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Tavern on the Green Spat Pits Upper East Siders Against Upper West Siders

By Leslie Albrecht | November 22, 2011 2:10pm
Tavern on the Green.
Tavern on the Green.
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UPPER WEST SIDE — They can call it Tavern on the People's Green.

Members of the Upper West Side's Community Board 7 said Monday night they want the iconic Tavern on the Green to be an affordable eatery that all of Central Park's visitors can enjoy — not a fancy destination for out-of-towners in limos.

That's a stark contrast to what the Upper East Side's Community Board 8 told Parks Department officials earlier this month, when they blasted Parks' proposal to bring a "casual" restaurant to the famed Tavern site.

The Parks Department is seeking a new operator for the historic Tavern, which closed its doors in 2010. Parks will release a request for proposals for the Tavern site by the end of the year, and officials are now gathering input about the restaurant's future from community boards.

Parks officials have said they want the new Tavern to house a "casual" restaurant — an idea that didn't sit well with Community Board 8 on the east side of Central Park.

"They rather like the formality of the old Tavern on the Green," the Parks Department's Director of Concessions Charles Kloth told Community Board 7 members on Monday. "It was an iconic place and they miss it."

The Upper West Side's Community Board 7 has what Kloth called "the exact opposite opinion." They support the idea of a casual restaurant where park visitors could dash in for a quick bite to eat after a morning run in the park, "as long as they're not too sweaty," said Community Board 7 Parks Committee chair Klari Neuwelt.

She added that she wants the future Tavern site to be "100 percent open to the public," with publicly accessible bathrooms, no private events in tents, and no parking lot for private cars or limos.

"A piece of Central Park should not be licensed to a concessionaire to have private parking," Neuwelt said. "The idea that you should let people park these private cars and limousines in Central Park — no."

Central Park West residents at Monday's meeting applauded that suggestion. Several locals pleaded with the Community Board and Kloth to stop allowing private events in tents at Tavern because they brought too much noise and traffic to the neighborhood.

"It's been two years of peace," said Central Park West resident Martha Mendelsohn, referrring to the time that Tavern has been closed. "You don't know how wonderful it's been."

Community Board 7 Chairman Mark Diller said he'd only eaten at Tavern when he was a waiter there years ago, and wants Tavern's new menu to include lower cost food. The Parks Department supports that idea, Kloth said. "We want it to accommodate Park users so we don't want exorbitant prices," Kloth said.

Parks officials envision casual, lower-cost dining — perhaps small plates or tapas — on Tavern's terrace, and a more upscale, higher-priced dining room inside, Kloth said. He said the new Tavern would be more "user-friendly" and would be designed to feel more open to the rest of Central Park.

Some of that openness has already been accomplished with the dismantling of the Tavern's chandelier-bedecked Crystal Room, which was replaced by an outdoor terrace that hosted food trucks over the summer.

The new Tavern would be a scaled-back version of its previous incarnation, with a significantly smaller dining area that harks back to how Tavern looked in the 1930s, when it was first converted from a home for Central Park's flock of sheep, into a restaurant, Kloth said.

"In the past it became a destination, but not so much for the people that were in the park," Kloth said. "The new Tavern will be a much reduced Tavern. It's going to be a smaller, much more casual restaurant. We want it to be integrated into the park life."

Part of the Tavern building was reopened as a visitors center and gift shop hawking T-shirts and mugs in 2010. Kloth said a smaller version of the visitors center will likely stay at Tavern.

Parks officials are scheduled to present designs for the new Tavern at Community Board 7's next Parks Committee meeting in December. Check the Community Board 7 website for the date and agenda.