By Mark Hallum
Americana musician Wes Houston performed with his trio at historic Neir’s Tavern in Woodhaven last Saturday, bringing special significance for both the folk legend and the venue for the fact his grandfather played the same spot in 1908.
Houston, from Queens Village, comes from a long line of musicians and made an impact in the 1960s as a folk musician playing guitar for the legendary singer Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick. Houston’s grandfather Reinhold Petersen was a violinist and band leader in the years approaching the 1920s and lived in a neighboring community.
“It was a magical standing-room-only evening which served as a homecoming of Wes Houston and his family’s legacy,” Neir’s owner Loy Gordon said. “Imagine how many other people have yet to discover their ancestral connection with Neir’s Tavern. It would be a shame if your roots traced back to Neir’s Tavern’s 188-year history and it was no longer here. It yet again confirms the continued existence of Historic Neir’s Tavern is the continued existence of so many people’s history.”
Built in the 1820s at 87-48 78th St., Neir’s represents what little remains of the Union Course racetrack, which was Woodhaven’s main attraction at the time, just adjacent to Neir’s. Much of the development of Woodhaven is attributed to the track.
The Wes Houston Trio, which emerged in 2013, includes Hollis natives natives Ray Forgione on drums and Steve Hawk on bass.
According to a press release, Houston was always close with his grandfather, who was from nearby Cypress Hills, and still has his violin as well as programs from performances including the times Petersen played at Neir’s in 1908.
Petersen and his wife lived well into their 90s despite having to carve out a difficult life in the music industry.
“My grandmother always told me, ‘When you’re a musician, sometimes the money’s good but other times. …’ Of course I had to find out for myself. However, it was a lot of fun for a 15- or 16-year-old to drink beer with my grandfather and hear the stories.”
Neir’s was also featured on a July 2017 episode of CNN’s “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown,” hosted by chef and author Bourdain, in which Queens showed off its culinary diversity.
Neir’s attracted the support of the surrounding communities in July 2016 as Gordon and elected officials rallied for the Landmark Preservation Commission to grant the business a full protected status.
Former Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley said the tavern was already a landmark in the eyes of the community, since it has served generations and earned a reputation that has attracted Hollywood to its door.
Among the tavern’s cinematic appearances, the 1990 Martin Scorsese mafia film “Goodfellas” shot scenes there.
State Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), speaking in favor of landmark status for Neir’s, argued at the time that while the rest of the borough seems to be changing, developing and growing upward, it is important to protect places such as Neir’s that link Queens to its roots.
According to Gordon, the LPC response to the application was in sum: “Neir’s Tavern does not rise to the level of significance to warrant landmark status.” The LPC went on to assert that giving the tavern landmark status would not protect it from future development altogether.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall