UPPER EAST SIDE — Tavern on the Green is on track to become a restaurant again — just don't call it "casual."
At a Community Board 8 meeting Thursday night, where a Parks Department official told residents that the agency would soon start soliciting bids for a “high quality casual restaurant and outdoor café" at the Central Park landmark, many residents objected to the potential for laid-back dining. They wanted the white tablecloths to return, instead.
"My family didn’t go there for the food," CB8 member Teri Slater said, referring to the original yet defunct Tavern on the Green. "They went there for the experience. Why would you want to stray from a model that was successful and go to something casual, which you can find all over the park?"
The agency’s Director of Concessions Charles Kloth said the department believed "a high-end restaurant and casual restaurant are not mutually exclusive.
“When we say casual we mean one that’s accessible to park users," he added, "where a family at going to a playground can stop in for a sandwich.”
Some community board members remained concerned.
"Can we take out the word 'casual?'" asked Parks Committee co-chair Peggy Price.
“I’ll take back that suggestion,” Kloth responded.
The proposed outdoor café would be placed where the famously glitzy Crystal Room, with its glass walls and sparkly chandeliers, once stood before being dismantled in July 2010, roughly seven months after the restaurant closed.
The space was then transformed into a raised terrace with outdoor seating for four upscale food trucks that had signed one-year contracts last fall with the Parks Department: Ladle of Love, Pera, Rickshaw Dumpling and Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream. The building then turned into a visitor center and gift shop for the Central Park Conservancy.
"Now we're going back to the original idea of a restaurant," Kloth told CB8 members.
Before Parks moved the food trucks into the space, it had awarded Tavern’s operating license to Boathouse restaurateur Dean J. Poll. That deal, however, collapsed because of labor negotiations between Poll and union workers.
Many CB 8 members were outraged by the food trucks at Tavern on the Green.
Kloth disputed the success of the histroric restaurant, saying the city made little money off the contract, and that while Tavern did gross a lot of money, it had high operating expenses and ultimately filed for bankruptcy.
Kloth said that the restaurant’s 40,000 square feet of interior space, which is "no longer the warren of rooms" from the Tavern days, could accommodate different dining experiences.
“It’s a big space,” he noted, saying he hoped there would be a room for fine dining that required reservations and for other things, like tapas, for instance.
The iconic restaurant will no longer be used as a catering hall, as it had been for years, Kloth said. Its parking lot is expected to remain, though Parks wants “more attractive landscaping."
The LeRoy family, which ran the restaurant from 1973 until closing it on New Year’s Day in 2010, owns the name for marketing rights, which means the name could one day appear on salad dressing or other products, he noted.
Kloth said the requests for proposals for a 20-year operating license would be issued shortly and would be due by December or early 2012.