By Celia Bernhardt | [email protected]
Neir’s Tavern, Woodhaven’s historic and beloved local haunt, celebrated four years since the day it was saved from shutting down.
Crowds packed the cozy space in the evening on Jan. 10 to hear owner Loycent Gordon speak about the history of the tavern’s place in the Woodhaven community, how the business has given back to the neighborhood in recent years, how it was almost lost, and how he hopes to save it—this time, permanently.
Neir’s Tavern, under one name or another, has been in business for 194 years since its start as a local watering hole near to the Union Race Course horse-racing track. The spot has had many lives as a speakeasy, a ballroom, a bowling alley, and more. Its claims to faim include being the place where Mae West got her start, and featuring prominently in the movie Goodfellas.
Gordon, who lives in St. Albans, bought the spot in 2009 after hearing it was set to close down.
“Most people don’t realize restaurants don’t make money,” Gordon said plainly. “It’s a passion-driven business. It’s more passion than profit.”
In January 2020, struggling under soaring rents, Neir’s seemed to be at the end of the line—until Gordon called into an “ask the mayor” segment on WNYC and seized the attention of then-mayor Bill DeBlasio. The former mayor, along with his commissioner of Small Business Services, pressured the landlord to sit down with electeds and Gordon and strike a deal that would keep the business afloat. The two-hour meeting led to a lease extension to keep the doors open until Neir’s 200th year in business.
“Every year, we’re reminded of the things that we almost lost, and we still have an opportunity to do something about it,” Gordon said, reflecting on the night. “We have a second chance.”
Gordon’s plan to take advantage of that second chance, as he explained to the audience, is called the “Road to 200” fund: a multi-pronged effort to bring in revenue and acquire the property once and for all.
“Neir’s Tavern needs to find a way to actually acquire the building, put it in a foundation, so it’s not profit-driven but more preservation-driven,” Gordon explained. “And that involves a series of people working together with the landlord and Neir’s and preservationists to make that happen before we hit 200 years, because that’s when our lease will expire.
“Essentially, it’s creating opportunities for revenue to come into Neir’s Tavern outside of selling burgers and beer,” Gordon continued. “We’re launching an ambassadors club, which is a premium membership program. And we’re also [selling] merchandise, and we have paid tours that we’re going to offer, and a book that we’re going to release.”
Gordon told the crowd that it was time for the community to work to save Neir’s themselves. “No one is coming,” he said. “What happened on Jan. 10, four years ago today, was because you guys chose yourself and what was important to you.”
Patrons packed the tavern as Gordon spoke, chowing down on burgers, beers, and more.
Richie Salmon, 69, grew up in Glendale and now lives in Howard Beach. He found Neir’s Tavern by accident on his way home one day, and never stopped coming by. He’s been a regular for years now, and says the place treats him like family.
“It’s a hometown bar,” Salmon said. “Growing up, this is what I was used to. A place where they embraced you, you got a hug, you got a smile, they knew you, they knew your family’s name.”
Also among the guests was State Senator Joseph Addabbo.
“This is unique,” Addabbo said. “I mean, we do a lot of stops as elected officials—this is a highlight. Because whenever you get to acknowledge a business like Neir’s and the work that goes into it…this is a special night.”
Gordon said that not all nights are so busy.
“I just wish it was like this every night,” he said. “But I’m happy that it’s packed tonight because it’s just a testament that, you know, people still do care. They haven’t forgotten. I’m happy about that.”