Neir’s Tavern in Woodhaven Queens is an unlikely place for me to visit, but I was intrigued when the New York Travel Festival organization arranged an evening there and touted it as the oldest bar in New York City.
I have been to Fraunces Tavern (built as a private home in 1719, converted to a Tavern in 1762), on the second floor, George Washington gave his “goodbye” speech to his New York friends and colleagues. Unfortunately, much of the Tavern’s history is lost because of fire damage and reconstruction. Another bar claiming to be the oldest is Mc Sorley’s in the East Village (est.1854) where dignitaries and musicians stopped for a cold ale. It is well known for its sawdust floor. Yet, another bar that says that it is the oldest is the Ear Inn on Spring Street. Prior to my brother’s return to San Diego, this was his favorite place for dinner. It was built around 1770 for James Brown, an African-American aide to George Washington. According to the staff, it became a tavern in 1817 and has been one since then.
Now, I had the opportunity to visit this Queens bar that PBS named “The Most Famous Bar You’ve Never Heard Of”. Before entering, I saw a plaque on the sidewalk. One side for Neir’s Tavern and the other for the Union Course Racetrack. The bar owner is Lieutenant Loycent Gordon of the New York Fire Department. When he discovered this tavern, he researched it and decided that he needed to preserve this historical place. He and his partners began to fix it while retaining its authenticity. The mahogany bar made from rare and endangered mahogany is still there. The double doors which are in a number of scenes in Goodfellas are original. Loy has also fixed the beer cooling system which has been around for decades.
In the early 1800’s there was the Union Course Race Track directly in from of the Tavern, where horses from the north and south once raced. The most famous race was between American Eclipse representing the North and Sir Henry for the South. American Eclipse won.
According to Richard Hourahan of the Queens Historical Society, Neir’s Tavern was built in 1829, and it was originally named the Old Blue Pump. Around the turn of the century, Louis Neir purchased it and began to expand it by building a bowling alley and ballroom. Loy mentioned that the alley offered young men jobs resetting the bowling pins. He has met some of these men, now in their 80’s and 90’s. They’ve told stories of Neir’s Tavern from their time spent there.
Mae West made her professional appearance at Neir’s and is known to have spent time here.
Martin Scorsese filmed a number of scenes for the movie “Goodfellas”. Director Brett Ratner of “Tower Heist” also filmed at the tavern. The walls are covered with pictures from the past, including a large one of Mae West, and they are in the process of adding pictures of their new patrons.
Loy and the Queens Historical Society are working to have Neir’s Tavern designated a City, State, and National Historic site.
Loy and his staff served us great tasting sandwiches and the best meatballs I have ever tasted. We had a fantastic time! I would definitely recommend everyone visit this important part of Queens, New York history.
1. Intro song to “Cheers” by Gary Portnoy
Address: Neir’s Tavern, 87-48 78th St. Woodhaven, NY 11421
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