THE BLOG
08/27/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Tavern on the Green: A Family Tradition

When Warner LeRoy announced his plan to renovate Tavern on the Green in 1974, people thought he was crazy. They pointed out the enormous obstacles: the 27,000 square foot restaurant was more or less abandoned; the building, constructed in 1870 as a sheepfold, was
dreadfully in need of internal and external repairs. Tavern was in Central Park, a place no sane New Yorker would set foot for fear of a mugging, or worse. Besides, the Park at that time resembled a wasteland; the Sheep Meadow was a barren, dusty plain; playgrounds, statues, arches and monuments had been vandalized and covered with graffiti. In addition, New York City was broke. Manpower for city services had been drastically reduced; a decreased police force led to a sharp increase in crime; garbage piled up in the streets because of cutbacks in the Sanitation Department; the unemployment rate reached 8.9%, the highest it had been since 1941.

For Warner LeRoy, obstacles simply did not exist; he saw only possibilities. The day he walked into Tavern, he had a vision of how he would bring it to life, and he set out to make his vision a reality. He spent the next two and a half years, and ten million dollars, creating his Tavern on the Green: a magical wonderland, a place of whimsy and fantasy, which would defy the conventional rules of design and taste. Warner's vision encompassed Central Park, too; he believed New Yorkers had a right to a green, lush, safe oasis, and he became one of the founding members of the Central Park Conservancy. The opening of Warner's Tavern in 1976 was a joyful display of Warner's faith in the future of New York City. New Yorkers came to celebrate: birthdays, engagements, weddings, graduations, movie and theater openings; celebrations of all kinds. Visitors from all over the world began to tell their travel agents that Tavern was on their list of places they could not miss, alongside the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty. More than half a million guests each year came to Tavern; Warner was ever mindful that it was a land-mark, a treasured piece of the city's history, with which he had been entrusted; each year he spent over a million dollars for repairs and renovations.

Warner LeRoy was my dad. I am proud of the part he played in the restoration of Central Park, and that he had the courage to transform Tavern on the Green in the midst of the darkest days of New York City's fiscal crisis. Since his death in 2001, my family and I have devoted ourselves to carrying on his legacy. My family has held the lease for Tavern on the Green since 1974; it expires on December 31st 2009. An RFP (Request for Proposals) was issued by the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation on February 2nd 2009; we submitted our bid more than a month ago, on May 18th 2009, the date specified by the issuing office. While we await the decision of the Department of Parks and Recreation, our 500 employees, some of whom have been with us since opening day, do not know if they will be employed after December 31st. If the Tavern lease is granted to another bidder, our employees will lose their jobs; finding work elsewhere in January will be difficult, if not impossible.

There may be other bidders for the Tavern lease who have experience, expertise and success in the restaurant business, but we believe that no other restaurateur can equal what we have to offer: a skilled staff who can welcome 3,500 on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other holidays; who can prepare and serve a pasta dinner for 20,000 the night before the Marathon, and welcome 35,000 runners the following day at the finish line; a maintenance crew familiar with every inch of our fragile building; an expert horticulturist and landscape team who tend the trees and flowers. My family and I believe that we bring a tradition of passionate devotion to New York City, to Central Park, and to the excellence of our beloved Tavern on the Green.