Word arrived midweek that Woodhaven’s nearly two-century institution, Neir’s Taven, 88th Avenue and 78th Street, would close on January 12, 2020. I have spent many happy times here, and it’s a real loss for the neighborhood and New York City.
I’ve discussed the tavern in NYC before, but I’ll give its history here again once more…
At the corner of 78th Street and 88th Avenue (formerly Snedeker, Snediker, or Sneideicker Avenue, depending on what map you consult, and 3rd Avenue), stands one of New York City’s oldest taverns, Neir’s, opened in 1855 (or 1829, depending on what account you read; the tavern itself says 1829) as The Pump Room, or Old Blue Pump House, to serve Union Course patrons.
The tavern stands just west of the grounds of the grounds of a former race track.
“The Union Course was the site of the first skinned — or dirt — racing surface, a curious novelty at the time. These courses were originally without grandstands. The custom of conducting a single, four-mile (race consisting of as many heats as were necessary to determine a winner, gave way to programs consisting of several races. Match races between horses from the South against those from the North drew crowds as high as 70,000. Several hotels (including the Snedeker Hotel and the Forschback Inn) were built in the area to accommodate the racing crowds.” wikipedia
Though Neir’s is one of the oldest drinking establishments in the city — even if it was founded in 1855, that puts it only a year or two younger than the purported age of McSorley’s in the East Village — it gets little notice or press outside of Queens. The founder was Cadwallader Colden, and that name might raise a scintilla of recognition for New York State history scholars: his great-grandfather, who had the same name, was acting governor of NY State and mayor of NYC in the colonial era. The Neir’s name comes from Louis Neir, who purchased the place in 1898, adding a bowling alley, ballroom, and rooms for rent upstairs.
Entertainer Mae West’s (1893-1980) name is attached to a number of institutions in Brooklyn, notably the Astral Apartments and Teddy’s in Greenpoint and North Williamsburg, and she is said to have begun her showbiz career singing here; a plaque marks her former home on 88th Street. At times, patrons say the ghost of Mae can sometimes still be seen here. Her association with Neir’s has been disputed, however. What is indisputable is that several scenes of Martin Scorsese’s mob epic Goodfellas, with Robert DeNiro and Ray Liotta, were filmed here, and scenes from other recent features as well.
Owner Loy Gordon and the staff welcomed FNY and friends warmly during a February 2015 presentation here, and also after FNY’s Woodhaven tour in June 2016. I lost a game of Queens Jeopardy! to Jason Antos here. Personally, I’ve judged the burger as Queens’ best and perhaps NYC’s.
Late on Friday, January 10, the city, the building owners, the Queens Chamber of Commerce reached an agreement that provided Neir’s a new 5 year lease. The city also kicked in a $90,000 grant to Neir’s for building improvements. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that Neir’s would stay open at a packed gathering there Friday evening.
Sometimes, there are happy endings.