MANHATTAN — Central Park’s iconic Tavern on the Green, shuttered for 14 months, reopens Thursday to a sold out crowd — another sign that the mighty economic engine that is the restaurant and bar industry in New York City is slowing coming back to life.
Bars and restaurants account for nearly three-quarters of all workers in the city’s nightlife industry, according to a New York City impact study. They also pump some-$12 billion into the local economy.
Jim Caiola, co-owner of Tavern on the Green, was like a kid on Christmas morning on Wednesday. After winning the lease back in 2014, he was more than happy to once again see employees streaming in through the front doors.
“We thought we were going to layoff our workers for two weeks and that the unemployment [benefits] would take care of it. And then two weeks went by, and two months went by,” Caiola told PIX11 News.
Caiola reflected on the challenges of reduced capacity; his restaurant, which wouldn’t survive on outdoor dining in the dead of winter; and the time the irrigation system broke in the height of a hot, dry summer.
“I was my only employee. So I came and watered the gardens. And it takes four and half hours to do that, by the way,” he said.
But as the smell of sizzling butter commingled with fresh herbs, fish, and lamb, those hard-edged memories softened.
The chef called out, “jumbo lump crab cake,” as the kitchen staff prepared plates in a dress rehearsal for Thursday’s grand reopening.
“We’ve sold out this Thursday, which is great,” Caiola added.
So what can diners expect after more than a year of waiting?
“They should expect it to be clean, fresh and beautiful — very English pea and green and celebrating the bucolic place that Tavern is,” he said.
Caiola hearkened back to the old sheep barn that Tavern once was, before Robert Moses converted it to a restaurant in the heart of Central Park in the 1930s.
Now, the kitchen is alive again, with chefs chopping, plating, and drizzling, while bartenders chill perfectly blended cocktails
The quintessential courtyard was bedecked with fairy lights and flowers perfectly in bloom — a special blend of magic only found at this restaurant inside Central Park.
“In the heart of New York. It’s amazing!” Caiola boasted.
However, many restaurants have not made it through the pandemic. Some-5,000 eateries have closed down. Tens of thousands of restaurant workers have not come back.
It remains to be seen whether increased COVID vaccinations, Broadway’s expected post-Labor Day reopening and more workers returning to their offices will be the ingredients needed to set the restaurant industry right.
Back at the Tavern, Caiola showed off the restaurant’s new menu.
“We have lamb with broccolini, vegan cauliflower steaks and octopus with this amazing honey drizzle,” he said.
After lifting glasses for celebratory cheers, Caiola added: “Can’t wait to have you!”