Tavern on the Green has opened a new beer garden on its front terrace, and the onetime bastion of Upper West Side opulence is at once more accessible to the masses than ever, and still kind of pricey. The restaurant that closed at the end of 2009 despite bringing in tens of millions of dollars annually and ranking among the top-grossing eateries in the nation reopened last year with a new look and under new ownership, but has struggled to hold onto chefs—it is now on its third since April of 2014. This being a blog staffed by people who can't afford to eat at Tavern on the Green unless it's somebody's rehearsal dinner, we were less interested in the parlor intrigue than in word that the new owners were opening a beer garden on the front terrace—and offering free beer.
— CHANEL (@prchanel) May 23, 2015
The beer garden opened on Friday, a few weeks behind schedule, and as the blog A Walk in the Park noted, it has been giving out tickets for one complimentary beer. Now, before readers go mobbing the place, they should note that subsequent pints will run $7, and should patrons want a bite to absorb the suds, it'll be $9 for a pretzel, and $18 for a burger, or a chicken schnitzel.
Granted, these prices are a far cry from what one would pay inside, but the populist dream of a beer garden is dampened somewhat by what one can get away with charging tourists at a beautiful location in Central Park. Also, as Tavern co-owner Jim Caiola noted in an interview with Gothamist this morning, the free beer promotion isn't something with set hours, or even something management is doing for everyone who comes in, when they're doing it.
"It's not like everybody is entitled to a free beer. It's more like it's at our discretion, you know what I mean?" he said. "It's not like you can just get a free beer if you show up for the next two weeks."
He said that the restaurant was packed from 2-8 pm every day of the opening weekend, including Memorial Day, and that the free beer was a tool to bring in curious park walkers during slow hours. A Canadian tourist complained about the promotion and the pricing to A Walk in the Park, saying, "I guess they just want you to order food but the prices are way too high." Caiola laughed that off, arguing that the location makes the cost worth it, and that the prices "are very competitive."
"I don't know if they've been to New York or maybe this was their first time," he said.
He has a point: they are charging $14 for two bratwursts—not a bad deal, actually—when they could be charging $30 for a hot dog.
Caiola also shrugged at the notion that the turnover in his kitchen is an indication of volatility in the business. He said that first chef Katy Sparks's true passion was in being a consultant, but that she realized it too late, and that Jeremiah Tower, who replaced her, then left last month, was never supposed to be a permanent fixture. His replacement, John Stevenson, has been "phenomenal" so far, Caiola said.
"Unfortunately the learning curve has been a public one," he said. "But anybody who has opened anything this gigantic knows that there's a learning curve. If every year for the next 10 years I change chefs three times, it might be a problem, but right now it's just what it is."
Tavern was supposed to get a raw bar early this month, but the latest estimated arrival time is sometime in the next month, according to a spokesman.