Three Years Later, Memories of Neir’s Salvation

The jubilant scene outside Neir’s after it had been announced that the historic tavern had received a reprieve.

By Ed Wendell
What if you went to a funeral but the corpse didn’t show up? That’s what it was like at Neir’s Tavern, three years ago last week, when it rose triumphantly from its deathbed to become the toast of the town.
In the hours and days after the news broke that Neir’s was closing after 190 years of service, people began suggesting ways that this historic location could be saved.
Ideas came forth ranging from calling Martin Scorsese, who directed “Goodfellas” or Robert De Niro, who starred in it, to pulling together a large pool of investors to donate $1,000 each to make a down payment on the building.
But the problem that could not be solved in 10 years now needed to be solved in just a few days, before Sunday.
And the way the eulogies were pouring in, it seemed like Sunday was going to come and go without a resolution. People were leaving heartfelt messages of grief. The closest nearby bar, Geordie’s, posted a beautiful message of support for Neir’s owner Loy Gordon.
But as it turned out, there was a solution in the works, and the ball had gotten rolling on that nearly a year earlier when Assemblyman Mike Miller began a dialogue with Tom Grech, Executive Director of the Queens Chamber of Commerce (QCC).
With just days to go, Mike and Tom were able to pull together a meeting with the building’s owner and as Mr. Grech joked later, he locked the door to the meeting room and said no one was allowed to leave until they struck a deal.
The Mayor’s Office got involved after Loy called into a radio show and asked Mayor de Blasio for help. And Councilman Bob Holden was at the table, offering aid and support to this beloved historic location within his district.
And once everyone got together, a deal was reached and the next few hours were bedlam.
I was in the doctor’s office for a routine checkup. Even in the waiting room, the nurses were talking about the impending closure of Neir’s, I couldn’t get away from it. And while I was waiting in the doctor’s office, my phone rang.
It was Assemblyman Miller. The connection was bad and every time he started to tell me the good news, the connection would cut out. Finally, when we had a 10-second window of clear connection Mike gave me the good news, but told me to keep quiet, that it would be announced later.
We stopped by Neir’s which was solidly packed with revelers from around the city who had seen the news and came out to say farewell. For many, it was their first trip to this historic treasure.
Other people came from long distances to say farewell, including one gentleman who drove from Pennsylvania just to have a beer. And locals were wandering over all afternoon, many as they often do, to kick off the weekend at their favorite gathering spot.
We were surrounded by people who had come to see a funeral, and yet this good news was bursting to be let free.
It was the reporters who broke the news by asking those they were interviewing how they felt about it being saved. Quickly, word began to spread, tears of sadness turned to tears of joy. Hugs of comfort turned into hugs of relief and celebration.
Mayor de Blasio came out to Woodhaven and stood behind the bar and made it official. It was a remarkable night for this community.
There is a very old saying that success has a thousand parents but failure is an orphan. When it came to saving Neir’s, this old saying was very apt.
Every person who came to Neir’s, for lunch or for an evening out; each person who shared news stories about the place, who told friends or relatives about it, were all part of a 10-year campaign to get the city to stand up and recognize this historic location. And though it had been saved, it would soon face the same dangerous fight that doomed many bars and restaurants in New York City: Covid-19.
And yet it survived.
It survived thanks to every person who ordered out. It survived thanks to every person who sat outside in frigid temps to eat dinner.
Like a cat with many lives, Neir’s lives on, now just 6 years from what will be a remarkable 200th birthday party. Look forward to seeing you all there!

The scene from inside Neir’s while Mayor de Blasio came to announce the good news. We were way at the back and couldn’t see or hear anything, but word of the good news had already spread.

Owner Loycent Gordon shares his vision for future of Neir’s Tavern

 

By Alicia Venter

aventer@queensledger.com

Loycent Gordon has been the owner and proprietor of “Neir’s Tavern” in Woodhaven for 14 years. 

Located at 87-48 78th St., Neir’s has been deemed “the most famous bar you’ve never heard of,” and is in its 193rd year of operation. 

