The Long, Long Wait for Tavern on the Green

| 17 Feb 2015 | 01:01

The restaurant revamp in Central Park is again behind schedule For five years now, New Yorkers have been anxiously awaiting the reopening of Tavern on the Green, the iconic restaurant in Central Park. Sadly, they're going to have to wait a little longer. The restaurant was slated to reopen for business this month, following months of delay. Instead, the wait continues as the new owners, Philadelphia restaurateurs Jim Caiola and David Salama of the Emerald Green Group, have again pushed back its unveiling to early spring.

A project of this size is bound to see a few setbacks, but it seems that no one realized how much work the building actually needed. Ciaola explained the delays are "mostly because of things that were totally unseen by anybody."

For example, while installing new ventilation, the entire chimney fell down. The chimney had to be rebuilt completely, with designs that replicated the original. The landmark eatery has been on a rollercoaster since its closing in 2009, and at times there was little hope it would reopen at all. In October of 2010, the city reopened the building as a gift shop and visitor information center. Street vendors and food carts started to accumulate around the parking area, selling T-shirts and other memorabilia. Donald Trump blustered about investing $20 million dollars to renovate the restaurant if he was granted a 20-year lease; he withdrew his offer when the city decided to make the restaurant more casual. The new owners have opted to forego the Tavern's upscale roots in favor of a more casual restaurant -- a move that not everyone in the neighborhood has embraced. Upper East Side resident and Community Board 8 member Teri Slater remembers the old Tavern as "a magical place." She is wary of the move to make it more casual. "I think they are trying to be all things to all people," she said.

Since offering the winning bid in March of 2012, Ciaola and Salama have collaborated with the city to completely renovate the building's structure. Ciaola had considered taking over the restaurant before it was officially closed five years ago, but said it "was way too big for me [then] because in order to maintain all of its employees and rent it had to stay open. I knew that I couldn't do it at that phase."

He told Salama, "the only way we could do this is if we stopped the whole business, and someone helped us put the building back to its original structure. It needed new electricity, plumbing, everything."

Once the city had agreed to refurbish the exterior and repair the basic infrastructure, Ciaola was confident in their ability to turn the failed restaurant around.

This winter's extreme cold and relentless snowfall have contributed to the delayed opening. The owners have added a bar outside, but after receiving an approved liquor license in October they had to start racing against the cold weather. Once the ground started freezing, and the first major storm covered their progress in snow, it became very difficult to move forward.

"You can't really work when there is a foot and a half of snow," said Ciaola. "We can't really do anything until we have three weeks of thaw. It is just going to happen when it happens."

Ciaola hopes to be open for business by the end of March, but the ultimate fate of this project seems to lie in the hands of Mother Nature and the city of New York.