Auction Raises Millions for Bankrupt Tavern on the Green

Dozens of glitzy, glorious relics for sale

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
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    A 19th-century Green Osler Chandelier may be the most precious and coveted item when Guernsey's auction house put pieces of the famed Tavern on the Green on the auction block.

    A court-ordered auction of the glitzy decor of New York City's Tavern on the Green has raised millions of dollars to go toward the bankrupt restaurant's $8 million debt.

    The three-day sale that ended Friday included more than 20,000 items filling the landmark establishment in Central Park -- from crystal chandeliers and china to kitchen equipment and knicknacks like a pig-shaped weather vane.

    The auction's highest bid -- $180,000 -- was for a Tiffany glass ceiling used in other restaurants once owned by the late Tavern operator Warner LeRoy, the Russian Tea Room and Maxwell's Plum. The pre-auction estimate was $100,000 to $500,000.

    Another top item at the Guernsey's auction was also from the Russian Tea Room -- a starburst Tiffany glass ceiling that went for $120,000 against a pre-sale estimate of $100,000 to $200,000.

    A Tiffany peacock mural from Tavern sold for $75,000, topping a $10,000 to $50,000 estimate.

    Just three years ago, with LeRoy's daughter in charge, Tavern on the Green was one of the world's biggest-grossing restaurants, plating more than 700,000 meals a year that brought in about $38 million.

    The recession took a big bite out of the tourist magnet not especially known for its food. And after 75 years, Tavern on the Green was gutted of both kitsch and glamor.

    LeRoy had run it since the 1970s, when he was awarded the operating license by New York City, which owns the park property that was a former sheepfold. In August, the city gave the license to restaurateur Dean Poll, who promised to spend $25 million refurbishing the 27,000 feet of space into a new restaurant he hopes to open in the spring, even as the work continues.

    But first, the leftover contents had to be sold to cut down on the $8 million debt.

    For decades, a choice Tavern dining spot was just under the century-old green chandelier in the main glassed-in Crystal Room.

    It sold for $67,500, far short of a pre-auction estimate of $100,000 to $300,000.

    But a collection of Tiffany glass hanging lamps surpassed their pre-sale estimates by as much as five times, with some prices topping $20,000.

    Among surprise bidders at the sale was Poll himself, who reportedly snapped up several items including a chandelier.

    Of interest to other restaurateurs was the kitchen equipment, china, fine Italian tablecloths and cutlery, with some items going for a bargain; 80 martini glasses from the bar collection went for $100.

    The pig weather vane sold for $5,000, against a $4,000 to $10,000 estimate.

    The prices do not include a Guernsey's auction house premium of 22 percent. There were no minimums; each item went to the highest bidder.

    When the proceeds of the auction are added up, the total is about $3.5 million, including the premium -- far short of the $8 million owed to more than 400 creditors. They include Kay LeRoy, Warner's ex-wife, who had loaned almost $2 million to the business headed by her daughter, Jennifer Oz LeRoy.

    A Manhattan bankruptcy judge had to decide whether the Tavern's carved wood paneling, the elaborate decoration on the Crystal Room ceiling and a Central Park mural could be auctioned. The city tried to lay claim to these items, arguing that removing them would irreparably damage the property.

    Earlier this week, the judge sided with the LeRoys, and a settlement was reached whereby the city purchased the items in a private deal whose details were not announced.

    The restaurant's most valuable item -- its name -- is now at the center of a Manhattan federal court case.

    A judge is to decide whether Poll can call his new business by its moneymaking old name, Tavern on the Green -- four words valued at about $19 million.

    The auction ended with a pop -- amost 300 bottles of sparkling wine that fetched $475.

    Said Michael Desiderio, the Tavern's longtime chief operating officer: "It's finally over.''