As editors ourselves, we know writers don’t usually write the headlines. Still, we were struck by one atop a recent review by our friend and sometimes contributor James Gardner in The Real Deal, which declared, “Central Park’s Le Pain Quotidien ranks as one of the best things about New York City.” You don’t say. And yet, for all the hyperbole, the guy’s got a point:
Properly understood, the opening of Le Pain Quotidien, deep in the heart of Central Park, represents one of the most momentous changes to the park in half a century. This highly respected Belgian purveyor of fine breads, salads and soups now has 21 stores in the city, but none of them is as delightful as its newest, on the northern edge of Sheep Meadow.
Once it had been far otherwise. For the structure you see today is really a replacement for a lovely Moorish pavilion designed by Jacob Wrey Mould in the 1860s. Known as the Mineral Springs Pavilion, it offered up a variety of salubrious waters to the thirsty citizenry. But with his habitual philistinism, Robert Moses, the once all-powerful parks commissioner, demolished Mould’s vision and in its place he erected the unprepossessing structure you see today. For more than half a century it presented itself to the world as nothing more than a narrow concession area looking east, its vague interior filled with storage space for the park department’s sundry fences and gardening paraphernalia.
The revelation of the new Pain Quotidien starts with the fact that it fully occupies and opens to the public the interior spaces of the pavilion, which turn out to be far vaster than one ever imagined. Like most of this brand’s interiors throughout the city, and indeed the world, the present space is adorned with pale woods in the French provincial style, a fully stocked bakery and a long, communal table, as well as individual tables.
For it’s true, nothing improves the taste of a fresh tartine, or most things in life, like being at the park.