From early examples in Central Park to the contemporary (and perpetually mobbed) Shake Shack in Madison Square, park concessions have always been a place for entrepreneurs to partner with the City to provide everything from snacks to full dinners for park goers. Early restaurant concessions existed at Prospect Park, Riverside Park, Bronx Park, and Van Cortlandt Park. Perhaps the best-known concession is Tavern on the Green in Central Park.
Originally the Ladies Refreshment Pavilion, the Central Park Casino was erected in the mid-1860s, and soon became a fashionable restaurant. In the 1920s noted architect Joseph Urban redesigned its interiors, making it a trendy nightclub that was frequented by fast-living Mayor Jimmy Walker and his political cronies. In 1935 the structure was torn down at the direction of Parks Commissioner Robert Moses. Moses claimed that the Casino catered to a wealthy clientele (with menu prices greater than the bill of fare at the Plaza Hotel), and thus was an inappropriate use of a public park. He also claimed financial mismanagement by concessionaire Sid Solomon and the Dieppe Corporation. Others attribute the demolition to a personal vendetta between Moses and Walker. Today the site is Rumsey Playfield, home of the Summerstage concert series.
While Parks Commissioner Robert Moses prepared to demolish the Central Park Casino in 1935, the Parks Department converted the former Sheepfold into an alternate more moderately priced park restaurant, known as Tavern on the Green. New Yorkers quickly embraced this new eatery and it soon became an integral part of the city's social life. A succession of management companies operated the restaurant until well-known New York restaurateur Warner LeRoy acquired the license in 1973. The revitalized restaurant became a popular destination for tourists and New Yorkers alike.
In the spring of 2014, Tavern on the Green reopened to the public under the management of restaurateurs Jim Caiola and David Salama. They submitted a detailed operational plan for Tavern on the Green as an attractive high-quality accessible venue with a locally-sourced menu and a focus on the park.
Prior to its reopening, the City of New York, through work done by NYC Parks and the NYC Department of Design & Construction, fully renovated the building envelope and made substantial infrastructure improvements. As designed by the architectural firm of Swanke Hayden Connell, the footprint of the building was returned to its original 1930s size, and certain historic facades of the building including its Victorian Gothic architecture were restored.
The Convent of Mount St. Vincent, built in 1847, located near East 104th Street, predated the park, and though in 1859 the Sisters of Charity relocated to Riverdale in the Bronx, the buildings remained for several decades. In the late 1860s portions of the convent were converted into an art gallery and a restaurant, and in the early 1870s the restaurant was upgraded to cater to a wealthy clientele. The buildings burned in 1881, and a new refreshment house , later called McGown's Pass Tavern, was built on the site, near what is today Conservatory Garden.
Designed by Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould, the lavish Bethesda Terrace was largely built between 1859 and 1861. Its fountain, with the central statue of the Angel of the Waters by Emma Stebbins, was completed in 1873.
The grand arcaded staircase is notable for its extensive and intricate sandstone carving, and decorated ceramic ceiling tiles (now removed). This rendering conceives a café space bridging the interior and exterior spaces of the terrace. In the 1960s, a restaurant with café tables was placed outdoors near the fountain, though they were later removed to permit the visual delight of the terrace and an unimpeded view beyond to the Lake and Ramble.
Between 1934 and 1936 the Parks Department connected Rodman's Neck to Hunter Island, creating a mile-long crescent-shaped beach of soft white sand. Built at its center were colossal curved bathing pavilions evocative of Paris's Trocadero. The terraced area was also home to a restaurant, cafés, and shops. A $3,350,000 city capital project, completed in August 1997, renovated the bathhouse facades, roofs, and terraces, and additional landscaping improved the ambience.
Prospect Park's Oriental Pavilion was designed as an ornate shelter by Calvert Vaux. Completed in 1874, in the 1890s it was adapted for a short time as a restaurant and café.
Situated opposite the Seamen's Church Institute, Jeanette Park was long a haven for retired seamen, as well as those working on the port. This rendering illustrates the new modernist concession of brick and terrazzo which replaced the oyster stand that long stood on the site. Some things didn't change however : the fare of oysters, clams, chowders and fish stew was provided by Patrick J. O'Connor, who had succeeded his father in the old bar's management in 1905. In 1940 the adjacent park was rebuilt to include handball, shuffle board, paddle tennis, horseshoe courts, and gaming tables.
