York. The one time sheepfold turned upscale eatery was the highest grossing restaurant in the country when the operators filed for bankruptcy in 2009. Since that time tourists and New Yorkers alike have speculated about Tavern’s future.

Tavern on the Green was never know for its food. Several Yelp reviews sound like this one from Heather H, “certainly a beautiful restaurant, but this place provided me with one of the worst, overpriced, slowest served, least exciting meals I’ve ever had in the entirety of my life.” Instead visitors came for the one of a kind ambiance. The restaurant offered six dining rooms each uniquely decorated with stained glass, sculptures, topiaries, chandeliers, and lots of crystal. Unfortunately Tavern had to auction off everything to pay their debtors.

Shortly after the restaurant closed, the city renovated the building and reopened it as a visitor’s center. They also made contracts with four food trucks that would sit in Tavern’s courtyard: Rickshaw Dumplings, Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream, Pera Turkish Taco and Ladle of Love (which left due to low profits). Some members of the Central Park Conservancy expressed their excitement about the renovation stating that it was now closer to how the building looked when it was a sheepfold. But it seemed most continued to mourn the loss of the restaurant.

Tavern on the Green Interior

Tavern on the Green Interior

Guests of our Central Park tour regularly ask us whether it will ever open as a restaurant again. Till this point, Tavern on the Green’s fate has been shrouded in mystery. Then, this month something very interesting happened. Food truck operators were told that their contracts with the city were unlikely to be renewed and that they should plan on closing down on October 15th. “They said there’s a capital project being planned.” Burak Karacam, managing owner of the Pera Turkish Tacos truck told the Wall Street Journal.

Crain’s New York reported earlier this month that the mayor’s office requested reports on Tavern’s “current conditions” from the Department of Design and Construction. But Andrew Brent, spokesperson for Mayor Bloomberg’s office say that the city is merely “doing basic stabilization and renovation work” to Tavern on the Green and say there are “no specific plans” for its future.

To add to all of this, Dean Poll, owner of the Boathouse restaurant in Central Park issued a statement via a spokesman Frank Marino after settling a 44 day labor dispute today. “Dean continues to have a strong interest in Tavern on the Green and this agreement with the Hotel Trades Council certainly lays out a blueprint for a future deal at Tavern should the opportunity present itself.”

Is Tavern on the Green destined to once again become a restaurant? We’d like to hear from you. Feel free to share your comments below.

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