By Carlotta Mohamed
George O’Neill Jr., the owner of the Irish eatery and sports bar that bears his name in Maspeth, was known as a “man who took the shirt off his back for a stranger,” according to Danny Pyle, O’Neill’s son-in-law.
O’Neill, who was described as a generous, kind-hearted, charitable man, died at the age of 83 July 18. He was laid to rest July 23 at Mount Olivet Cemetery located at 65-40 Grand Ave.
The restaurant at 64-21 53rd Drive posted a statement on Facebook saying, “When you walked into O’Neill’s, everyone knew him and he knew everyone right back. He was the best husband, best father, best grandfather and best friend to all…George, you will be missed. You put up a good fight. We love you.”
“Mr. O’Neill was like a pillar in Maspeth,” said Pyle, who has been a part of O’Neill’s for 25 years. “He’s always sitting outside at the bench with a smile and a joke greeting everyone as they went by. He was just an all around great guy.”
O’Neill’s wasn’t just a local spot in the community to grab a bite to eat. The popular restaurant became well-known for hosting events such as family christenings, communion gatherings, anniversaries, birthday and graduation parties, retirement parties, and annual benefits for the NYPD, FDNY, and St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, according to Pyle.
“We’re looking to keep it going, and keep it the way he would like for it to be,” said Pyle.
O’Neill’s opened its doors after the end of Prohibition Dec. 5 1933, founded by O’Neill’s father, George O’Neill Sr. It was originally called the Plateau Tavern, until O’Neill Jr. returned from a 1956 tour of duty as a U.S. Army cook in Hawaii and turned the establishment into a restaurant. In May 2011, the family-owned-and-operated business for 83 years was ravaged by a fire, the staff spent two years rebuilding the restaurant and it reopened in August 2013.
During the rebuilding, O’Neill would sit outside with his friends in the summer months in the sweltering heat and humidity, Pyle said.
“He had his choice. He could’ve been out in Long Island, his daughter lives in Cape Cod, but he still always wanted to be in Maspeth,” Pyle said.
Lynn Catapano, who has worked at O’Neill’s as a hostess for over 18 years, described O’Neill as simply “amazing.”
“He gave me a job when I really needed one,” said Catapano. “He was extremely giving, very generous, and I can’t say enough about him. He was a family man, a friend, a great guy.”
Catapano added that “it’s hard to believe that he’s not going to walk through the door…he was full of life and had an amazing spirit. He was always thinking about how to make the business better.”
O’Neill is survived by his brother James; wife Mary; son George; daughters Tara, Mary Beth, Deirdre, Jennifer and Tracy; daughter-in-law Jennifer; son-in-laws Danny, Brian, Emile and Michael; and grandchildren Daniel, Caitlin, Jack, Michaela, Riley, Kieran, Molly, Madison, Sean, Logan, Hannah, Ryan, Shea, Dylan, Matthew and Mason.
Reach reporter Carlotta Mohamed by e-mail at cmoha