Even though I’ve seen the place only from the outside, I’ve always thought Tavern on the Green was cool: a place I wanted to visit so I could roost in one of the outlandishly gaudy-but-delightful dining rooms and have lunch. I never got the chance, though, as the Tavern — once the highest-grossing restaurant in the country — filed bankruptcy in 2009, and later closed its doors after a bitter fight with the city government over its lease. The owners also took a huge hit from the Wall Street crisis, as much of the restaurant’s revenue came from corporate dinners and parties. After the sky fell in 2008, all the frivolity dried up, right alongside the profit margin.
But as of this very day, it looks as if my fortunes might change. Tavern on the Green’s renaissance begins at dinnertime tonight, when its doors will open as a restaurant for the first time since the fallout, transfer of ownership, and $20 million renovation.
Gone are the Tiffany chandeliers, linen tablecloths, fanciful lighted trees and bizarre topiary that symbolized the Tavern in its heyday of decades past. Gone is the opulent and charmingly overdone Crystal Room (pictured), and the life-sized deer (deer??) that greeted patrons in the main entranceway.
The new owners claim that they want Tavern on the Green to be the restaurant that everyday “Upper West Siders choose.” They’re catering less to tourists and more to “regular New Yorkers” — even though the ever-so-slightly pretentious menu seems to indicate otherwise. ($18 salads and $20 cheeseburgers?)
Still, I’m glad to see it opening again, in spite of many comments I’ve read from New Yorkers who say that while it’s a restaurant opening under the same name and in the same location, it’s not Tavern on the Green. Without the decadence of the furnishings and the spirit of outlandish excess that gave the place its total Liberace-on-a-lark vibe, it’s not Tavern, they say. It’s just “that new place.” Indeed, the “new place” is different; the opulence has been replaced by earth tones and ultra-hip understatement.
My hope is that it will do well, and eventually draw in the hoi polloi as well as the hoity-toity. It’s a glorious piece of New York history, and should be enjoyed by all. I know it’ll be on my list of places to stop next time I’m in the city.
But I ain’t payin’ no $12 for a bowl of grits, y’all.