Photograph Courtesy of Neir’s Tavern

Neir’s Tavern, one of New York City’s oldest bars and restaurants, will close this Sunday because, well, the rent is just too damn high. The owners had hoped to procure a long-term lease for the ground floor of the wooden clapboard building in Woodhaven, Queens, in order to reach their goal to be open for the 200th anniversary of the bar in 2029. In emotional email to customers owner Lycent Gordon wrote:

“Yesterday I was forced to make one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make. Sunday January 12th I will have to step down as owner of Neirs Tavern and I have no one available to replace me. I’ve been unable to obtain an affordable long term lease to reach our goal of the 200th anniversary in 2029. I’m operating month to month with an unaffordable rent and insufficient sales to overcome a year of losing money every month…

I hope my Neirs Team will be here until Sunday in the event a miracle happens. But I have no more money after Sunday. I’m sorry i let you down. I’m sorry I couldn’t get landmark status. I’m sorry I couldn’t buy the building.”

The preservation and small business community was buzzing yesterday, with discussion on how to potentially save Neir’s. Members of the Facebook group, Save NYC, are planning a rally at the bar tomorrow, Saturday from 2-4 pm.

Historic photo Courtesy of Neir’s Tavern

We spoke with Ruben Ramales, Executive Director of the American Institute for Architects (AIA)’s Queens Chapter, who lived across the street from Neir’s as a child. He tells us,

“Neir’s Tavern represents a community hub and safe space. A place rich in history and social capital. I have vivid memories as kid living across the street from Neirs to finally stepping in as an adult and meeting the proprietor, Loy, on my first visit. The last couple years I have shared amazing conversations, laughs and emotional moments at Neir’s. We often think about the spaces that can serve community members to congregate in, especially when there isn’t a community center around. Places of worship certainly fill that void and often do. In Woodhaven, Neir’s Tavern is one of those places where people can come in and feel at home, always welcome. We are losing an integral part of the Woodhaven community and history.”

Neir’s Tavern was founded as Old Abbey in 1829, next to what was once New York City’s famed Union Course, a four-mile racing track that was said to be the most important race track in America. A tribute to that racing history can still be found on the sign of Neir’s, which shows the silhouette of a jockey on a horse. Inside, you can still find the same wraparound wooden bar, the tin ceilings, and wood display cases you can see in the historical photograph below.

The bar took on numerous names over the years, including Blue Pump Room, Neir’s Social Hall and Union Course Tavern. It became particularly disorderly as tensions between the North and South grew, leading all the way up to the  Civil War. During this period, Neir’s was a hot bed for “thieves” and the “unscrupulous type,” according to its current owner.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the tavern came under the ownership of Louis Neir, who added a bowling alley and ballroom to the establishment; the Neir family ran the business from 1898 to 1967, before another family took over until 2009. Then in 2010, the tavern re-opened, following a major renovation.

Neir’s essentially predates the development of the Woodhaven neighborhood itself, which now has such claims to fame as the house where Betty Smith wrote A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and the former location of Dexter Park ballpark where the baseball greats all played. If you peek into the Woodhaven post office, you’ll find lovely WPA-era murals inside. Neir’s has its own unique place in popular culture: scenes from Goodfellas and Tower Heist were filmed there and Mae West reportedly frequented the bar.

Stay posted here as we update on any plans and petitions to save Neir’s before its closing date this Sunday. Perhaps the efforts can help secure a new operator or additional funds to keep the bar open.

Next, check out the 10 oldest restaurants and bars in NYC.