The Central Park Boathouse is closing - will it reopen soon?

Save the boathouse! But how? Operator Dean’s Poll closes restaurant in Central Park October 16. The Big Apple landmark will close ...


Save the boathouse! But how?

Operator Dean’s Poll closes restaurant in Central Park October 16. The Big Apple landmark will close due to soaring costs, according to Poll.

Whichever way you slap it, this is bad news for the city. A dark boathouse would leave a heartbreaking hole in the park at a time when New York’s green lung needs all the healthy, law-abiding human traffic it can handle.

Last rebuilt in the 1950s, where Calvert Vaux’s original 1870s Boathouse once stood, magically located on the east shore of scenic Central Park Lakeis ignored by some New Yorkers who foolishly take it for a tourist trap.

Friends I’ve taken here will invariably say, “I can’t believe I’ve never been here,” especially after being surprised at the quality of their meals.

There’s a lot to love about this place. The view of the lake and the towers of Central Park West through accordion-style wraparound windows that open from floor to ceiling is unbeatable. No other place by the water in the five boroughs offers the romantic spectacle of a Venetian gondola passing by.

The Central Park Boathouse during the lunch rush.
The view of the lake and the towers of Central Park West through accordion-style wraparound windows that open from floor to ceiling is unbeatable.
David McGlynn

The famed Boathouse never had the bold cachet of the much grander Tavern on the Green, which historically hosted glamorous parties and weddings on Broadway and Hollywood for the ultra-rich, and continues to do so today.

But the Boathouse has long been an uplifting dining experience for connoisseurs. The less than 10-minute scenic walk through the park from the corner of Fifth Avenue and East 72nd Street leads to the most enchanting setting in town to enjoy a strong, modern American menu. Choices such as grilled salmon, crab cakes, and seasonal salads are on par with any comparably priced Upper East Side and Upper West Side dishes.

Prices are fair by 2022 standards. Power cocktails are only $14. It is surprising that Poll, which complained about escalating operating costs, did not pass the increases on to customers. Too late now – Poll, who notably saved Gallaghers Steakhouse from closing in 2013, packs his bags and leaves, representing a huge loss for New York’s post-pandemic restaurant culture.

Salvation, however, could be in sight — sooner rather than later, if city officials rise to the occasion.

A Loeb Boathouse closed in 2021.
Popular with tourists and locals alike, the closure of the restaurant inside the Loeb Boathouse would be a blow to New York’s culinary scene.
Brian Zak/New York Post
A Crabcake served at the Central Park Boathouse restaurant.  April 25, 2007.
A dish of crab cake served at the restaurant in 2007.
J. Scott Wynn

The Parks Department is definitely taking the closure seriously — it plans to skip its usual “request for proposals” procedure at a snail’s pace to issue a new license in favor of a faster process where aspiring operators compete for assume the existing contract.

It’s a rare and smart step on the part of the municipal bureaucracy, possibly triggered by the recent Post warning that the standard hullabaloo of the RFP could leave the property closed for years.

Parks will review applications and bet on who is better able to run the place as well as Poll, while paying the city $1.7 million a year for the new license or 7.2% of annual revenue , whichever is greater.

Sources said a number of anonymous restaurateurs have already come forward. But there’s another big issue: the working agreement Poll had in place with the Local 6 Hospitality Trades Council union.

These empty rowboats are ready for the spring trade at Central Park's new lakeside boathouse.  Located at 72nd St. Lake and East Drive, the Boathouse is a gift from Adeline and Carl M. Loeb.  Young early risers (center) are counting the days.
A stock image of the boathouse with several empty rowboats.
Archive Bettmann
According to the Parks Department website, the first recorded concession dates back to the early 1860s. One of Central Park's landscape architects, Calvert Vaux, designed a boathouse which was opened in 1873.
According to Park Service websitethe first recorded boating concession dates back to the early 1860s. One of Central Park’s landscape architects, Calvert Vaux, designed a boathouse which was opened in 1873.
Getty Images

Parks Department officials told us, “Any agreement between the union and a future operator would be based on negotiations between the parties involved.”

But negotiate what? The union expects Poll’s successor to swallow the current terms of the contract.

“We don’t expect to have a problem with that,” a Local 6 official told us.

Translation: Don’t even think about it.

Sources said the terms provided for a 3% annual salary increase for the 163 employees. It also requires the operator to pay kitchen workers five guaranteed overtime hours per week from April to October, whether they are needed or not.

These are not new union demands. The contract has not changed since it was last updated in November 2015. However, the built-in salary increases, along with required upward adjustments for inflation, could scare lifeguards to a when food and other non-wage costs are jumping over the moon.

People on boats at the Boathouse celebrating 4th of July weekend in Central Park, Manhattan, NY.
People enjoying the weather and boating during the 4th of July weekend.
Brigitte Stelzer

With Poll set to leave and the union unlikely to budge — at least so far — the city is in a rush to push the process forward.

This could mean accepting a cheaper price for the license, at least until inflation subsides.

The city, which has an annual budget of more than $101 billion this year, says it wants to “identify and install a new operator as quickly as possible.”

If Mayor Eric Adams wants to keep the Boathouse afloat, taking a few dollars less won’t sink the Big Apple.

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Newsrust - US Top News: The Central Park Boathouse is closing - will it reopen soon?
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