Neir’s Tavern celebrates 190 years in business with community block party

Loycent Gordon purchased the bar with a group of friends. Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

The tavern on 78th Street in Woodhaven opened in 1829 as a saloon called the “Old Blue Pump House.”

Loycent Gordon purchased the bar with a group of friends.
Loycent Gordon purchased the bar with a group of friends. Photo Credit: Bar Great Harry

As an FDNY member of more than a decade, Loycent Gordon “tends to like to save things,” he jokes.

So when Gordon learned Neir’s Tavern in Woodhaven was on the cusp of closing in January 2009 — after 180 years in business — he knew he had to act.

“I thought, ‘What a shame,’ and I decided to jump in with the building owner,” the Queens resident recalled. “I told them, ‘Please don’t do it. I will make sure your rent is paid back — just let me take it over.’”

Gordon and a group of friends bought the tavern soon after. This Saturday, the watering hole will celebrate its 190th anniversary with a block party for the community.

The bar's almost 200-year history is sprawled across its walls in the form of photographs and relics.
The bar’s almost 200-year history is sprawled across its walls in the form of photographs and relics. Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

While Gordon chalks up the purchase to his firefighting instincts, the longer explanation is a personal one for the FDNY lieutenant, who emigrated from the Caribbean island of Jamaica to Jamaica, Queens at 10 years old.

“Queens has given me everything,” he explained. “Queens gave me my first job, my first schooling, and even my first girlfriend.”

“When I heard one of the oldest bars in New York City — and one of the oldest ones in the country — was going to close down, and it’s located right here, I felt the need to act,” he added. “To give back to the county that has given me so much as an immigrant.”

The tavern on 78th Street opened in 1829 as a saloon called the “Old Blue Pump House” amid a development boom fueled by the arrival of the now-defunct Union Course horse racing track, Woodhaven Cultural and Historical Society President Ed Wendell told amNewYork.

“This was one of those businesses that cropped up around the outskirts of the entire thing. Every other one of them vanished over time,” Wendell said. “And yet this place, remarkably, is still standing.”

Neir's Tavern survived Prohibition as a speakeasy and remained under Neir family ownership until 1967.
Neir’s Tavern survived Prohibition as a speakeasy and remained under Neir family ownership until 1967. Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

Louis Neir purchased the bar several names later in 1898, dubbing it Neir’s Tavern and building a ballroom, a bowling alley and a second-floor hotel, according to a release from the bar.

Neir’s Tavern survived Prohibition as a speakeasy and remained under Neir family ownership until 1967, the release noted. It operated under several different names and owners until Gordon and his team took over in 2009.

Over the years, it has served as a film set for movies like “Goodfellas” and “Tower Heist”; it was also “allegedly” the site of late actress and playwright Mae West “first professional appearances,” according to the release.

The bar is “the oldest pub to operate continuously in the same location in the United States,” the release says. Despite its storied history, however, Gordon often describes it as “the most famous bar you’ve never heard of.”

“Neir’s is one of the last holdouts where people can really come and connect with their neighbors,” he said. He still remembers how inviting the bar felt when he first walked in, and has worked to make sure it  that feeling persists, he says.

“Although the people that were there didn’t exactly look like me… I still felt like I belonged,” he said. “I wanted to make sure that everyone that walked through that door also felt like they belonged.”

Saturday’s block party will be an “extension” of the tavern, Gordon noted, with food, free beer tastings, bouncy castles and activities for kids, “surprises” from the Fraunces Tavern Museum in Manhattan and the presentation of a commemorative plaque by the Queens Historical Society.

“It’s a big way to re-establish ourselves as the hub, the community gathering place, [where] people feel like they belong,” he said.

The tavern, Wendell noted, has “a lot of broad support from people in the neighborhood.”

“It’s really remarkable how much history has gone on around it. In some ways, it’s kind of a time capsule,” he said.

“Some time traveler from 150, 190 years ago, could land in current-day Woodhaven and that’s the one place they would recognize,” he added. “It’s the one place that would still be there.”

Neir’s Tavern’s 190th anniversary celebration will take place from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 5, on 88th Avenue between 77th and 78th streets in Woodhaven.

Maya Rajamani