BY KELLY MARIE MANCUSO
Neir’s Tavern in Woodhaven is not only an important Queens landmark, but also a meaningful part of one local family’s personal history, as this was the site where William and Peggy Burlingame were married back in 1946.
On Saturday, July 11, William “Bill” Burlingame returned to Neir’s for the first time in nearly 70 years with his daughters Arlene, Lois and Ellen to remember his wife and reminisce over pints of beer.
“We couldn’t wait to get here and have a really cold beer and a nice hamburger,” explained daughter Lois Kirchner.
The Burlingames sat near the fireplace in the tavern dining room and leafed through the 1946 wedding album while sipping pints of Budweiser from Mets glasses. As he turned the album’s pages, Bill spoke about his past and connection to the tavern.
The 91-year-old Army Air Corps veteran was raised in Ozone Park and attended Brooklyn Technical high school. He began patronizing Neir’s Tavern as a young man in 1942, when he met owner Mrs. Neir.
“She was Auntie Julie to us kids,” he recalled.
Burlingame shared many fond memories of Neir’s from this time, including the Currier and Ives racetrack portraits that adorned the walls, and the tavern’s bowling alley where the bowlers had to set their own pins.
When they weren’t skating at the Hillside Roller Rink, Burlingame and his then-bride-to-be would pop into the tavern for a drink and rounds of bowling.
“The bartender Dudley was fabulous,” he recalled. “He didn’t buy a bottle of Tom Collins mix, he made his own. He would also bring you the gin in a separate shot glass so that you knew you were getting what you paid for.”
In 1942, Burlingame volunteered to be drafted into the Armed Forces with the hope of becoming a mechanic with the Air Corps. Two years later, he returned home via ship and proposed to Peggy while on a 30-day furlough.
On April 27, 1946, the Burlingames were married at Our Lady of Perpetual Help church, followed by a small reception in the upstairs hall at Neir’s. They celebrated their nuptials with ham and cheese sandwiches from a local bakery, coffee and a barrel of beer from the tavern. Bill’s sister-in-law, Adelaide, played the piano during the reception while the happy couple danced.
The Burlingames moved out to Elmont where they purchased a home and started their family. Over the years, Bill and Peggy enjoyed looking through their wedding album with their three daughters and seven grandchildren.
The Burlingames’ wedding album consists of beautiful candid portraits of the young couple laughing, sharing slices of cake and even sneaking a kiss. With her coiffed barrel curls and long silken gown, Peggy Burlingame epitomized the timeless, classic beauty of the 1940s. In one portrait, she posed against a mantle adorned with fresh lilacs.
In 2013, Bill’s wife of 67 years passed away after a seven-year struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. “We really lost her like 10 years ago,” he recalled, choking back tears.
Last year, Bill came across a segment profiling Neir’s Tavern on the New York-based television show “$9.99” and was shocked to discover the tavern still existed. In August 2014, Burlingame wrote a personal letter to Neir’s owner Loycent Gordon sharing his beloved memories of the tavern.
“It was very touching,” Gordon explained. “These are things that don’t happen anymore today. I’m really happy that we have a connection to history with a gentleman like Bill.”
Burlingame’s daughters began the yearlong process of putting the much-anticipated reunion together.
Bill’s framed, handwritten letter to Gordon hangs on a wall near the bar, further cementing the family’s connection to the tavern’s history. When asked what his wife would have thought of the event, Bill’s face lit up.
“She would be amazed,” he beamed. “She would be enjoying it. She was the life of the party.”