What Most People Know About Neir’s
Among the oldest and most historic bars in the country, Neir’s Tavern is located in the Woodhaven area of Queens in New York City, near the Brooklyn border. Over 190 years old, it is one of the few old drinking establishments that have been in almost continuous operation (Prohibition notwithstanding) and in the same location, for its entire history. Neir’s is known as the tavern where as a child, Mae West used to dance (and possibly first performed) in the ballroom, which featured a wooden balcony with small hotel rooms around the upper walls, similar to the Wild West dancehalls of the movies and television.
It has also gained fame as the bar in which the classic Martin Scorsese film, Goodfellas, starring Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco, was filmed. Tower Heist, a movie starring Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Tea Leoni & Alan Alda was filmed here in the fall of 2013.
Neir’s Humble Beginnings
Neir’s was founded in October 1829 as “The Blue Pump Room”, by Cadwallader R. Colden, the manager of the famed Union Course Race Track that was then across the street. Colden was the “black sheep” of a distinguished family. His great-grandfather, Cadwallader Colden, was the former lieutenant governor and acting governor of New York and a historian, scientist and philosopher. His cousin, Cadwallader D. Colden, was the mayor of New York City and a Congressman. In 1835, The Blue Pump Room was renamed “The Old Abbey”. As the fortunes of the Union Course Race Track declined, The Old Abbey gained a reputation as a “notorious rumseller” that catered to the crowds of “black legs, thieves, housebreakers [and] fighting men” that were going to the races.
The Progression Into The 20th Century
In 1851, The Old Abbey was purchased by Nathan F. Graves, a distinguished politician and banker, who cleaned it up and kept it for almost 40 years. When the race track closed down, the tavern was bought in 1898 by Louis Neir. He expanded it by adding a ballroom, the first bowling alley in Queens county, and rooms upstairs for a hotel, calling it “Neir’s Social Hall”.
Under Louis, Neir’s Hall was very successful, and was at its height of popularity between 1900-1910. Neir’s was the first to have silent flickers in Queens County, and jockeys from the old Union Course Race Track made Neir’s their headquarters, with Louis owning several good trotters. Louis Neir’s nephew Joseph Neir, worked as a cleaning boy, cleaning the racing stables that were across the street and originally part of the Union Course Race Track.
After Louis’ death in 1929, Julia became owner, and Joseph the manager of the business. In 1945, Julia turned over the title and ownership to Joseph, who continued to work at the bar until his own death in 1963. Lulu Neir (until 1967), and Carol (Neir) Foley ran the tavern until an arson fire, and declining revenue led to the Neir family selling the property in 1980.
Under new ownership, the tavern was renamed “The Union Course Tavern”, with the ballroom being converted into a recording studio. In 2009 the tavern was sold again, and closed for eight months for restoration, including refinishing the 150-year old mahogany bar and fixtures, and has re-opened once again, as Neir’s Tavern.