Tavern on the Green Gets New Owners

By Amy Zimmer on August 16, 2012 3:06pm 

Tavern on the Green's terrace in 2009. The Parks Department announced a new owner for the restaurant on Thursday.
Tavern on the Green's terrace in 2009. The Parks Department announced a new owner for the restaurant on Thursday.
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Getty Images/Chris Hondros

MANHATTAN — Central Park’s iconic Tavern on the Green is getting a new owner from the City of Brotherly Love.

The aptly named Emerald Green Group will soon be inking a 20-year license to run a “high-quality casual” restaurant in the tourist Mecca once housing the opulent Crystal Room, the Parks Department announced Thursday.

Emerald Green’s principals, Jim Caiola and David Salama, have operated for more than a decade Beau Monde and L'Etage in Philadelphia, which the Parks Department described as “a popular and well-reviewed restaurant & bar.”

Beau Monde is described as a French creperie, according to the company’s website. L’Etage is described as a nightclub, cabaret, performance space, party space and wedding venue.

Emerald Green will offer a locally-sourced menu for 200 to 300 diners plus takeout meals, according to the Parks Department, which said that the contract’s completion was still in the works and is subject to other review and approvals before being final.

“When I lived in New York in the early '80s, I celebrated many milestones at Tavern on the Green,” Caiola, also an independent filmmaker, said in a statement.  “I’d look around and feel the magic of celebration, and I knew that one day I would be back.”

He lured Katy Sparks back into the kitchen to be executive chef after she started a consulting company.

Sparks has an impressive resume filled with some of New York’s top kitchens. She worked at Barry Wine’s legendary The Quilted Giraffe, was sous chef at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill when it opened in 1991 and then was at the helm at Quilty’s in SoHo, where she won the Best New Chef Award from Food and Wine Magazine among other awards, according to her bio.

Caiola said he has known Sparks since the early 1980s and has “nothing but respect for her innovative, focused, and immense love for food.”

Sparks, whose consulting firm focuses on bringing local sustainable and seasonal cuisine to businesses, said, “Tavern on the Green is an offer that one just doesn’t refuse.  It’s the one project I can think of that would lure me into leading a kitchen again.”

The new Tavern on the Green is expected to open in the fall of 2013.

The building, designed by Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould, is still undergoing renovations after the LeRoy family, which ran the restaurant from 1973 until closing it on New Year’s Day in 2010.

Its new incarnation as a casual restaurant and bar, plus an outdoor café, will have a smaller — and more historic footprint — Parks officials said.  The Crystal Room has been stripped away and the dining room size slashed.

Some have criticized the direction of the new Tavern on the Green as being too casual, including several Upper East Siders and Donald Trump, who declined to submit a proposal for that reason.

Several big-name restaurateurs toured the Tavern in February, including Drew Nieporent, founder of the Myriad Restaurant Group, which operates Nobu and Tribeca Grill; a representative of B&B Hospitality Group, the people behind Mario Batali's Eataly; and Legends Hospitality Management, which runs Yankee Stadium.  

Legends submitted a bid, as did Great Performances/City Winery, Upsilon Ventures,
and Park Street Ventures, a Parks Department spokesman said.

The Emerald Green Group has signed a letter of agreement with the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council, AFL-CIO, which provides the terms under which union representation and bargaining will be addressed, Parks officials noted.

When Central Park Boathouse operator Dean Poll was poised to take over Tavern in 2009, his bid fell apart after failing to reach an agreement with the union.

"They have done an outstanding job with Beau Monde in Philadelphia and their vision for the iconic Tavern on the Green will create a casual restaurant and outdoor café that everyday park goers, neighbors and visitors can enjoy," Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said in a statement about the winning bidder.

“The result will be a destination that will attract and delight all park patrons, and bring new life back to a site that has provided dining in the park for 75 years.”

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