Tavern on the Green’s comeback set to leave a positive mark on city

Tavern on the Green’s comeback set to leave a positive mark on city

Second chances don’t come often with shuttered NYC venues.

Tavern on the Green returns to Central Park Thursday, April 24.
Tavern on the Green returns to Central Park Thursday, April 24. Photo Credit: Le Cirque

Today’s reopening of Tavern on the Green marks a rare occasion when a shuttered New York City venue gets a second chance.

With new interiors, specialized sections and a redone menu, the Central Park staple returns after a five-year absence.

The reopening comes at a time when the city has lost a fewof its longtime cherished venues, like Rizzoli Bookstore, the Pearl Paint store and Roseland Ballroom.

Rosemary Wakeman, director of the urban studies program at Fordham University, said the Tavern holds a symbolic and cultural meaning for the city. “Places like Tavern on the Green, they have an evolution and it helps build New York’s character,” she said.

Even though the Central Park restaurant generated cutomers and buzz for more than 70 years, it had to close in 2009 after filing for bankruptcy. The space — which is owned by the Parks Department — was used as a visitors center between 2010 and last year, when the Philadelphia based Emerald Green Group agreed to a 20-year lease for the space and to bring the Tavern into the 21st century.

The renovated space includes a 110-seat garden, wood-beamed cathedral ceilings, hundreds of indoor and outdoor tables and a more casual look than before.

“Tavern on the Green has been part of the Central Park Landscape since 1870, and the conservancy, along with the park’s millions of visitors, is thrilled to welcome back this iconic restaurant,” Doug Blonsky, President & CEO of Central Park Conservancy, said in a statement.

New Yorkers who have rallied to keep their favorite spots open hope that the Tavern’s rebirth can set a precedent that pushes the city to preserve more of its history.

“In many instances, such as the one we are protesting, the pressure becomes very, very tough,” said Layla Law-Gisiko, the chair of the Manhattan Community Board 5’s landmarks committee, who fought to save Rizzoli. “With Tavern on the Green, [the comeback] was a bit easier since the city owns the land, but the outcry from the public did help.”

The Tavern’s return may have a positive ripple effect for supporters of long-time Gotham institutions that are close to the chopping block, according to Wakeman. She said places like Roseland Ballroom, Tavern on the Green and Rizzoli are tied so tightly to the makeup of the city that it is hard for them to stay down forever.

“These places go through different costumes and have different roles at different times. It has meaning so people will invest in them to make meaning,” Wakeman said.

Law-Gisiko, however, sounded a skeptical note, citing an increased emphasis on development and the fact that oftentimes private companies care more about profits than a community’s history. “When you’re dealing with a private landlord, they won’t look for anything but the bottom line,” she said.

She was, however, inspired by the fact that the city listened to input from the community when it came to Tavern on the Green.

“They could have easily made a different restaurant, but we are glad that they kept it as Tavern on the Green,” she said.

Wakeman said she is optimistic that other closed iconic venues will see the light of day because more people, especially elected officials, realize the importance of culturally significant places.

“The closure and reopening of stores are cautionary tales on how important to the city and how fragile they can be,” Wakeman said. “It is important to care about them. We have to protect those spaces that have real meaning.”

Other venues that have shuttered and reopened:
Chinatown Fair
Closed: February 2011
Reopened: May 2012
The old Chinatown Fair had been a haven for hardcore gamers. Now open under new management, the arcade is more family friendly, much to the disappointment of its former patrons.
The Knitting Factory
Closed: 2008
September 2009
The TriBeCa venue, closed after two decades, reopened with new management in Williamsburg. The space once housed the Luna Lounge.
Closed: 1970s, 2007
Reopened: 1970s, 2011
The Copacabana has sashayed around Manhattan since opening in 1941. It caved to disco in the ‘70s, closed for three years, reopened across town in 1992, moved downtown in 2001, and closed again in 2007. The Latin-themed club has been in Times Square since 2011.
Culture Club
Closed: 2007
September 2011
The famous ’80s pop music club is now an ’80s-themed pop music club on West 39th Street. It also plays ‘90s and current tunes, but the retro theme is pervasive.
Apollo Theater
Closed: 1933, 1979
Reopened: 1934, 1981
First called Hurtig and Seamon’s New Burlesque Theater, that venue closed in 1933, reopening a year later as the Apollo. Besides a few shuttered years around 1980, the theater has been a Harlem staple ever since.
Lenox Lounge
December 2012
Scheduled for 2014
Renovations have reportedly begun to reopen the legendary Lenox Lounge at a new location a few blocks north on Lenox Avenue and West 127th Street. Closed in 2012 due to rent hikes, the owner hopes to reopen the jazz club sometime this year.
Sarge’s Deli
November 2012
March 2014
A grease fire in 2012 left this Murray Hill mainstay destroyed. A planned fall 2013 opening was pushed back, but New Yorkers can once again enjoy the old-fashioned Jewish deli 24 hours a day.
The River Cafe
October 2012
February 2014
More than a year after Superstorm Sandy filled it with four feet of water, this floating restaurant on the East River reopened with a new kitchen and new decor.

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