Although many think that fine dining in Central Park consists of whatever you pack for your picnic, there are several other options.
Tavern on the Green ($$$)
Central Park West (between West 66th and 67th streets)
West 66th Street-Lincoln Center station (1 train) or West 72nd Street station (B or C train)
A glittering jewel, Tavern on the Green is a wonderful place to have a leisurely lunch, a romantic dinner, or a terrific Sunday brunch. The structure, a classic example of mid-Victorian architecture, was originally built in the late nineteenth century (just off the entrance at West Sixty-seventh Street) as a sheepfold to hold the park's resident flock. Today thousands of tourists and New Yorkers flock to the upscale, sprawling, dazzling restaurant. From floor to ceiling and wall to wall, the restaurant's décor is stunning. Stained glass, exquisite chandeliers, ornate gold trim, flowers, statues, outdoor dining — it's all part of the experience.
With its expansive glass-enclosed Crystal Room looking out over the park and sparkling lights lining the trees around the structure, Tavern on the Green provides a wonderful dining experience. During the holiday season, the lights and seasonal display are spectacular. Tavern on the Green has revived live music in the Chestnut Room and dining outdoors (in the warmer weather) in its outdoor garden. It is also the only place in the park where you can legally buy alcoholic beverages; with that in mind, the restaurant offers an extensive wine list. The Easter Sunday meal at Tavern on the Green, with a petting zoo for kids, is legendary. Special events are held during the year, some especially for kids. There is also a delightful gift shop on the premises.
Central Park SummerStage presents free performances of music, dance, film, and the spoken word all summer. Famed and emerging artists perform at Rumsey Playfield, midpark between Sixty-ninth and Seventy-second streets. Go to the East Sixty-eighth Street-Hunter College station (6 train) or West Seventy-second Street station (B or C train) and walk through the park. Information and schedules at 212-360-2777 or
As for the food, the lobster bisque and crab cakes are favorites, as are the sirloin and shrimp brochette. There's a limited children's menu, but portions are large, so you could share with a child. The staff is very child-friendly. Dessert is always delicious, especially the surprisingly light chocolate banana mousse cake. Reservations are a good idea, and they must be backed up by a credit card. There is a twenty-four-hour cancellation policy. If you don't cancel in time, you will be charged $25 per person.
The Boathouse ($$)
East 72nd Street and Park Drive North (enter park at East 72nd Street and 5th Avenue)
East 68th Street-Hunter College station (6 train)
Located in the Loeb Boathouse at East Drive between Terrace Drive and the Seventy-ninth Street Transverse, this is the only lake-side dining in the city. The three restaurants run from very casual to elegant, and hours vary with the season. Call before you go. You can dine indoors or outside on the terrace overlooking the lake. If you can't find the Boathouse, a trolley will pick you up at Seventy-second Street and Fifth Avenue or at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's garage at Eightieth and Fifth and take you there. The service runs about every fifteen minutes on Monday to Friday nights and for brunch and dinner on weekends.
Sheep Meadow Café ($$–$$$)
Central Park West at West 69th Street
West 72nd Street station (B or C train)
Lunch and snack bar by day, great grill at night. This is a seasonal place, and such places sometimes fall with the leaves. Check to see if they are still blooming before you go.