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Monday, November 7, 2011

Should Tavern on the Green Be a "Casual" Restaurant?

As reported recently by DNAinfo, the Parks Department is on the verge of soliciting proposals for a new concessionaire to run the storied restaurant in the Central Park, Tavern on the Green (after an aborted attempt two years ago to install new management).

However, a number of attendees at the recent Community Board 8 meeting objected to the park's idea that the new Tavern be a "high quality casual restaurant." The problematic word in the Parks Department's presentation was "casual," which has led some to think that the new Tavern might not be fancy enough. (Or, as Gothamist succinctly put it: "NYers Worry an Olive Garden-Type Restaurant Will Open at Tavern on the Green.")

But how fancy should Tavern on the Green actually be? When the restaurant was created by Robert Moses in 1934, he promised that it would be a place where "the general public can get what it wants."

Through the early 1930s, the upscale restaurant in the park was called the Casino (where Rumsey Playfield now stands), which Moses wanted to tear down. As we write in Inside the Apple:

Moses had two primary objections to the Casino: one was that it that it catered to the city’s wealthy residents at the expense of the majority of park users. (In an era when a cup of coffee at a Horn and Hardart Automat cost a nickel, the Casino charged 40 cents.) Secondly—and perhaps more importantly—the Casino had been a favorite haunt of disgraced Mayor Jimmy Walker.... To remove the Casino, Moses needed to find an alternate spot for an eatery. And, since public sentiment opposed building anything new in the park, Moses instead came up with a clever plan to convert the 1870 sheepfold at 65th Street (constructed by Jacob Wrey Mould) into a “popular-priced” restaurant.

Scores of workers from the Civil Works Administration began converting the old sheepfold into the restaurant in February 1934. (In true Moses fashion, the conversion was well underway before the city announced what it was doing.) As the New York Times reported, the new Tavern on the Green promised "reasonably priced table d'hote luncheon and dinner and a la carte service within reach of the average purse. There will be no cover charge. A sandwich and a glass of beer will be served at a reasonable price if a more elaborate meal is not wanted."

Though it took some time for Tavern to figure out its pricing, the restaurant soon settled on a price-fixed dinner of $1.50--not the cheapest meal in town in 1934, but well within reach of many middle-class New Yorkers. The question now is whether or not the new Tavern on the Green will return to Moses's populist roots or be more like the glitzy tourist attraction of the 1970s and 80s presided over by the late Warner LeRoy. Stay tuned.....


Read more about New York's Robert Moses and Tavern on the Green in
Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York

1 comment:

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