Tavern on the Green reopens in Central Park Thursday

Lauren Glassberg reports on the completely revamped Tavern on the Green, re-opening after 7 years.
April 24, 2014 9:03:04 AM PDT
Jim Caiola is excited about even the awning to Tavern on the Green. He and his partner, David Salama, spent the last two years and $20 million redoing the inside of the iconic restaurant.

Now, Tavern on the Green is open again in Central Park Thursday after being closed for several years.

There are a few throwbacks, for example the 1930s-style awning, and it references the fact that the building used to house sheep that grazed at the meadow across the way. The meadow will now be a major focal point for diners.

The room is bright, and you have an endless view of Central Park, in part thanks to a glass enclosure that looks a little bit like an Apple Store.

The new Tavern on the Green is one third of the size of what it was, but with capacity for 300 diners outside and 350 diners inside, it is still one of the largest restaurants in the city.

There is intimacy in each dining room, so gone is the catering hall feel. The restaurant and the park are in a sense one - certainly not how it felt when the restaurant was owned by Warner Leroy. Now, it is much more about being in the park.

Caiola and Salama can only hope that Tavern 2.0 is as successful as it once was.

The Victorian Gothic structure was originally built in 1870 as a sheepfold for the flock that grazed in the Sheep Meadow. It became a restaurant in 1934 during a renovation undertaken by parks commissioner Robert Moses.

LeRoy took over the restaurant's lease in 1974 and turned it into a sprawling banquet hall that was one of the highest-grossing restaurants in the United States with revenues of $38 million in 2007. But it was hit hard by the 2008 financial downturn and the city Parks Department declined to renew its lease. The restaurant filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, served its last meal on Dec. 31, 2009, and auctioned off its furnishings.

Movies including "Wall Street," ''Ghostbusters" and "Mr. Popper's Penguins" have had scenes filmed in Tavern on the Green. In "Ghostbusters," a character played by Rick Moranis is chased by a monster and pounds on the restaurant's windows, but the patrons ignore him.

Tavern on the Green is next to the finish line of the New York City Marathon, and for years the restaurant hosted a pasta dinner on the eve of the race.

In its heyday, Tavern on the Green was known for glitzy decor and boldface guests such as Grace Kelly and John Lennon but not for the food, which one Yelp reviewer compared to canned beef stew. The new menu, overseen by chef Katy Sparks, includes warm squid salad, braised lamb shank with fresh mint gremolata and heritage breed pork chop with roasted rhubarb and fennel.

(The Associated Press contributed to this article)