O’Neills steps up to the plate with fund-raiser

By Michael Shain

O’Neill’s Restaurant, the fabled Irish eatery and sports bar in Maspeth, raised $140,000 — and maybe as much as $200,000 — at a block-busting benefit for the St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital over the weekend.

More than 1,300 people paid $100 each to attend the fund-raiser, lured by the chance to the get an autograph and pose for a selfie with a dozen New York sports legends.

Owner George O’Neill used the uncharacteristic (for him) word “grand” to describe the first-of-a-kind benefit at his bustling bar at 64-21 53rd Drive. “A grand event,” he dubbed the star-studded, daylong party for the famous hospital in California.

Among the athletes who sat for hours signing autographs were the New York Rangers’ Brian Leetch, Adam Graves, Mike Richter and Rod Gilbert; former Knicks greats John Starks and Anthony Mason; and Queens native (and former Boston Celtics star) Kenny Anderson.

For nearly 30 years, O’Neill has used his restaurant for an annual fund-raiser around Christmastime to aid the families of New York City cops who died in the line of duty. But this was the first time he has sponsored one for St. Jude’s.

“And this was, I’m pretty sure, the biggest one he’s ever done,” said Nick D’Arienzo, who helped put together the event.

A kitchen fire in 2011 nearly ended O’Neill’s, where the Mets partied in 1986 when they won the World Series. And at any time during the season when they aren’t on the road, a New York Ranger or two is likely hanging out. It took two years to rebuild the place, virtually from the walls out. And, in some measure, the sheer size and scope of the fund-raiser was proof that O’Neill’s has made a comeback.

Huge white banquet tents were erected in the middle of the pie-shaped intersection of 53rd Drive and 64th Street, giving the event a street-fair look. Community Affairs cops from the 108th precinct made sure passing traffic gave the benefit-goers plenty of room to party.

The tents, bar and two dining rooms were packed pretty much from the moment the place opened at 1 p.m.

“We had a whole second wave of people show up at 4,” D’Arienzo said. “The place didn’t empty out until when we closed.”