The year 2005 was a bleak one for fans of two beloved restaurants in Middle Village and Glendale.
First, there was the news that Niederstein’s Restaurant — an iconic Middle Village eatery with roots dating back to the Civil War — would close that February. A popular place to celebrate birthdays, holidays, even weddings, the need for major, costly improvements proved too much for the owners to keep it going.
Then, within weeks, the Ridgewood Times reported that Durow’s Restaurant in Glendale — another great institution that hosted generations of family and social functions — was closing down, too, for many of the same reasons that led to Niederstein’s demise.
“ONE MORE NOW DONE” blared the headline that ran on the front page story about the closure in the March 3, 2005, issue of the Ridgewood Times. It marked the end of a great restaurant that had roots dating back to the early 20th century.
In 1909, Louis Sahner — who owned 2.187 acres of farmland in the area of Myrtle Avenue and present-day 81st Street — was in his 50s and finally had it with farming. He had sold one acre on the eastern end of the property and retained his farmhouse and the remaining 1.2 acres of land. He subsequently leased the building and land to Frederick Wener, who established a saloon on the premises that he operated until 1911.
In 1912, William Palmer leased the premises and operated a saloon there until about 1919. During National Prohibition, in the 1920s, it became “Johnston’s 19th Hole,” a speakeasy that also rented lockers to the golfers who played across the street at the Forest Park Golf Course.
When Prohibition ended in 1933, the 19th Hole closed down; it remained shuttered for the next three years until Henry “Happy” Miller” leased the site from the Louis Sahner estate in 1936.
Happy Miller had been an iceman and had been kicked by a horse at the Wallabout Market. After prohibition ended, he operated Happy’s Village Tavern, located at 79-65 Metropolitan Ave. in Middle Village.
Starting in 1936, Miller also operated Happy’s Tavern at 81-01 Myrtle Ave., Glendale. He fixed the bar room and had plaster frescoes of jockeys and horses placed on the walls.
On Aug. 1, 1940, the Estate of Louis Sahner renewed the lease to Henry and Louis Miller for five years at a charge of $200 per month, plus water charges.
Two years later, in 1942, Victor Koenig — who had his own restaurant and bar at 651 Onderdonk Ave. in Ridgewood — bought out Happy Miller’s business and took over the lease. Koenig enjoyed a fine reputation for good food, and he quickly built up a large trade doing business as Victor Koenig’s Restaurant. He also put out a large free lunch at the bar to stimulate business there.
On Feb. 5, 1943, Henry Sahner and Tillie Sahner, children of Louis Sahner, conveyed the property to themselves from the estate.
In 1944, Victor Koenig sold his Glendale business to Heinz Durow from Hamburg, Germany, who for a period of time continued the business as Victor Koenig’s Restaurant before changing the name to Durow’s. Koenig acquired a restaurant in Floral Park, Nassau County, where he built up a following with his reputation. (That restaurant wound up closing in 2015.)
While running the Floral Park restaurant, Koenig also assumed responsibility of the Elks Lodge on Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst and operated a restaurant there.
Unlike Koenig, Heinz Durow was not a chef. He hired Fritz Schmidtke to be in charge of his kitchen.
On Oct. 1, 1946, Henry and Tillie Sahner sold the property to Durow. After operating the restaurant for 14 years, on March 14, 1958 Durow sold the restaurant and property to William Steinbeck. Durow’s changed hands again 20 years later.
Over the years, the residents of Queens enjoyed dining and dancing at Durow’s, whether it was a simple Friday night dinner with the family or special occasions such as wedding receptions.
But the fun times at Durow’s came to an end in March of 2005. In the March 3, 2005, issue of the Ridgewood Times, Bridie Keane, who had owned Durow’s for 15 years, said that two obstacles proved too much to continue operations.
The first was the fact that the restaurant itself was in need of a major overhaul. Keane said that there were “serious structural problems and countless leaks have caused buckled floors, dilapidated walls and possibly even mold infestation.”
“I wanted to keep going for another two years, but it’s gone,” she told the Ridgewood Times. “I have to sell it now.”
Another factor in Durow’s demise was the business’ cabaret license. Durow’s had a cabaret license that had been “grandfathered” in before certain laws changed. However, the required renovations would mean that she would have lost the license, and then apply for a new one — another added expense on top of renovating the building.
Keane noted that she had received offers from individuals to buy the property, “most of which have come from developers,” the Ridgewood Times reported.
“I have a lot of interest,” she told the Ridgewood Times. “The saving grace is that the value went up.”
Sure enough, developers wound up purchasing Durow’s and its adjacent parking lot — then demolished them and built multi-family housing units in its place.
Source: the Aug. 16, 1984, and March 3, 2005, issues of the Ridgewood Times.
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