Heirs of the charismatic former operator, who died in 2001, have firmly vowed to outbid any competitor for the space. Toward that end, the LeRoy family has borrowed a page from the Caroline Kennedy playbook and enlisted the help of the high-powered and politically connected public relations outfit Knickerbocker SKD, in addition to the prominent lobbying firm Capalino + Company.
State records show that Tavern management is paying the lobbying group $10,000 a month to grease some wheels with the Parks Department, mayor’s office, City Council and local Community Board 7; the firm has been on Tavern’s payroll since 2007.
Tavern reps told The Observer it was “too premature” to discuss the LeRoy family’s own specific plans for sprucing up the space.
But, in an interview with the paper back in late 2006, LeRoy’s youngest daughter and heir apparent, Jennifer Oz LeRoy, hinted at even more ostentatious design schemes yet to come. “My dream is to make a rhinestone-studded ceiling,” the then 20-something Tavern boss said. “I would just have to make sure that the glue was really good so that there weren’t rhinestones falling into people’s lobster bisque.”
BEYOND THE MATTER of upholding the family’s sparkly legacy, Tavern brass has long maintained that few other operators would have the wherewithal to handle such an enormous operation.
It employs more than 500 staffers serving up to 1,500 patrons at a time. More than 300 of those employees are unionized, a situation many restaurateurs view as an impediment, much to the chagrin of organized labor.
In addition to its various hostesses, cooks, waiters and busboys, Tavern management also takes pride in the fact that it is one of the only restaurants in the country to employ a full-time horticulturist. That giant King Kong–shaped shrubbery in the garden isn’t going to trim itself, after all.
The next operator would probably have to hang on to the guy with the hedge trimmers, too. At least at first. The city is requiring the successful operator to retain any existing staffer who wishes to stay on for at least the first 90 days.
The LeRoys have a number of other advantages over rival bidders, as well, perhaps most importantly pertaining to the restaurant’s famous name. The family holds a federal trademark on the moniker, meaning any successful rival operator would need to buy a separate license from the LeRoys simply to retain any semblance of brand-name recognition.
A new proprietor would also inherit little more than an empty shell: “All chandeliers, sconces and light fixtures, mirrors, paintings, lithographs, ‘Tiffany’-style windows, sculptures, weather vanes and other decorative elements currently found at the restaurant, are the property of the current concessionaire, Tavern on the Green Ltd.,” according to the Parks Department.
At least for now, the nostalgia is still a big part of the attraction.
As my wife and I gathered our coats and headed out the door on Sunday, we overheard a middle-aged male patron react with glee at all the old photos hung in the hallway—ghosts of Tavern past: “Hey, there’s Warner LeRoy! And Peter Jennings! And Tennessee Williams!”