May 20, 2021 By Ryan Songalia
A historic tavern in Woodhaven will receive a much-needed financial grant in recognition of its cultural significance.
Neir’s Tavern, which opened in 1829, was one of 25 restaurants that will receive a $40,000 grant from American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a Washington D.C. based non-profit.
The funds are awarded to restaurant owners to help then cover the cost of upgrading the exterior of their building; add or enhance their outdoor seating areas; and upgrade their online business services.
Loycent Gordon, who bought Neir’s Tavern in 2009, told the Queens Post in an e-mail that he will use the money to fix the tavern’s outdoor sign, upgrade the awning and do general repairs.
He said that he aims to buy the 87-48 78th St. building that he currently occupies and that the funds will help.
“The ultimate goal for me and our Neir’s community is to preserve this small corner of NYC history and keep Neir’s Tavern open for its 200th birthday and beyond,” said Gordon, who is also an FDNY lieutenant.
In addition to cash, the grant program, known as “Backing Historic Small Restaurants”, also offers products and services, including up to $5,000 in digital upgrades from AT&T Business and Dell Technologies, as well as complimentary one-year use of American Express’s Resy platform for managing restaurant operations.
The bar has faced serious financial challenges in recent times. The bar was set to close for good on Jan. 12, 2020 after Gordon’s landlord sought to increase the rent to $5,400 a month, an increase of over $2,000 per month.
A concerted effort by the bar’s loyal customers, who formed a group known as the Neir’s 190 group (named after how many years the bar had been open), led to a media campaign to save it that got the attention of Mayor Bill de Blasio.
De Blasio, local officials and Tom Grech, the President and CEO of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, helped negotiate a handshake deal for a more affordable rent increase and a five-year lease, said Joanna Leis, a spokesperson for the watering hole.
Months later, the COVID-19 pandemic led to the bar closing shop from April 1 to June 26 before it reopened at reduced capacity. The bar continued to pay its staff through the closure, Leis said.
Though Gov. Andrew Cuomo has lifted capacity restrictions on bars and restaurants, Gordon says that the tavern will continue to abide by social distancing guidelines, “which doesn’t allow for full capacity.”
Leis said it was the tavern’s supporters, now known as Neir’s 200, who made Gordon aware of the $40,000 grant program.
Neir’s, which describes itself as “the most famous bar you’ve never heard of,” was the setting for several blockbuster films including “Goodfellas” in 1990, and the 2011 movie “Tower Heist” starring Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy.
Though McSorley’s Ale House in the East Village is frequently credited with being the oldest bar still operating in New York, the Queens Historical Society says that Neir’s Tavern is older—opening 25 years prior to it.