February 08, 2017

A Change of Heart in Central Park: Tavern on the Green

In the time I spent living in New York City, I never really knew why everyone always made such a fuss over Central Park.

Sure, I liked to sit on the Great Lawn for Philharmonic concerts and fireworks and run up to Rumsey Playfield for free Summerstage shows; but I was usually more interested in what was along its perimeter—The Met, The Plaza, The Frick, The Guggenheim—than Strawberry Fields or Sheep's Meadow.

I never even rode in a hansom cab in Central Park—despite enjoying the opportunity to travel en calèche in Tunisie.

But I'm coming around a bit. When I'm back in New York, I'm trying to cross some places off my list, and Central Park keeps coming up. Case in point: Tavern on the Green.

Several years ago, Maria and Mike were talking about taking a trip down to "The City" from Upstate, and as they rattled off where they'd like to go, they mentioned Tavern On the Green.

"Uck, why?" I bemoaned, "It's not even that good." But back then, you didn't really go for the food anyway; you paid for the experience. Back then, I was more interested in new trends rather than the establishment.

What I didn't understand until I found myself there six years after having moved out of New York City was that going to Tavern on the Green—established as a restaurant in 1934—is a rite of passage.

I didn't yet know that although the restaurant had been a staple of the 20th century, the structure it was housed in dated back to the 19th century, having been designed by designed by Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould and built in 1870 as a sheepfold—to house the sheep that would graze the meadow (hence its logo, which I never paid much attention to, either).

Upon the conversion of the Victorian Gothic building into a restaurant, that flock of sheep relocated to Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Seventy-five years later, Tavern on the Green filed for bankruptcy and closed, the building once again transforming, but this time into a visitor's center.

Lucky for me, this historic eatery—the one I had so mistakenly underestimated and, in fact, had denounced—underwent a massive restoration and reopened as a dining establishment in 2014.

And I'll admit: I was wrong about the place. Of course I want to eat in a 19th century former sheepfold. It almost doesn't matter what I eat there or how it tastes. What history have we here!

Fortunately for me as well, the meal surpassed all expectations—and was punctuated by a dessert of the best carrot cake I have ever had, hands down.

What other iconic NYC experiences have I dismissed and missed out on? The probability seems definite; the possibilities seem infinite.

Related Posts:
Alone in A Crowd: Central Park Edition
Photo Essay: Central Park Arsenal

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