The New Lord Of the Tavern

tavern1 The New Lord Of the Tavern

It was Feb. 27, 2008, and Kay LeRoy, ex-wife of the late flamboyant restaurateur Warner LeRoy, and their daughter Jennifer were hosting a dinner at Tavern on the Green. The purpose was to rededicate the Pavilion Room in honor of Jennifer’s late brother Max, a room that now included a 167-foot panoramic mural of Central Park iconography so precise it took a group of muralists more than a year to create. And yet, despite the obvious sentimental importance of the evening—despite the presence of the restaurant’s owners and their guests—one couldn’t help but note the poverty of the cuisine. The surliness of the staff. The guest list that included few, if any, political dignitaries, the sort of people it pays to know when your landlord is the city.

Nearly two years to the day after that dismal dinner, the LeRoy organization officially vacated the premises of Tavern on the Green at 3 p.m. on Feb. 12. And while a new owner and the restaurant workers’ union negotiate a fresh agreement for the concession to reopen, Tavern on the Green sits dark. The detritus of disuse accrues, and quickly: the candy wrapper litter, the overturned patio furniture, the abandoned motorcycle behind the unlocked gates.

Warner LeRoy would surely be shocked by what has become of Tavern on the Green, but its demise was not some tornado-like act of God. Tavern on the Green was a marked restaurant, the victim of years of mismanagement and, in the end, of official lassitude.

At least one man knew it. While Jennifer Oz LeRoy, who inherited the legendary establishment following her father’s death, allowed her Central Park legacy to wither, Dean Poll, the proprietor of the Boathouse across the way, was licking his chops.

 

MR. POLL, THE CENTRAL Park Boathouse concessionaire who successfully bid for the Tavern on the Green concession, comes from a family that is, in some obvious ways, everything the LeRoys are not.

Mr. Poll, 6-foot-7 and 52 years old, grew up in Manhasset, Long Island. He still lives on the island, now with a wife and two sons. In Williston Park, he and his two brothers run a seafood restaurant called Riverbay that got a good review in The Times. It’s the successor to a restaurant called Pappas that his father owned in Sheepshead Bay. Mr. Poll worked there as a kid. After graduating from college, he went straight into the family business, working at a family-run food concession in the Time-Life Building.

If Jennifer LeRoy grew up steeped in Hollywood heritage and the trappings of uptown wealth-Dalton, horses, high society-Mr. Poll grew up in restaurants, raised in a Greek-American family that prided itself on hard work. He won the Boathouse concession in 2000, growing its revenue from $8.2 million a year to $18 million. He is said to arrive early at the Boathouse and leave late. He sometimes makes his own early-morning trips to Hunts Point in the Bronx to buy meat and fish. He’s said to have coveted Tavern on the Green for years.

“I can tell you he’s very fastidious, a perfectionist, and ambitious,” one of his colleagues wrote in an email.

Mr. Poll declined to comment for this article. His high-powered attorney and PR consultant are keeping him tightly under wraps, pending the conclusion of his ongoing negotiations with the restaurant workers’ union and the signing of a contract with the city.

But while his management of the Boathouse has been lucrative, it is, from an aesthetic standpoint, something of the polar opposite of Tavern on the Green. “You’ve seen other spaces like it,” said Ron Genereux, the lead artist behind the murals for the Pavilion Room in Tavern on the Green. Indeed, the Central Park Boathouse, from the handheld buzzers that alert patrons that their table is ready to the Pottery Barn décor, has something of a suburban blandness to it. “It’s like the nicest restaurant in Asheville, North Carolina,” said one observer.