By Bianca Fortis
In May 2011, firefighters from Squad 288 lowered the flag waving above a smoldering structure fire. The flag was all that remained of O’Neill’s in Maspeth, the decades-old restaurant that had been gutted by the blaze.
Now, nearly 2 1/2 years later, those firefighters are set to return to the flag to its owner, George O’Neill, when he hosts the grand reopening of his eponymous eatery Sept. 27.
O’Neill said he is planning to close down 53rd Drive for the event and expects to have professional athletes attend.
Although construction is not quite complete, the restaurant, located at 64-21 53rd Dr., has remained consistently busy since O’Neill and his family held a soft opening about two weeks ago.
“It was the spur of the moment — we decided to just open the door and see what happened,” O’Neill said. “It was so crowded you couldn’t get out the door. I couldn’t believe it. I’d love to know how it happened.”
It seemed, O’Neill said, that people had just been waiting for him to open for the last couple years.
Within days of the grease fire, O’Neill had set a plan in place to rebuild. He has had a few construction setbacks that kept delaying the opening date, but throughout the rebuilding period, O’Neill always sat outside the building overseeing construction.
“He never leaves,” his daughter Tara O’Neill Pyle said.
Now he spends all his time inside the restaurant.
“I’ve been counting — I’ve been here about 185 hours in the last two weeks,” O’Neill said. “I’m wondering when I’m going to get some overtime.”
Pyle said neighbors seem to really miss having O’Neill’s as their meeting spot.
“It’s such a neighborhood place,” she said.
O’Neills, which was originally founded by George’s father in 1928 as Plateau Tavern, has long played host to locals wishing to celebrate family events.
Already since its reopening, the restaurant has held parties for birthdays, christenings, communions and baby showers.
Patrons enjoying the food and “the atmosphere of the place” are what O’Neill looks forward to the most, he said. “If somebody tells me they enjoy the food, that really picks me up.”
In total the restaurant can hold about 350 customers and offers both a bar menu and a fine dining menu, which includes prime, aged beef and fresh seafood prepared by famed chef Richard Burns, O’Neill said. The kitchen is open from 11 a.m. until 2 a.m. every day.
The restaurant also offers catering services.
O’Neill’s will have about 40 employees, many of whom worked at the restaurant before the fire. Some new employees are the children of former staff members, Pyle said.
“He would probably be more excited if he could run around the place,” Pyle said about her dad, who has had some recent health setbacks. “He may not be dancing on opening night but he’ll be sitting at his favorite spot at the front table.”
The grand opening begins Friday, Sept. 27, at about 3 p.m. and will last all weekend.
Reach reporter Bianca Fortis by email at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4546.