It’s been Woodhaven’s iconic watering hole since before the Civil War, and longtime patrons and community members want to make sure Neir’s Tavern lasts until its 200th anniversary and beyond.
Last month the Neir’s 190 Committee met for the first of several meetings that aim to celebrate the bar’s recent 190th anniversary, raise awareness of its historical significance and plan for the next 10 years. The task is not an easy one, however, considering rising costs and the constant threat of gentrification in particular, according to Ed Wendell, a member of the committee and the executive director of the Woodhaven Cultural and Historical Society.
“I do a lot of walking tours and I’m sick of saying, ‘This is where something used to be,’” he said. “I don’t ever want to say ‘That’s where Neir’s Tavern used to be.’”
Wendell said that committee meetings have grown from just a few longtime patrons to over a dozen concerned community members. He likened the committee’s plans to the nation’s bicentennial celebration, adding their goal is to pump up enthusiasm and knowledge of Neir’s 200th birthday over the next 10 years. Neir’s owner Loycent “Loy” Gordon, added that the committee is also brainstorming ideas, such as landmarking, that will prevent the bar from being closed or sold.
“We’re not looking to be open for just another 5 or 10 years. We are working with our guests to find a sustainable solution for generations,” he said.
Gordon became the owner in 2009 after being a patron for years. Like many community members, Gordon said he himself was taken in by the bar’s storied history and connection to Woodhaven.
The tavern — which has never changed locations — first opened in October 1829 as “The Blue Pump Room” across from the Union Course Race track, acting as a magnet for the regular racegoers. The bar may have changed ownership and names several times over the subsequent decades, but Wendell said its luster, and importance, didn’t change a bit.
“It’s not historic in the sense like George Washington slept here, it’s historic about what happened around it,” he explained. “When they used the racetrack for a camp for Civil War soldiers, Neir’s was there during that.”
The bar’s namesake comes from its previous owner, Louis Neir, who bought the bar in 1898 and expanded it to include a ballroom, bowling alley and an upstairs hotel. In 1967, the Neir family sold the property and it was renamed “The Union Course Tavern.” The bar continued to enjoy massive popularity in the short-term, even snagging a silver screen appearance in “Goodfellas.”
As time went on, however, the bar found itself in a state of disrepair, and in danger of closing. Gordon could not fathom a Queens without Neir’s, so he took over the business in 2009, renovated it and renamed it Neir’s Tavern.
“I really appreciated it and the history. I wanted to get involved,” he said.
In 2015, Gordon and other community members submitted an application to the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate the bar as an official landmark, which would protect it from any alterations without approval. The LPC rejected the proposal a year later.
“After careful evaluation of the history and conditions of the structure, LPC determined that it did not rise to the level of significance necessary for designation and does not merit further consideration as a New York City landmark,” the agency said in a statement.
Another concern is the fact that Gordon does not own the building housing the bar at 87-48 78th St. Gordon declined to comment about the ongoing negotiations with the owner of the bar’s building.
Wendell said the community isn’t giving up. The committee, he said, is already cooking up new ways to voice their love for the bar and its future, including another try for landmarking.
“We’re not at the rally stage but we are thinking about having a block party. We’re thinking about walking tours,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the LPC did not comment about any efforts to resubmit the application, but said if an application is rejected “it either doesn’t meet the minimum standards of the Landmarks Law or it does not merit further consideration at this time.”
In the meantime, Gordon said he’s grown confident in the bar’s long-term status after seeing the outpouring of support the committee has generated.
“In 10 years being here I’ve never seen the enthusiasm and participation stronger. It’s been very, very relieving to know that I’m not alone in this mission,” Gordon said.