At least one applicant thinks the definition of casual dining is still up for interpretation.
“No one’s seen the request for proposal yet,” Louis Bivona, managing partner of online specialty foods store Tavern Direct, pointed out.
Since 2007, Mr. Bivona has used the Tavern on the Green trademark on a line of gourmet products that includes marinades, dipping oils and cookies. A percentage of the proceeds benefits the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, following a business model Mr. Bivona said was inspired by the late Paul Newman’s brand, Newman’s Own.
He became involved in the charity through his friend, America’s Most Wanted host John Walsh, who founded the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children after his son Adam was abducted from a Sears. Mr. Bivona thought the cause would resonate with the LeRoy family because Mervyn LeRoy produced The Wizard of Oz, which is about a young woman displaced by a storm and under the threat of a Wicked Witch, he explained.
When Tavern went bankrupt, the court put a cease and desist order on the business, and the city reclaimed the name Tavern on the Green, then valued at $19 million. Mr. Bivona and his partners—CEO of the bankrupt Tavern Michael Desiderio and its young inheritor, Jenny Oz LeRoy—put in a bid for a new lease but were denied, despite promising $30 million more in city fees than the winner, Mr. Poll. Instead, they bought what they could: forking over $1.3 million for the brand.
They are now assembling a group to submit yet another proposal, the only bid that will allow the space to maintain its name.
For Mr. Bivona, a formal atmosphere isn’t necessary to Tavern on the Green, but special occasions are part of its DNA. “People always say, ‘I’m not a New Yorker but I go there when I’m in New York,’” he said. “Or, ‘I’m not a New Yorker but I got engaged at Tavern on the Green.’”
David Beahm, a celebrity event designer, agreed that Tavern’s allure was strongest for non-New Yorkers. “It was a destination for out-of-towners when they really wanted to put on the dog,” he told The Observer.
“If you put ‘Tavern on the Green,’ on the invitation, you didn’t even have to list the city or state. Everyone knew,” Mr. Beahm said, “That’s what makes it special.”
Richard Peña, former chair of the New York Film Festival, chose the Tavern for the festival’s opening night black tie parties because its “strange glamour” was a trip for foreign filmmakers. “You felt you were in what Lionel Trilling called the Shakespearean ‘green world,’” he said. “You were in the city but felt far away.”
“When we reinvent the Tavern, we want to incorporate the park more into the atmosphere,” Mr. Bivona said. “The park brings a lot of charm.”
Even if Mr. Bivona and Mr. Desiderio’s group does not win the bid, Tavern on the Green will likely live on. The license on the name gives them the right to franchise Taverns on Greens worldwide (so long as they’re outside the tristate area). He and his partners plan on opening Tavern on the Green brand restaurants in the U.K., the Middle East and particularly in Asia. Tavern on the Green ranks in the top five New York City destinations in Korean travel guides, Mr. Bivona said, and the restaurant used to spend hefty sums promoting itself with the Japanese tourist bureau.
We asked how he will replicate the Tavern on the Green imprinted in our memories, especially now that all of its trappings have been auctioned off.
“The awnings, the topiaries …,” he said, trailing off. “You’ll know it’s a Tavern on the Green when you walk into it.”
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