Neir’s Tavern in Woodhaven close to unveiling a mural encapsulating its 191-year history

An artist sketches part of the Neir’s Tavern mural. (Photo courtesy of Neir’s 200)

Neir’s Tavern, the oldest bar in Queens, is getting ready to unveil a new mural painted by local artist Benny Guerra. The mural intends to describe the long history of the bar and its importance, not only in Woodhaven, but in New York City as a whole, for nearly 200 years.

In 2019, Neir’s Tavern was about to close its doors for financial reasons. Two years later, Neir’s Tavern remains open and will soon unveil a mural that describes the collective history of the bar within the community.

“What we are trying to do is to galvanize and bring 191 years together in one visual piece,” said Loycent Gordon, the bar’s owner. “This one mural sums up what we been through and will allow people to capture that and say, ‘Yes, we get it.’”

Benny Guerra, a muralist with 25 years of experience, designed and painted the mural that will take up the backstage of the bar. The mural is five feet high and 16 feet wide.

Guerra said he was “very excited” to work on the project when he learned about Neir’s Tavern’s history.

According to the artist, the mural depicts time as it moves through history. The mural portrays horses racing, the J-train on a track with New York City in the background and the Neir’s Tavern billboard hanging with some famous personalities’ portraits included.

“If you look at the items in the mural, they correlate with the dates and time,” Guerra said. “Obviously, history is gone, but we should always look back at history for our education.”

Neir’s Tavern is located outside the main entrance of the Union Course racetrack which was the largest track in the United States in the early 1800s, running from Jamaica Avenue to Atlantic Avenue, from 78th Street to 84th Street.

Neir’s has appeared in blockbuster films such as “Tower Heist” with Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy, and the Emmy-awarded show “New York Originals.” Also, many scenes of the classic “Goodfellas” with Robert DeNiro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci and Lorraine Bracco, were filmed inside the bar.

“Neir’s Tavern has been a place that it feels like nobody really knows,” Gordon said. “We have this long history and it’s yet to be encapsulated in a way that’s visual and can make sense. We wanted to make sure people can get the message with one viewing because our costumers are the depiction of the blue-collar, regular person.”

The bar first opened in 1829 but it has faced some hard times along the way. In 2009, the establishment went to decline and was closed before reopening the next year. Ten years after, the community came to its rescue to avoid another closure because of rising rent.

In 2019, a group of volunteers created the Neir’s 190 Committee to preserve and protect the historic bar and what it represents in the community. Now, Neir’s 200, a group of loyal customers, is in place to help with the celebration of the bar’s 200 years of existence in Woodhaven.

“Neir’s Tavern is the staple of the community,” Neirs ambassador and spokesperson Joanna Fay Leis said. “It’s a piece of Woodhaven’s history, it’s a piece of New York’s history. The mural is something the community could admire, enjoy and that shows the history of Neir’s.”

While the exterior of the bar has changed throughout the years, Neir’s Tavern is known for its conservative interior décor. The new mural painted backstage will add a fresh touch inside the space that offers the spotlight to local artists and different types of events.

Neir’s also has held and continues to host fundraising events, coat and toy drives during the holidays as well as a site for community gatherings. The bar is mainly family-oriented, with its usual clientele being between the ages of 5 and 85, according to Leis.

“I really love going there with my family,” said Richie Salmon, a Neir’s Tavern loyal customer for about 10 years. “It’s the description of a neighborhood bar-restaurant. Neir’s is somewhere you can go, sit, eat and meet people.”

According to Gordon, there is no official date set for the unveiling of the mural. He said he wanted to show the world how talented a local artist can be.

Gordon also expects the mural will draw more attention to the bar, to Woodhaven and Queens, especially.

“The hope is that piece brings us new life, new audience,” Gordon said. “And our existing audience will spread the word to help bring more business and become more sustainable so we can reach our 200th anniversary.”

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