Madison Square Park's Shake Shack is one of the highlights of current restaurant concessions. In the 1990s the City Parks Foundation organized the Campaign for the New Madison Square Park, which led to the Madison Square Park Conservancy. The campaign raised $6 million for capital renovation of the park, including $2.5 million in private funds from corporate leaders, such as Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, New York Life Insurance Company, Credit Suisse First Boston, Rudin Management, and Union Square Hospitality Group. After an initiative to bring a high-quality food kiosk to the park, in 2004 the Conservancy financed and built the $750,000 Shake Shack, a zinc-clad, ivy-covered "green" building designed by renowned architect James Wines of SITE Environmental design, built by Kullman Industries and operated by the Union Square Hospitality Group. The Shake Shack was an instant success and customers wait in long lines for items like frozen custard, shakes, concretes, Shack burgers, Chicago hotdogs, "'shroom burgers," and more.
Carousels combine beauty, artistry, and entertainment in a low-cost activity that both the young and young at heart enjoy. The National Carousel Association notes that at one time there were thousands of carousels across North America, a number that has dwindled down to the hundreds. But don't assume that carousels are a quaint relic of a bygone era: New York City parks currently boast six carousels (two more once existed in Brooklyn until the 1930s—one at Canarsie Park and another at Sunset Park) with three more in the works (two restored carousels in Brooklyn's Coney Island and DUMBO areas and one new carousel in Manhattan's Battery Park), proving carousels to be treasured low-tech holdouts in this high-tech world with no signs of losing popularity.
Many consider the Forest Park Carousel the finest in the Parks collection. The concession shown here was connected to the original carousel built in 1918, which burned in 1966. In 1972, a vintage carousel by master-carver Daniel Muller, dating to 1903-08, was transported from Lowell, Massachusetts to Forest Park.
Since 1871 young children and the young at heart have enjoyed a carousel in Central Park. At one time operated by a blind donkey, the first carousel lasted until it was destroyed by fire on November 8, 1950. The present carousel, manufactured between 1908 and 1910 by Sol Stein and Harry Goldstein of the Artistic Carousell Manufacturing Company, is in the exaggerated Coney Island style. Found abandoned in a BMT trolley terminal, it was placed by the Parks Department in Central Park in a new brick pavilion, financed by the Friedsam Foundation, and the new carousel opened in 1951. In the mid-1990's, the carousel was temporarily close for extensive repairs, and reopening in 1996. It is now operated by the Makkos Organization.
Willowbrook Park's Carousel for All Children, which opened on May 23, 1999, perpetuates a Victorian past time for the 21st-century. Designed by Gabriella Ward and Jonna Carmona-Graf, the carousel is housed in an all-weather pavilion and features 52 hand-carved animals in a classic menagerie. Built at a cost of $2.7 million by Carousel Works of Mansfield, Ohio, the carousel has been designed to permit access to those who are physically disabled. The non-profit Staten Island Greenbelt Conservancy has raised several hundred thousand dollars for maintenance and operations.
Although chair concessions are not as present in the United States as in European parks, where parkgoers sometimes pay a nominal fee for the privilege of using a chair, such a concession once existed in Coney Island. The Parks Department attempted to create a chair concession in Central Park in 1901 that met with such resistance that the idea was quickly abandoned.
The Coney Island Boardwalk was built in 1923, and in 1938 the Parks Department assumed jurisdiction over the beach and boardwalk, renovating many of its features, and expanding the concession opportunities, including a latter-day rickshaw.
The Ocean Rolling Chair Company ran a concession from the Coney Island boardwalk's opening in 1923 until the mid-1960s. In the off-season, the chairs were stored under the Wonder Wheel. The price was $1 an hour for two people.
Farmers Markets date to 1976, when the first was opened in Tramway Plaza at 59th Street and Second Avenue. The most famous greenmarket is Union Square, known for its breadth of fresh produce and year-round clientele. As "buying local" has gotten more popular, farmers markets have sprung up in parks across the city, including at Richard Tucker Square on the Upper West Side near Lincoln Center and at Columbus Park in Brooklyn.
Home to a flower and plant market in the 1890s and early in the 20th century, and presently the site of the city's largest farmer's market four days a week, historic Union Square has always had its share of vendor stands situated near active subway entrances, and catering to the business crowd.
Fishing Boats and Chartered Event Cruises
For decades commercial fishing boats and events cruises have departed from the Sheepshead Bay Marina in Brooklyn to haul in the “catch of the day” or simply to provide patrons with the thrill of an open sea voyage. Once managed by the Department of Small Business Services, this operation was transferred in 1999 to Parks, whose Marinas Division of Citywide Services administers this enterprise, including the collection of docking fees.