Monday, January 10, 2011

Lifting a Cup to the Tavern on the Green

Living in New York City one must not repine over the closing of a restaurant or shop, the changing of a landmark, the rising of a new building. This place is a work in progress, always in flux, never finished. Still, it was weird to find myself outside the Tavern on the Green in a snowy Central Park the other day and to realize that the Tavern is gone. Literally. I was standing on a snow-covered cement slab that was recently the floor of one of the many glasshouses which had been attached to the original 19th Century structure, now restored by the Parks Department.

Cup of the Day #59
by Gwyneth Leech
Whiteout pen  and 
white gel pen on grey cup

I confess that I never ate at the Tavern on the Green, a famed and latterly rather infamous (for labour relations) destination dining spot in the city. But it was always a favorite rest stop during days with my children in the nearby playgrounds. The Ladies Room was a confection of pink and white tile. An attendant held onto the soap bottle and dispensed scooshes onto small hands, then handed over a crisp white napkin. Her tip jar stood ostentatiously by the sink and we dared not leave without dropping in a dollar.

Before returning to the mundane world outside the Tavern doors, I would wander the labyrinthine mirrored hallways with the girls, admiring Tiffany glass ceiling lamps, framed paintings and stunning stained glass panels of entwined peacocks. We peeked into the frothy glass-house dining rooms filled with wedding and Barmitzah parties and tourists enjoying lunch beneath crystal chandeliers and frescoed ceilings. Outside the windows, fairy lights twinkled in the trees and the topiary all year long.

Tavern on the Green interior 
with frescoes by Richard Taddei, 1984

The non-glass walls of several of these dining rooms were covered with trompe l'oeil frescoes. My downstairs neighbor, Richard Taddei painted amazing murals on the these walls in the 1980s. Good thing he took gorgeous photos which can be seen by clicking here. The whole place was a rather rather frenzied fantasy of luxury and high living.

Back to the reality of this frozen January day, what remains is the undeniably-lovely, faux-Gothic, curved building which was a sheepfold in the park over a hundred years ago. Part of the interior is now transformed into an unlovely and generic visitors center and several units are empty, awaiting a summer food court. In the meantime, specialty food trucks are parked here. Today it is a Van Leeuwen espresso and ice-cream truck, usually found on 5th Avenue. The price of the single-source, pour-over Ethiopian specialty cup of coffee was certainly worthy of the old Tavern, but the ambience was just a bit different.

Snowman, Central Park, NYC
Photo by Gwyneth Leech


  1. What a great place that must have been. Although I lived in NY in the eighties, I never made it to the Tavern. Just add it to the list places I didn't visit!

    But you demonstrated the old saying that as long as one person remembers, your nugget of history can be preserved!

    Oh, btw, nice pattern on your cup! Was it inspired by the opulence of the ttavern?

  2. Yes, the opulence, the globe lamps, the glass walls and the snowy day.

  3. Stephanie Brody-LedermanJanuary 11, 2011 at 8:33 AM

    i spent New Years Eve 2009, at Tavern On the Green. It was listed as a promotion, promising a New Years experience in the park, trees covered white with snow. It didn't quite turn out that way, although there was a lot of snow seen through the windows. There were very few chairs and tables in the rooms. There were crowds of New Yorkers, along with people from foreign lands, balancing plates and drinks while sitting against the walls in the many rooms.

    Surprisingly it was a wonderful New Year's Eve, as often situations like this bring in NYC. The warmth of the guests and interest in each others background,( against a snowy backdrop,) mad it an evening worthy of starting a new year!

  4. That is so sad to hear about the demise of the Tavern on the a California native, I was so saddened when the Brown Derby went the way of the wrecking ball...I have fond memories of my aunt taking me and my sister there as was such a thrill...I never had a chance to visit the Tavern on the Green, and now I guess I never will.