Woodhaven residents form new committee to preserve and celebrate the oldest bar in Queens

Photo courtesy of Flickr user The Whistling Monkey

As Neir’s Tavern enters its 190th celebration this October, a new committee has been formed to preserve and protect the oldest tavern in Queens that has been a fixture in the Woodhaven community since 1829.

The Neir’s 190 Committee held its first meeting Jan. 19 at Neir’s, where landmarking designation and the recent sale of the building was a topic of discussion among residents.

“When you think about it our neighborhood is very fortunate in that we have a lot of stores that have been around for a very long time, said Ed Wendell, executive director of the Woodhaven Cultural and Historical Society. “You go around neighborhoods and you might see one, but you’ve got a handful of stores that have been here 80, 90, 100 years, but then when you think of Smith’s Candy now entering its 90th year … you think about the day they opened, Neir’s was already celebrating its 100th anniversary!”

Although part of the committee’s goal is to protect the tavern — located at the corner of 87-48 78th St. — its formation also begins the official 10 year countdown to the 200th anniversary celebration of Neir’s.

Known as “The most famous bar you’ve never heard of,” Neir’s Tavern has been serving locals in the community since 1829 — over 180 years, according to its website.

“It goes back to the very early days of the neighborhood when there was a gigantic racetrack that dominated the scene, when there wasn’t really so much of a neighborhood but a series of farms and farmhouses. The whole neighborhood got built up around this place,” said Wendell.

After all of the businesses that have failed, Neir’s has survived for 190 years, said Wendell.

It’s never a guarantee that it’ll survive 200 years,” said Wendell. “The people that joined this committee, not only believe in the business and the history, but also a lot of faith in the owner of the bar, Loycent.”

When Loycent Gordon heard the struggling tavern was up for sale, he and his partners purchased the business in 2010 and restored the interior, stripping the paint down to the wood.

Although Gordon owns the business, he doesn’t own the building, which has been sold to a new owner.

“According the Department of Finance, the building was sold for $1.35 million, and we’re hoping to reach an agreement with the new landlord that would ensure Neir’s lasts for another 190 years,” said Gordon, whose lease expired the same day the building went up for sale.

Gordon said the creation of the Neir’s 190 Committee will help ensure the tavern’s sustainability.

Wendell, who has attended political events, birthday parties and wakes at the tavern, said he’s hopeful they will come to an agreement, since Neir’s has become a “family-friendly” place bridging gaps between people.

“You hear the word ‘diverse’ thrown around a lot. You see people side by side that you won’t normally see … rubbing elbows at a bar,” said Wendell. “Everyone knows they’re welcomed there. It’s a melting pot.”

Referencing the recent landmarking designation of the Forest Park Carousel and a portion of historic Richmond Hill, Wendell said obtaining landmarking status for Neir’s Tavern would mean permanence and acknowledgment.

Three years ago, the Queens Historical Society made an effort to have Neir’s landmarked, according to Wendell. Although it’s a difficult task at hand, the committee is hoping the City Landmarks Preservation Commission will reconsider the application for Neir’s at some point.

“I think it would be embarrassing to have a business closing in on 200 years, and you’re not willing to even protect it in anyway,” said Wendell. “This is the oldest thing around dating back to the earliest days of this community; it predates our community. It’s not just part of our local history, but New York history.”

Preservation of the tavern will give the next generation an opportunity to visit a place where they feel comfortable, said Wendell. 

“The next generation of people will have to look forward, too. Landmarking creates a link between us and future generations,” said Wendell. “We’re telling future generations that we cared enough about this right here to preserve for you to enjoy. By neglecting to landmark it, they’re saying this is not worth saving and for that, they’re flat out wrong.”

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