Nearing its bicentennial, Gordon is aiming to solidify the future of Neir’s Tavern, hoping to create a strategic board of directors and to possibly have the building become a historic house. Above all, Gordon feels Neir’s Tavern should be owned, not rented. 

Ownership, Gordon believes, would solidify the safety of Neir’s Tavern. External forces would not impact the future of the bar. In order for “Neir’s for Years” — a community effort, seen on the walls of Neir’s Tavern, to ensure the longevity of the bar — to come to fruition, Gordon feels it must be autonomous from a landlord or anybody beyond devoted supporters.

“I just feel like Neir’s Tavern shouldn’t be dependent on one person. It’s way more important than that. We need to have a real sustainable model, not one that’s predicated on who has the cheapest prices of beer,” Gordon said. “I know that’s counterproductive to a business and trying to get customers, but I think at the end of the day that Neir’s Tavern is the deal. It’s the deal of the century.”

Acting with a board of directors, there are avenues of revenue that Gorden feels will best ensure the future of the bar. 

“We need to figure out how Neir’s Tavern can rise above that fight for customer’s attention. We don’t have all the money in the world to have that economy of scale, of advertising, of buying a ton of products so that you can get it cheaper,” Gordon said. “What we can have is this hope for economy of the community. If everyone can do a little part, we are more powerful than what any advertising dollar can do.”

Gordon does not want the future of Neir’s to sit on his shoulders alone. That, he feels, makes it too vulnerable, and he faithfully believes that it must last beyond his time as owner.

“I’m now transitioning to ‘What is Neir’s like without Loy?’ and that’s scary. I’m looking at a different way that Neir’s can survive without me,” he said. 

He looked at the street name, recently titled ‘Neir’s Tavern Way,’ and emphasized that owning Neir’s is an act of service — hence why it is not named ‘Loycent Gordon Way.’

As a small business owner, Gordon has faced an array of challenges. Most notably, he was nearly forced to close the bar in 2020 following a jump in rent from around $2,000 to $5,000 plus other expenses. 

With support from elected officials — including the office of then-mayor Bill DeBlasio — the community and the Queens Chamber of Commerce, an agreement was reached for a new five-year lease with a considerably lower rent. 

“The small business owners have glorified jobs,” Gordon said. “They could get paid similarly or even more working for someone. But they don’t because there is a level of passion that they aren’t willing to give up — doing something for hopefully the next generation.”

For his contributions in saving Neir’s Tavern and his devotion to the bar — and by extension, the community — Gordon has been honored by the Queens Chamber of Commerce as a Business Person of the Year.

However, he felt it necessary to emphasize that he alone did not save the bar. 

“I can’t eat all the burgers and drink all the beer,” Gordon said. “We have to work together to make sure Neir’s presses on.”

Prior to becoming the owner at Neir’s Tavern, Gordon had never runned a bar or restaurant. He is an immigrant, coming to the United States at age 10. 

Helped by a community of staff at P.S. 116, he went from being overwhelmingly behind educationally in his fourth grade class to graduating at its top, receiving a standing ovation from parents and staff at his graduation. He recalls janitors peeking their heads through the door windows, hoping to catch a glimpse of Gordon crossing the stage.

This experience left a lasting impression on Gordon — an impression that made him see the failing state of Neir’s Tavern as a way for him to give forward the support that was given to him.

“I came into Neir’s Tavern seeing that it was going to close. The long forgotten place that was special, just as I felt I was, but wasn’t given the love,” Gordon said. “This was my opportunity to give back. What if I could save one of America’s oldest places as an immigrant, as my service.”

Beyond his work at Neir’s Tavern, Gordon is an active firefighter. He was the first graduating class to be hired following the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Neir’s Tavern offers a distinct experience to its customers. Service is part of Gordon’s identity.

From a bowl that allows people to leave behind a community memory and mementos from the 1800s, there is more to Neir’s Tavern than beer. 

“It’s about preserving one of America’s oldest places,” Gordon said. “There’s not many of them left.”

 

Neir’s has a community bowl to leave a memory, emphasizing the importance locals have on the historic building.

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