Central Park Boathouse to close, new operator sought

Central Park Boathouse to close, new operator sought

She has washed the dishes – and it is a heartbreak for the city.

Beware of false assurances from city officials trying to save face — I don’t expect the Central Park Boathouse to wake up again soon after the restaurant closes its doors in October.

“It is our intention to engage a future operator as soon as possible,” Parks Department officials said Friday, after current manager Dean J. Poll announced he was shutting things down.

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

But if the past is any guide, we’ll be waiting an awful long time for a table at the most beautiful lakeside lake on Earth.

The troubled history of another Central Park institution, Tavern on the Green, with Poll backing out of a deal to reopen the then-dark landmark in 2010, suggests it may be a while before the Central Park sheep return.

A prolonged closure would be a tragedy for the park and for post-pandemic New York. Visiting friends from Seattle who had never seen it until recently were in awe of the beauty of the setting – as I am on every visit.

A closed Loeb boathouse in 2021.
Well-liked by tourists and locals alike, the closing of the restaurant inside the historic Loeb Boathouse will be a blow to the New York restaurant scene.
Brian Zak/NY Post

But the Tavern became the “Cavern on the Green” for five years during the Bloomberg administration. Issue No. 1 was the city’s insistence that the notoriously tough Local 6 of the New York Hotel Trades Council & Motel union represent workers under a new operator to succeed former licensee Jennifer LeRoy — even though the city was under no obligation to require it.

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

Local 6 brought in Poll to try to cut its influence at the Tavern when it muscled its way into the formerly unaffiliated Boathouse a year later.

The forced marriage seemed to work, but the bitterness never completely went away.

Now, as Poll plans to close the Boathouse on Oct. 17 at the cost of 163 union jobs, there’s buzz that he’s just trying to push Local 6 to swallow job cuts, including giving back. But that’s unlikely, given the union’s take-no-prisoners style.

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

Central Park Boathouse during the lunch rush.
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 bid out the complex licensing agreement; a lot of time can pass while they wait for and evaluate offers. Potential operators must crunch the numbers on a requirement to pay the city the greater of a $1.7 million annual fee or 7.2% of annual revenue, not to mention the terms of a union contract.

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

He also made the modern-American menu better than it’s ever been. Dishes this summer—like basil-infused salmon with Tuscan couscous ($36 lunch, $38 dinner), roasted leg of lamb just $42 for dinner) and one of the best crab cakes I’ve ever had ($23 lunch and dinner)—were not just delicious, but reasonable by today’s standards.

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

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