To the last drop: Nearly 200-year-old tavern in Queens victim of high rents

Owner Loy Gordon, center, took over as owner of Neir's Tavern in 2009. Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

After just celebrating 190 years in business, Neir’s Tavern owner Loycent Gordon said the historic Queens watering hole can’t reach its next milestone due to crushing rent prices.

Closing Sunday, Gordon left a heartfelt note in an email lamenting that the Woodhaven tavern, opened in 1829, will not make it to 2029.

“I’ve been unable to obtain an affordable long term lease to reach our goal of the 200th anniversary in 2029. I’m operating month to month with an unaffordable rent and insufficient sales to overcome a year of losing money every month,” Gordon said. “I hope my Neir’s Team will be here until Sunday in the event a miracle happens. But I have no more money after Sunday.”

Gordon first adopted the bar in Queens in 2009 as a firefighter just wanting to save things, he explained to amNewYork in October. In the past 11 years, he and others in the community have been alone in the fight with government agencies overlooking one of the oldest watering holes in the city.

Throughout 2016 and 2017, Gordon fought to get the business recognized by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, then under the leadership of embattled Meenakshi Srinivasan. The application was rejected by the commission claiming the tavern did not rise to the significance of earning landmark status.

In October 2018, Srinivasan had stepped down and was replaced by a chair preservationists viewed as a more favorable leader.

But Lynn Ellsworth from New Yorkers for a Human-scale City believed that until Mayor Bill de Blasio’s alleged “developer friendly” approach to preservation ended, so would the onslaught of historic places.

Gordon was also skeptical that the LPC would change until someone from the outer boroughs took the helm.

The news of Neir’s closing resurrected the debate as to how small business can be saved in New York City, which is experiencing astronomical commercial rent increases.

Activist Kirsten Theodos has been advocating for passage of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act in City Council and claimed that if there had been more motivation from politicians to move the bill through the chamber, the city would not lose establishments such as Neir’s.

“He says the place has been losing money over the past year, but he also describes his current rent as ‘unaffordable’.  The fact remains, if commercial tenants in NYC had affordable rents, the math would be easier to pencil.  There is only so much an owner (who also happens to have a family) can grind to make up for astronomical rents. He was also operating on an unfair month to month lease,” Theodos said.

According to Theodos, the SBJSA would have given Neir’s a ten-year lease as well as an affordable rent.

Neir’s predates much of Woodhaven itself, having been situated next to a horse racing track that was likely one of the few attractions to this area of Queens County.

Originally named the “Old Blue Pump House,” Neir’s persisted through the closing of the track, the consolidation of Queens into the city of New York, and throughout prohibition as a speakeasy.

Between 1898 and 1967, it was owned by the Neir’s family.

The old bar with its stamped tin fireproofing was the setting for scenes in Martin Scorsese’s legendary mob flick “Goodfellas” and the 2011 comedy Tower Heist.

Mark Hallum