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'Casual' Tavern on the Green Operator Sought by Parks Dept.

By Leslie Albrecht | December 29, 2011 5:28pm

UPPER WEST SIDE — Move over white tablecloths — casual dining is officially coming to the formerly fancy Tavern on the Green.

The city kicked off the public process of finding a new operator for the storied Central Park eatery, once one of New York's most well-known restaurants and a popular tourist attraction.

In a request for proposals released Thursday, the Parks Department said it wants a casual restaurant, outdoor cafe and bar at the Tavern site, which once served pricey prime rib beneath chandeliers.

The famous name will stay the same, but the new incarnation of Tavern on the Green will be a "moderately priced" neighborhood dining destination, according to the 37-page RFP outlining the city's vision for the restaurant, which sits just inside Central Park, at Central Park West and West 67th Street.

"Tavern on the Green has long been one of the city's most unique settings and today marks a new chapter in its life," said Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe in a statement. "Now is the right time to re-envision the historic space and give it a new look and a new use."

In the RFP, Parks says it wants a restaurant that will serve the surrounding neighborhood and people who use Central Park every day, not just tourists. Among other envisioned features, Parks says it wants the new Tavern on the Green to have a "vibrant bar scene" and a take-away window that will sell pre-packaged to-go food and drinks.

Though the old Tavern was a popular destination for large events such as weddings, Parks says it wants the new version of the restaurant to host only a limited number of special events "on an intimate scale."

Potential operators have until March 30 to submit proposals to the Parks Department.

Tavern on the Green closed in January 2010 after its previous operators filed for bankruptcy. Restaurateur Dean Poll, who runs the Central Park Boathouse, submitted a bid to take over Tavern, but the deal fell through when Poll couldn't reach an agreement with the restaurant workers' union.

Parks has since remodeled the Tavern building. In October 2010, it reopened as a T-shirt peddling gift shop with gourmet food trucks stationed outside. The trucks left in the fall of 2011.

News of the laid-back ambience at the new Tavern got a cool reception from Upper East Siders earlier this year when the Parks Department pitched the idea at Community Board 8.

But the Upper West Side's Community Board 7 more than embraced the casual dining plan. The board passed a resolution calling on Parks to specify that the new Tavern serve patrons "in exercise clothes."