Old Timer: Looking back at Middle Village’s Niederstein’s restaurant

Niederstein's Restaurant in Middle Village, as it appeared in 1939.

For many decades, Niederstein’s Restaurant in Middle Village served not only fine German fare but also memories of good times shared among families and friends for holidays and special occasions.

Previously located on Metropolitan Avenue between 69th and 70th streets, Niederstein’s, under different names and owners through the decades, had been a neighborhood fixture from the Civil War period until the restaurant closed in February 2005. Middle Villagers and other restaurant supporters would fight hard to keep Niederstein’s on the scene, but the white-shingled structure met the wrecking ball months later to make way for a small shopping center.

The nearly block-long hotel and restaurant was constructed in September 1863 by Henry Schumacher, a Manhattan-based saloon keeper who purchased what was at the time farmland adjacent to what would become All Faiths (Lutheran) Cemetery along the Jamaica-Williamsburg Turnpike, now present-day Metropolitan Avenue. Schumacher relocated his family to the then-rural Middle Village and opened “Schumacher’s Lager Beer Saloon and Hotel.”

Business for both the saloon and neighborhood began to pick up in 1867 after a horse-drawn trolley system began operating on the turnpike from Dry Harbor Road (80th Street) to the Williamsburg waterfront. Schumacher’s became a popular rest stop for farmers from eastern Queens and Long Island heading to the city to sell their produce and a gathering spot for funeral processions following graveside services.

As business grew, Schumacher expanded the hotel to the west. By 1868, the hotel occupied 270 feet of frontage along the turnpike.

Schumacher died sometime prior to 1888, and his widow would sell the restaurant to John Niederstein, another Manhattan saloon and hotel proprietor, for $28,000. The Prussian-born Niederstein, who immigrated to America in 1866, relocated with his family to Middle Village. One of his sons, John Jr., helped found the Fearless Hook and Ladder Company No. 7 of the Newtown Volunteer Fire Department, which serviced the neighborhood. The junior Niederstein would become active in local politics and the active manager of the hotel, which closed in the early 20th century as the horse-drawn carriage gave way to the automobile, thus making overnight stays for Long Island farmers traveling to and from Manhattan obsolete.

John Niederstein Sr. died in 1906, leaving the restaurant and hotel to his three sons John Jr. Richard and Louis. The restaurant would be owned and operated by his descendants and relatives until 1969, when it was sold to Rainer Realty Inc. and Horst Herink. The restaurant operated through Thanksgiving of that year, and the entire premises was closed for extensive renovations.

Herink renovated the entire premises, modernizing the restaurant while retaining some of its historic charm. The renovated Niederstein’s restaurant reopened in March 1970. At the height of its business, Niederstein’s employed 90 workers and could accommodate up to 500 patrons at a time. Its parking lots both surrounding the restaurant and on a lot across the street were frequently full.

Rumors began circulating in January 2005 that the restaurant was about to be sold to developers; to the dismay of many in the neighborhood, the rumor was proven true, and Niederstein’s served its last meal on Feb. 5, 2005.
Through the summer of 2005, civic leaders and community residents led a campaign to have the restaurant landmarked, but those pleas went ultimately unheeded. Crews demolished the nearly 150-year-old structure in September of that year; a fast-food restaurant and a small retail center were built in its place.

Visitors to the location can find a boulder unearthed during the site’s redevelopment with an engraving of Niederstein’s restaurant and a note about its history.