Save the boathouse! But how?
Operator Dean Poll is closing the Central Park restaurant on October 16. The Big Apple landmark is being closed due to skyrocketing costs, Poll says.
However you plate it, this is bad news for the city. A blacked-out boathouse would leave a heartbreaking hole in the park at a time when New York’s green lungs need all the sane, law-abiding human traffic it can handle.
Last rebuilt in the 1950s where Calvert Vaux’s original from the 1870s once stood, the boathouse, magically situated on the eastern shore of Central Park’s scenic lake, is ignored by some New Yorkers who foolishly mistake it for a tourist trap .
Friends I’ve taken there will invariably say, “I can’t believe I never came here,” especially after their surprise at how good their meals were.
There’s a lot to love about the place. The view of the lake and spiers of Central Park West through the wrap-around accordion-style windows that open floor-to-ceiling is unbeatable. No other waterfront spot in the five boroughs offers the romantic sight of a Venetian gondola cruising by.
The Grade I listed boathouse never had the bold cachet of the much larger Tavern on the Green, which used to host, and still hosts, glamorous Broadway and Hollywood parties and weddings for the ultra-rich.
But the Boathouse has long been an uplifting dining experience for connoisseurs. Less than 10 minutes’ scenic walk through the park from the corner of Fifth Avenue and East 72nd Street leads to the city’s most enchanting setting, where you can enjoy a strong, modern American menu. Choices like grilled salmon, crab cakes, and seasonal salads rival any comparably priced dishes on the Upper East Side and Upper West Side.
Prices are fair for 2022 standards. Strong cocktails are only $14. It’s baffling that Poll, which complained about escalating operating costs, didn’t pass the price increases on to customers. It’s too late now — Poll, who notably saved Gallaghers Steakhouse from closing in 2013, is packing his bags and leaving, at a significant loss to New York’s post-pandemic restaurant culture.
However, redemption could be on the horizon — sooner rather than later, if city officials rise to the occasion.
The Parks Department is definitely taking the closure seriously — it plans to skip its usual snail’s-pace process of submitting proposals for a new license in favor of a faster process in which would-be operators compete to take over the existing contract.
It’s a rare, smart move by city bureaucracy, possibly prompted by the Post’s recent warning that standard RFP babble could keep the building closed for years.
The parks will review applications and bet on who can run the place best as Poll does, while paying the city $1.7 million a year for the new license, or 7.2% of annual revenue, whichever one amount is higher.
Sources said a number of unnamed restaurateurs have already come forward. But there’s another big snag: the collective bargaining agreement Poll struck with the Hotel Trades Council’s Local 6 union.
Parks officials told us: “Any agreement between the union and a prospective operator would be based on negotiation between the relevant parties.”
But what to negotiate? The union expects Poll’s successor to accept the existing contract terms.
“We don’t expect any problems with it,” a Local 6 official told us.
Translation: Don’t even think about it.
Sources said the terms include a 3% annual pay increase for all 163 employees. Also, the operator must pay the kitchen staff five guaranteed overtime hours per week from April to October, regardless of whether they are needed or not.
These are not new demands made by the union. The contract has not changed since it was last updated in November 2015. However, the built-in pay rises, as well as the required upward adjustments for inflation, could deter rescuers at a time when food and other non-labor costs are skyrocketing.
With Poll on the way out and the union unlikely to budge — at least so far — the heat is on the city to move the process forward.
That could mean agreeing on a cheaper price for the license, at least until inflation comes down.
The city, which has an annual budget of more than $101 billion this year, wants to “identify and install a new operator as soon as possible.”
If Mayor Eric Adams intends to keep the boathouse afloat, a few bucks less isn’t going to sink the Big Apple.
https://nypost.com/2022/08/12/the-central-park-boathouse-is-closing-will-it-reopen-soon/ The Central Park Boathouse is closing – will it reopen soon?