Bringing Home the Dazzle of Tavern on the Green

It may be to too late to try their famous lamb or lobster bisque, but many folks got one last taste of the dazzle that was Tavern on the Green. In a three-day auction last week, more than 1,00 in-house and online bidders were given an opportunity to take home a piece of memorabilia from the landmark Central Park restaurant. Close to 500 people crowded into the Crystal Room, and stood in lines 144-people deep to attend this one-of-a-kind event.

Facing bankruptcy, the company auctioned off 25,000 items, sure to spark lifelong memories, including a silver cake stand sold for $900 and 24 banana-split dishes sold for $175, three leaded-glass ceilings from one of Mr. LeRoy’s previous restaurants (Maxwell’s Plum, sold for a total of more than $350,000 including the premium), a stained-glass peacock sold for $750,000, rare chestnut paneling (sculptural figures in the decorative ceiling of the Crystal Room and a 40-foot-long mural from the Park Room were bought by the city of New York for close to $150,000, including the premium), the first doorman’s coat (several for up for auction) went for $500, and the famous Tavern on the Green Wurlitzer jukebox brought in $7,000.

The New York Times reported that as the sale ended on January 15, it had taken in close to $3.5 million including the 22 percent premium the fee buyers paid to Guernsey’s auction house, which conducted the sale. Sotheby’s had assessed a portion of the inventory at $8 million, before the economic downturn.

Sadly, the auction brought in much less than the $9 million owed to more than 450 unsecured creditors of Tavern, which served its last meal on New Year’s Day. So far, more of the money realized from Tavern’s assets has gone to TD Bank, their lone secured creditor, which is owed $6.6 million. Aside from the auction proceeds, $3.5 million was paid from the sale of Tavern’s Long Island City warehouse.

Everyone is now on edge waiting for the court’s decision on the restaurant’s most important asset–the Tavern on the Green name, valued at $19 million. A federal judge is determining who owns the trademark-New York City or the family of restaurateur Warner LeRoy, who has run the restaurant since 1976.

Warner LeRoy was the man who made Tavern one of the highest grossing restaurants in the nation. He handed over the restaurant to his daughter, Jennifer Oz LeRoy before he died at age 65 in 2001.

So what happened to the celebrated banquet hall and restaurant? Michael Desiderio, Tavern’s Chief Operating Officer told the New York Times that “the restaurant’s revenues began to fall as early as late 2007.” He quoted the economy as a major factor, but also mentioned that “the restaurant was unable to book as many reservations for weddings and banquets because of the uncertainty over ownership of the license, which expires December 31.”

The Parks Department requested proposals for the license in February, and in August awarded a 20-year license to Dean J. Poll, who runs the Central Park Boathouse restaurant, a surprising move that spurned Jennifer LeRoy’s company, Tavern on the Green Limited Partnership.

Poll has yet to sign the contract with the city and thus far, the reopening date is not announced.