Like the little engine that could, historic Neir’s Tavern in Woodhaven, Queens — New York City’s oldest bar — is still chugging along despite facing numerous challenges.
Owner Loy Gordon’s can-do spirit has kept this beloved neighborhood gem going, and curious folks from everywhere, even abroad, have come by to visit because of its special ambiance and some memorable scenes from the iconic “Goodfellas” movie that were filmed there.
Always thinking outside the box, Gordon, who is a longtime Queens resident, came up with a brilliant idea: “The Goodfellas Challenge.”
“The challenge started as a bit of a goof back in 2019,” he noted. “One of the most well-known scenes from ‘Goodfellas’ was the Christmas party scene, when Robert DeNiro’s character is seen welcoming all his gangster pals into the bar with outstretched arms, after the big Lufthansa heist. People started finding the spot where DeNiro stood and doing the pose on their own, and would post their photos on Instagram and Facebook.”
Gordon started sharing and posting some of the pics himself. He told QNS that during that time, the mom of one of his employees was battling breast cancer, so he decided to use the challenge as an opportunity to raise funds for the Susan G. Komen Foundation for breast cancer research. “We had over 50 people who participated. We chose the top 23 photos and asked folks to make a donation and cast their vote for their favorite one. It was a big hit, and we raised more than $1,000 for the foundation,” he said. “Normally, we promote the challenge during the Christmas season, since it was the scene with the Christmas party. But people are having so much fun with it again, that we decided to extend it until Jan. 31 this year.”
In 2020, the challenge was employed to encourage others to sponsor a meal to feed locals in need. Then Neir’s relaunched it. It was so successful during the holidays, that Middle Village resident Anthony Sciarratta, an influencer with 12,000 followers, got over 200,000 views after he did a “Goodfellas” skit at the bar. The video, which he directed, went viral. Filmed by Gregory Heinrich, both parts mirror iconic scenes from the movie and feature Sciarratta (wearing a plaid coat), as well as fellow Neir’s fans Danielle Caminiti and Joseph Naimoli.
View this post on Instagram
View this post on Instagram
Sciarratta, whose social media nickname is “The Martin Scorsese of TikTok” because he recreates many of Scorsese’s films on his own channels, noted that “Neir’s almost looks identical to the way it did in the movie, and that’s what I believe made it go viral. It’s hard to find places like that.”
Each year, the challenge seems to be growing in popularity. Even Neir’s fan Ariel Palitz, founding director, Office of Nightlife at the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, got in on the fun during the holidays and took part in it. She has been a strong advocate, not only for Neir’s, but for so many nightlife businesses.
“The Goodfellas Challenge at Neir’s Tavern is such a fun way to acknowledge the cultural significance of this historic venue. It really demonstrates the emotional connection people have to their favorite movies and bars, and this challenge brings both together beautifully,” she shared. “The city is lucky that Loy has heroically preserved this place for everyone to be able to continue to visit and enjoy, for almost 200 years!”
Palitz added: “For those who don’t know, the Office of Nightlife is a non-enforcement liaison between NYC and the nightlife industry. We help nightlife businesses navigate city bureaucracy and support them through the daily challenges of running a business at night. Whether it be helping to mediate quality-of-life issues with neighbors, training and education to run safer spaces, or helping to resolve issues with city agencies, the Office of Nightlife is dedicated to uplifting the industry and community and ensuring that it is valued for all the great contributions it provides to our city, culture and economy.”
For anyone who wants to participate in this challenge, all they need to do is come in and stand in the same place that DeNiro stood, welcoming the gangsters. “Except in our case, we’re really welcoming friends, just like Neir’s always does,” Gordon said. “We tell them to take a photo, and ask that they post it on social media and tag Neir’s Tavern, so we can keep track. We’ve had well over 200 participants so far, but there’s still time the rest of this month for whoever wants to do it.”
Past events at the tavern include their annual “Road to 200 Block Party,” which has been celebrated every first Saturday in October for the past two years. In 2022, Neir’s celebrated their 193rd anniversary, and Gordon hopes they will continue to host that event yearly, until they reach 200 years, in 2029. Other annual traditions include a fun Halloween bash and “Ugly Sweater Party” during the holidays.
There’s something for everyone at the tavern: from karaoke every Saturday night and a great jazz brunch featuring local musicians Green Soul on Saturday afternoons (12:30 to 2:30 p.m.). Patrons also enjoy bingo, trivia, open mic night and stand-up comedy (all once a month, and all free), as well as video game night. Bring your friends and try one of the bar’s most popular draft beers, their Finback IPA. And how about a Neir’s original? The “Wiseguy” is a must-have, especially for “Goodfellas” fans. This handcrafted cocktail is a twist on a classic Manhattan, made with an exclusive whiskey called Uncle Nearest, which has a great history of its own … just like Neir’s.
This Tuesday, Jan. 10, the tavern is celebrating the anniversary of the “Night Neir’s Was Saved (Again!)” The commemoration of that night refers to Jan. 10, 2020, when the bar was just about ready to shut its doors for good, due to the landlord nearly tripling their rent: It was simply unsustainable for Gordon to keep the doors open any longer.
“What was supposed to be a farewell party (the last hurrah!) turned out to be a small miracle, when former Mayor DeBlasio responded to a ‘Hail Mary!’ call-in on a radio show. The mayor and NYC saved the day, having seen how beloved Neir’s was by the community,” Gordon shared. The lease was subsequently re-negotiated to everyone’s satisfaction and the bar could stay open. But then the pandemic hit. Yet Neir’s somehow bounced back again!
That feel-good story went national, with every major news outlet running it, and Gordon was interviewed and appeared on national TV to tell his story.
“We plan on celebrating every year on Jan. 10, with Neir’s Ambassadors, our 200 members, and the public,” Gordon added. “Anyone who was there that night can get up on stage and tell their story. It’s a social event for the community.”
Why is Neir’s such a special place?
“Where do I start? There’s been a tavern on this spot since 1829. It’s the very first tavern in the U.S. to have a street co-named in its honor and to be included in the United States Congressional record,” Gordon noted. “It’s also one of the last locations still in almost the exact same condition as it was when ‘Goodfellas’ was filmed here. (If they ever wanted to film Part 2, we are open to that!) And the tavern was honored to have the ‘Goodfellas Burger’ named one of the top 10 burgers in New York state by the New York State Beef Council. But when all is said and done, the primary thing that makes Neir’s special, is this: It’s the warmest, most welcoming community gathering place around!”