Before the pandemic, things were looking dire for the historic watering hole Neir’s Tavern in Woodhaven, Queens. It nearly closed due to a threatened rent increase — the bar was paying around $2,000 a month, which was going to go to $5,400, according to owner Loycent Gordon — until Mayor Bill de Blasio stepped in and helped strike a deal with the new landlord to keep the doors open. But when the city went into lockdown in March, the bar seemed like a goner.
“When this happened after we got Neir’s a new lease on life, it felt a punch in the gut just as we were catching our breath,” Gordon, who is also a lieutenant in the FDNY, told The Post.
But once again, the Lazarus of saloons is back slinging burgers and beers — now with outdoor seating and a range of creative ideas to engage regulars, who Gordon said really saved the place.
“People came out for the first weekend despite us not having the most sophisticated set-up. We are focusing on our strengths and have whittled down our menu to fries, sweet potato fries, burger and wings,” said Gordon, 40, who bought the bar in 2009 when it was under threat of being turned into a convenience store.
Founded in 1829, Neir’s houses a 150-year-old mahogany bar and has provided a scenic backdrop for movies including “Goodfellas and “Tower Heist,” and was featured in an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown.” It also, Gordon points out, survived the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918.
At the start of lockdown, Gordon attempted to do takeout for two weeks but decided it wasn’t worth the potential risk to employees and customers. Instead, he summoned the bar’s ardent supporters — called the Neir’s 200 group, they are devoted to ensuring their favorite spot sees its 200th birthday in 2029 — and took the barroom online.
“We are built on being a community gathering place and that has been the key to our success,” Gordon said. “We started doing weekly bar talks — basically Zoom happy hours. People made their backgrounds a photo of Neir’s. We had to keep the spirit alive.”
Two regulars set up a GoFundMe account for employees. There are plans to project movies — including “Goodfellas” — on the exterior of the bar on Friday nights. Gordon launched a $49 “Neir’s recovery box,” which contains a pin to commemorate the 190th anniversary, a branded face mask and a free meal. There is also an option to become a Neir’s 2020 Ambassador: for $190, it includes a tab discount for the rest of 2020, as well as a free meal to be donated and their name added to the tavern’s wall.
“We aren’t billionaires who can put our names on a bridge or a library, but … we’re fighting for our own personal history,” said Gordon, a married father of one who immigrated to Queens from Jamaica and feels adopted by the borough.
Gordon recalled how, in 2013, he was quietly pondering the idea of throwing in the towel because of the daily struggle of running a business. But he walked into Neir’s one day and a man at the bar said he wanted to speak to him.
“He was looking at me like I owed him money and asked for the owner,” said Gordon, who expected the worst. Instead, the man thanked him. “He said, ‘My father came to this bar and it was his favorite place’.”
The man was up from Florida for the funeral of his father, with whom he had a tumultuous relationship. But sitting in his old man’s seat, he felt like they were having a beer together.
“He said, ‘I want to thank you for keeping this place open,’” Gordon said. “That changed me. I said, ‘Let me give this one more try.’”
Gordon knows the fight still isn’t over — he now owes back rent on his $3,100-a-month bill — but he’s determined to once again, do his best for the bar.
“We have an obligation. Neir’s Tavern is bigger than burgers and beer. We are fighting to hold on to something that means so much to the community,” he said. “There is so much turmoil, but at the end of the day, Neir’s is still here.”