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 1962, Joe Baum's Restaurant Associates purchased the Schleifer-Berman interest in the Tavern’s operation.
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 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 has 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, provided he is 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 of 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, are slated 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.
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