It's been a tumultuous couple years for Central Park's historic Loeb Boathouse. The restaurant was closed at the start of the pandemic in 2020, with all of its employees laid off later that year. Then it reopened in the spring of 2021 amid much uncertainty about bookings. And now, restaurateur Dean Poll, who has operated the Boathouse since 2000, has filed paperwork to permanently close the location this fall.
"Due to rising labor and costs of goods, the business will be permanently closing effective October 16, 2022 affecting a total of 163 employees," Poll wrote this week in a filing to the state's Department of Labor.
Representatives for Poll did not respond to requests for comment, but Poll told Patch, "I've been there for 21 years. The economics just don't work anymore." He added that the closure was not related to COVID-19. "The volume was there. But the expenses just eat away at it."
Parks Department spokesperson Crystal Howard confirmed that the restaurant is closing, but stressed that the city will be looking for a new operator for the venue.
"It is our intention to engage a new operator as soon as possible — the Boathouse is not permanently closing," she told Gothamist. "We are working in good faith with the current operator in an effort to accommodate those individuals who have an event already scheduled at the Boathouse."
The first boathouse at this location was designed by Central Park landscape architect Calvert Vaux in 1872. It was replaced by a different wooden boathouse in 1924. It was then remodeled and renamed the Loeb Boathouse in the 1950s in honor of investment banker and philanthropist Carl M. Loeb, who donated around $300,000 to help rebuild it.
The restaurant operates under a concession license agreement administered by the Parks Department. It has also become a favorite location to film movies such as When Harry Met Sally and 27 Dresses.
After shuttering in March 2020 and temporarily furloughing all its employees, the Boathouse officially cited “unforeseeable business circumstances prompted by COVID-19” as the reason for closure in October 2020. However, it reopened in March 2021 with new COVID-19 safety precautions in place.
Poll — who is also the founder of the Poll Group, which owns Gallagher's Steakhouse — told Gothamist at the time that while he was excited to reopen, he had a lot of anxiety about the future because of the complexities of operating a restaurant during the pandemic. He noted that the Boathouse only had about 50% of the bookings that it normally would have in a regular year.
"Any responsible person would be concerned about the future, as I am," Poll said. "If you're not concerned, you're putting your head in the sand. I think the city is resilient, and I think it's going to come back ... how long it's going to take to get back to where we were, I don't have a crystal ball. I'm hearing some people in the industry say 2024, but I am just hoping for the best, for myself and everyone else."
Poll's current 15-year contract with the Boathouse was supposed to end in December 2032.