After kicking the tires of Tavern on the Green, the site of the former glamorous landmark in Central Park, at least two restaurateurs say they will put in a bid on Friday with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation for a 20-year license to establish a restaurant and bar there, according to the New York Times.
The two are Legends Hospitality Management, which runs the Legends Club and suite-and-seat catering at Yankee Stadium; and Beau Monde, a bustling French-accented bistro in Philadelphia that specializes in savory and sweet crepes.
But even though dozens of restaurateurs attended a February walk-through of the space (above), which is now called the Central Park Visitors Center at Tavern on the Green, many high-profile operators have decided against putting in a bid. They include Drew Nieporent of Corton and Nobu; the Orient-Express Hotels, owner of the “21” Club; Penny Glazier of the Glazier Group, which owns Bridgewaters at the South Street Seaport; the chef Bill Telepan of Telepan; and Donald J. Trump, who was so interested in taking over the tavern that he came to an agreement, in advance, with the powerful Hotel and Motel Trades Council, the union that represented 400 workers there.
“It is just too small a deal now, and nobody is going to go there,” said Mr. Trump, explaining why he declined to bid for the space that once held one of the highest-grossing independently owned restaurants in the United States.
Friday is the deadline for proposals to establish a casual restaurant and bar in the tavern space, just west of the Sheep Meadow, near 67th Street and Central Park West. Tara Kiernan, a spokeswoman for the city parks department, which is overseeing the process, said that even after the deadline, the agency’s concession procedures would “prevent us from saying who applied or how many proposals were submitted.”
The new, stripped-down version of Tavern is undergoing a $10 million renovation that will return the structure to a condition closer to its origins as a sheepfold, absent the former swagger of the Tavern run by the late restaurateur Warner LeRoy. The legendary but boxy Crystal Room, which Mr. LeRoy built in 1976, was torn down by the city in 2010. The city has downsized the former Tavern footprint — 25,000 square feet dedicated to banquets and celebrations — to a 10,320-square-foot indoor space for dining, and a seasonal outdoor terrace that incorporates nearly 12,000 square feet.
In declining to bid, Penny Glazier, a partner of the Glazier Group, which runs Bridgewaters and Twenty Four Fifth, spoke for other restaurateurs when she said that “we were originally excited by the idea, and love the space, but now, from our point of view, it just doesn’t seem to be profitable.” She added, “You can’t do special events and weddings.”
The city has said that the winning bidder would not be permitted to erect an events tent in the terrace, or restore the classic tree lighting. And as a concession to neighbors, the new Tavern can operate only when Central Park is open: from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily. Amplified music “must end by no later than 10 p.m.,” according to the parks department specifications.
Also bowing out of the bidding was Mr. Nieporent, who was the restaurant director at Tavern from 1978 to 1982, and had “many fond memories there,” he said. “But the city seemed to have an intention to strip away whatever Tavern on the Green once represented, so we decided not to do it.”
Bryan M. McGuire, general manager of the “21” Club, said Orient-Express had declined to bid because “the Crystal Room was taken down, and it was no longer a catering facility,” adding, “we had no interest for our part, after that.”
And Mr. Telepan said simply that “we have decided not to bid.” Also declining to bid was the Lawry’s chain of steak-and-prime-rib restaurants based in Los Angeles, and Michael O’Neal, former owner of O’Neals Restaurant on West 64th Street, which closed nearly two years ago.
Other operators whose representatives had attended the Tavern walk-through, did not return calls, including the Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, and Mario Carbone and Jeff Zalaznick, partners in Torrisi Italian Specialties. The planned Museum of Food and Drink had hoped to make Tavern its headquarters, but its principals declined comment.
But those who say they are going to bid expressed optimism. “We have terrifically relevant experience in running two huge tourist destinations in Yankee Stadium and Cowboy Stadium,” said Eric Gelfand, a spokesman for Legends Hospitality Management. “It’s an iconic first-class venue, and we are very excited to participate.”
Jim Caiola, co-owner of Beau Monde, confirmed that his company would bid for Tavern. but declined to say how much the bid was worth, or supply renderings or other details.
But Mr. Trump said the current Tavern footprint “has very few seats and doesn’t work. Nobody is going to feel safe at night going in the dark to a small restaurant.”
Mr. Trump said he would have spent $30 million on Tavern to rebuild the Crystal Room “and make it great, make it a Tavern in a more beautiful form,” he said. “I would have employed between 500 and 700 people, but now you’re talking about 30 or 40 employees,” he said of the smaller configuration. “And it would have made a lot more money for the city.”