I interviewed a couple of guys recently who noted that a busy restaurant is not necessarily a successful restaurant. So I’m surprised anyone is surprised at Tavern on the Green going whale-belly-up. Getting the asses in the seats is the easy part with an establishment never known for food. Keeping the mega-lights on is the hard part — those bills do pile up, especially if you are not in the habit of running a business like a business. The only mystery is how a restaurant with no real local fan base has survived so long. Cafe des Artistes, of course, had the opposite problem — New Yorkers embraced it like the subway. Good friends got married there. I went to a birthday lunch there with nonagenarian neighbors who were wetting themselves (I hope not literally) over the romance of it all. I had drinks there with an aging Holly Golightly where we both turned Chardonnay-blinded eyes to the filth on the floor below the bar. But the food? My old idol Britchky nailed it back in 1991: The place had “functions that are quite apart from ingestion.” And he also praised the staff as civilized and competent. It would be sad if part of the reason for the shutdown really had to do with union pay for these pros.
Digging out my first Britchky, from 1981, I also wonder if the problem is not that a restaurant virtually in the shadow of the most expensive new apartment building in the city since the Depression just didn’t evolve. He noted that its appeal was then a combination of playful mood and serious money, in an era when dropping the mega-bucks generally involved absurd formality. Once those customers have tried a sidewalk table at Bar Boulud, how are you going to keep them down under the musty murals?