Closure of Central Park Boathouse, new operator wanted

Closure of Central Park Boathouse, new operator wanted

She’s all washed up – and it’s a heartbreak for the city.

Beware of false reassurances from city officials scrambling to save face — I don’t expect the Central Park Boathouse to come back to life shortly after the restaurant closed in October.

“We intend to hire a prospective operator as soon as possible,” Parks Department officials said Friday after current manager Dean J. Poll announced he would be closing things.

Poll, the Long Island-born restaurateur known for saving Gallagher’s Steakhouse from closing in 2013, blamed skyrocketing, inflation-driven food prices coupled with high labor costs.

But if history is any guide, we’ll be waiting an awful long time for a table in the world’s most beautiful lakefront setting.

The harrowing history of another Central Park institution, Tavern on the Green, with Poll backing out of a deal in 2010 to reopen the then-dark landmark suggests the search for a new operator for the boathouse could take time, until the sheep return in Central Park.

A prolonged shutdown would be a tragedy for the park and for post-pandemic New York. Friends from Seattle who hadn’t seen it until recently have been struck by the beauty of the area – as I am every time I visit.

A Loeb boathouse with shutters in 2021.
The closure of the restaurant in the historic Loeb Boathouse, popular with both tourists and locals, would be a blow to the New York dining scene.
Brian Zak/NY Post

But Tavern became “Cavern on the Green” for five years during the Bloomberg administration. Problem #1 was the city’s insistence that the notoriously tough Local 6 union of the New York Hotel Trades Council & Motel represent the workers of a new operator set to succeed former licensee Jennifer LeRoy — though the city was not committed to request this.

Poll, who has run the Boathouse since 2000, had a deal in 2010 to reopen the tavern. But he left after the union blocked his plan to cut staff.

Local 6 came to terms with Poll for trying to dilute its influence in Tavern when it crowded into the previously non-union Boathouse a year later.

The forced marriage seemed to work, but the bitterness never quite subsided.

Now, with Poll planning to close the boathouse on October 17 at the cost of 163 union jobs, rumor has it he’s just trying to pressure Local 6 into swallowing job cuts, among other things. But it’s unlikely, given the union’s ruthless style.

Poll downplayed the idea that a new operator could be chosen soon, saying “maybe not” when asked about it by The Post.

The Boathouse in Central Park during lunchtime.
A renovation in 2018 only added to the atmosphere of the restaurant, which is now awaiting a new operator.
David McGlynn

Before anyone can turn the lights back on, the Parks Department must write out the complex license agreement; A lot of time could pass while they wait and evaluate offers. Prospective operators must tally up the numbers on the obligation to pay the city an annual fee of $1.7 million, or 7.2% of annual revenue, not to mention the terms of a union contract.

Poll did his best – and more. He made the once tourist-only Boathouse an attractive destination for New Yorkers. A $2.9 million renovation in 2018 made the lakeside venue even more attractive with upgraded seating, decor and a new glass wall that rolls up depending on the weather.

He also made the modern American menu better than ever. Dishes this summer — like basil-crusted salmon and Tuscan couscous ($36 lunch, $38 dinner), roast rack of lamb just $42 dinner) and one of the best crab cakes I’ve ever eaten ($23 lunch and dinner) — were not only delicious, but reasonably priced by today’s standards.

It would be a shame to lose for long the great taste of the boathouse in a setting that celebrates our city so beautifully.

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