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Tavern on the Green Eyed By Mario Batali and Other Top Restaurateurs

By Leslie Albrecht | February 1, 2012 2:25pm

UPPER WEST SIDE — Tavern on the Green might have lost its glitz, but it's still attracting attention from big players in the high-end restaurant world.

The Parks Department on Wednesday hosted a site visit for those interested in taking over the storied restaurant, which is undergoing a renovation that will dramatically scale down its size before it reopens in 2013. Bids to run the site are due to the city at the end of March.

The crowd at the walk-through included 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; Legends Hospitality Management, which runs Yankee Stadium; the Glazier Group, operators of Michael Jordan's The Steakhouse N.Y.C.; representatives from the 21 Club and City Winery, and chef Bill Telepan, of the Upper West Side restaurant Telepan.

Despite the high caliber line-up, Parks officials stressed that the reborn Tavern will be a casual eatery aimed at park visitors and neighborhood diners, not ritzy catered events for a select few.

The new operator must use the Tavern on the Green name, but the renovation will wipe away most of the glamour once associated with it. Additions that have expanded the building over the decades will be removed and Taverns's exterior will be restored to a more quaint 1930s look.

Even the lights that once twinkled in the trees outside will be gone, and whoever takes over the space won't be allowed to put up new ones, said Assistant Parks Commissioner Betsy Smith.

"We want to celebrate nature and the park," Smith said. "We don't want this to become as fanciful and glitzy as it was before."

The iconic Crystal Room has been demolished and an outdoor patio now stands in its place. The tall greenery that once walled off Tavern from the rest of the park has been cut away, so Tavern diners can overlook the Sheep Meadow. Central Park Administrator Doug Blonsky said the vegetation fence was no longer necessary because crime in Central Park had dropped significantly.

Officials said they wanted the new Tavern to be "park-centric" and to "celebrate" its Central Park home.

Chef Bill Telepan, whose well-regarded West 69th Street restaurant is two blocks from Tavern on the Green, said he came to "kick the tires" on the Tavern space. Telepan said he liked the city's scaled-down vision for the once-famous restaurant.

"It's more manageable than it was before," Telepan said. "It's more my style. It's nice that they want to make it open to everyone."

But others said they were disheartened to see the fabled Tavern stripped of its fairy tale atmosphere.

"It's not what we remember the place being," said a disappointed Anthony D'Aloia after the site tour, where visitors could see the Tavern's ornate chairs piled in a dusty heap behind yellow caution tape.

"Everybody has these grand visions. If you spoke of this place, it was the epitome of where a girl would want to get married, or where you would get down on one knee to ask her to marry you."

D'Aloia said it was "heartwrenching" to see the Tavern so diminished.

"There are a million casual dining places in Manhattan," D'Aloia said. "This was a special place. If you make it casual dining, you might as well put an Outback Steakhouse here."