BY LUIS GRONDA
Neir’s Tavern is often called “the most famous bar you’ve never heard of.”
It may not have national recognition, but it is definitely a landmark in Woodhaven.
Having opened in 1829, Neir’s is one of the last remaining relics in the Borough, staying true to its roots as a watering hole, but adding a few amenities to spruce up the establishment.
Loy Gordon, who has owned the bar since 2010, said he could feel the history of Neir’s when he walked in and toured the area when he was considering buying it.
He said he never thought to be in the business of running a bar. Gordon was a musician trying to make it in that industry, but when he heard the place was up for sale, he felt he had to step up to the plate.
Gordon said he could not let an old relic like Neir’s go out of business and be converted to something like apartments.
He and his partners, who combined to purchase the property four years ago, hit the ground running as far as managing the bar, because of their lack of experience.
“We had no idea about this business and we had to learn real quick,” Gordon said.
Although they kept most of Neir’s’ traditional look, some new additions included a kitchen, which allowed them to serve a full bar menu for the first time, including chicken marsala, steak and hamburgers, and a small stage where bands can perform.
Gordon said he made these additions in order to boost business for the bar, as well as give more incentive for people to come to Neir’s, other than to hang out at the bar and drink alcohol.
“It gives people more options. They can still stay local and have a good time,” he said. “We really wanted it to be a Woodhaven meeting place.”
Neir’s has been used to film movie scenes in the past.
Scenes of the bar were filmed for “Goodfellas,” one of the most highly-acclaimed mobster movies in film history. All of the film’s stars, including Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta, were seen going in and out of Neir’s and many of its regulars would point out the bar whenever it was shown, according to Neir’s’ website.
A more recent film, “Tower Heist,” was shot in Neir’s a year after Gordon took over in 2011.
Ben Stiller and Tea Leoni were at the bar as they closed down the watering hole for four days to film scenes. Gordon said they loved the place for the antique feel it had to it. According to Gordon, the movie’s director, Brett Ratner, loved the bar so much that he put the Neir’s name in the movie, instead of creating a fake name for the bar, a common practice in movies.
“He told me ‘I’m going to make sure you see Neir’s in the movie,’” Gordon said. “It was a true compliment.”
Although he has not been in the neighborhood for long time, Gordon said Woodhaven has the potential to become a much more prominent neighborhood because of the strong civic leadership that it has, led by the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association. He added that crime has gone down in the area due to residents becoming a much tighter group. These features could draw more people to Woodhaven.
Over the course of its existence, there are some old artifacts that still remain at Neir’s.
For example, there is a set of encyclopedias in a cabinet at the bar. Gordon said he first had no idea why the books would be at a bar. Later, a long-time patron told him his parents, who also used to frequent Neir’s years ago, donated the books as a way for people to settle arguments they had back then. There were no smartphones back then, so they turned to an encyclopedia to resolve a discussion.
One mystery that Gordon is still trying to figure out is a 1920s U.S. Open second place trophy. He said he has no idea how the trophy got to Neir’s. The tennis tournament used to be held in Forest Hills before moving to Flushing.
Gordon said he has asked many people who have walked through Neir’s but no one knows about the trophy.
“I still don’t know, but one day I’ll find out for sure,” he said. “I’m waiting for the story to surface.”
Reach Luis Gronda at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 127, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @luisgronda.