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Poll steps away from Tavern on the Green

Restaurateur Dean Poll has stepped aside as Tavern on the Green's new operator following months of failed negotiations with the union that represents the restaurant's 400 workers, a spokesman for the operator said.

The fine-dining restaurant, located on the west side of Central Park, is a New York City landmark and, before it closed last December, was for years one of the most successful restaurants and catering establishments in the United States. The restaurant is owned by the city, which contracts out the licensing agreement to operate the facility.

New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said in a statement that Tavern on the Green would serve as a visitor center and snack bar while the city solicits proposals from potential operators interested in reopening the establishment as a restaurant.

"The city will put in the resources to stabilize the building and make it suitable for those uses," he said. "Then, based on the proposals and the success of the venue as a visitor center and store, we'll decide whether or not to turn all or part of it back into a restaurant.

Poll, who also is the operator of Central Park's Boathouse restaurant, whose workers are not unionized, won the bid to operate Tavern on the Green last year after the city decided not to renew its contract with longtime operator LeRoy Adventures LLC. Though Poll had presented a multiyear plan to renovate and restore the renowned restaurant to its former glory, he almost immediately faced roadblocks in dealing with Local 6, which has a reputation for being one of New York City's toughest unions.

"It is with great regret that we are unable to go forward with our very exciting, $25 million plan to restore the famed Tavern on the Green restaurant," Poll said in a statement Thursday. "Unfortunately, after eight months of negotiations, coming to terms with Local 6 of the Hotel & Motel Trades Council to operate a viable restaurant and banquet facility has been impossible to achieve."

Officials for the HTC said in a statement that the two sides could not come to an agreement because Poll refused to honor basic labor standards for Tavern's workers.

"I'm saddened that, for now, the doors of the city's greatest restaurant remain closed, but optimistic that New York will get a new operator for Tavern deserving of this iconic establishment," HTC president Peter Ward said. "The Tavern on the Green workers, all of them residents of New York City, have dedicated years of their lives to making [the restaurant] one of the most celebrated and profitable restaurants in the world.

"Mr. Poll was unwilling to show these women and men the respect that they deserve," he added. "Now a new operator will step in and the workers can make Tavern on the Green great again."

In his statement, Bloomberg expressed disappointment that Poll and the union could not reach an agreement.

"The city tried to play the role of honest broker, but the two sides remain far apart," he said. "We can't -- and won't -- wait any longer for a resolution with no guarantee that one will come."

A spokesman for the mayor's office said it could take months before a new request for proposal for Tavern on the Green is sent out.

Located in Central Park, adjacent to the famed Sheep Meadow, the flamboyant Tavern on the Green was the jewel in the crown of entrepreneur Warner LeRoy, who operated the restaurant from 1977 until his death in 2001. The operation was then taken over by his daughter, Jennifer.

One of the most lucrative restaurants in the country, Tavern on the Green in its heyday generated more than $35 million in sales annually. The LeRoys closed the restaurant after a big farewell party last New Year's Eve.

Following the loss of the Tavern on the Green contract, LeRoy Adventures filed for bankruptcy and sold off the contents of the restaurant during a three-day public auction. Around $8 million was raised, but it was not enough to pay off the company's many creditors. The company also lost its bid to retain ownership of the Tavern on the Green name. After a court battle earlier this year, ownership of that intellectual property was awarded to the city of New York.

Contact Elissa Elan at [email protected].

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