A Star Is Reborn: Meet the People Behind the Revitalized Tavern on the Green
When Jim Caiola visited New York City in the 1980s, Tavern on the Green (67th and Central Park West) was in its heyday. "I remember coming here and feeling like it was the most magical space on earth," he says. "It had a certain twinkle." Years later, he and his partner David Salama -- who were then living in Philadelphia and running a cabaret and a restaurant called Beau Monde -- found themselves pondering bidding on it at auction, but it had fallen into such disrepair that Caiola couldn't imagine rehabilitating it without closing it and stripping it down to its studs. They passed on the project and forgot about it.
Robin Caiola Tavern on the Green owner Jim Caiola
Two years later, while Caiola was at his daughter's fifth birthday party, he got an email that renewed his interest. This time, the city was willing to gut the place and then turn the building over to someone who'd do the interior and landscape work. "It was almost as if someone had recorded me," says Caiola. "That's exactly what it needed." The pair began working on a serious proposal for the space, enlisting chef Katy Sparks, an early champion of the sustainable food movement who worked under Bobby Flay before starting her own consulting business, to take over the kitchen.
By the time the proposal was finished -- with a watercolor from Salama on the cover -- "I knew we were going to be a top contender," says Caiola. He was right: After the team's presentation, the city indicated that the proposal was the frontrunner, and it wasn't long before Caiola and Salama scored the project. They moved to New York, and then everyone set to work on what would be a two-year-long construction process, undertaken in conjunction with several city agencies.
Tavern on the Green opened its refurbished doors -- unveiling a bar room, a room that looks out over Central Park, and a quiet south wing that can be booked out for private parties -- at the end of April, and became fully operational in mid-May. At its busiest, it'll serve 1,200 people at once, and while it will accept event bookings, one room here will always be open to New Yorkers.
In this interview, Caiola and chef Sparks chat about the meaning of stewardship and putting out noteworthy food to a high volume dining room.