For most of its history, Neir’s notoriety was largely limited to the working class of Woodhaven. It is a friendly den of chatter, where neighbors are regulars, and camaraderie is enjoyed over cold pints of beer. On the outside, nestled on a quiet corner of a residential neighborhood, the place looks more like an aging two-floor townhouse than a tavern.
Daniel Goderich tends bar during a gathering of supporters for the tavern’s landmark status. Credit Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times
But longtime patrons say that Neir’s does not get the recognition it deserves. Now they are campaigning for the tavern to be declared a New York City landmark because, they note, some historians believe that it is, in fact, the city’s oldest bar.
Neir’s, its patrons say, deserves the historical status of McSorley’s Old Ale House, which, its manager argues, is the oldest in operation, having served customers since 1854, and Fraunces Tavern, from 1762, which burned down and was rebuilt several times.
In 1829, when Queens was mostly farmland — and livestock, not the J train, rumbled down what became Jamaica Avenue — the manager of a racetrack called the Union Course opened a nearby tavern, the Blue Pump Room. It offered a drink to bettors before and after the races, years before McSorley’s served its first light or dark ale in Manhattan.
Over time, the Blue Pump Room went by different names — The Old Abbey, The Union Course Tavern, and finally, Neir’s Tavern — and had different owners, including the Neir family, who had immigrated to Woodhaven from Germany, the current owners say. The family bought the bar after the racetrack closed in 1898, and added a one-lane bowling alley, a ballroom and a hotel over the tavern. It was renamed “Neir’s Social Hall,” and a sign with that name is on display by a stage in the back room.
So, on a recent Saturday, a rally was held to try to win landmark designation for Neir’s. Standing in front of a cutout of Mae West, Mr. Gordon urged patrons to fill out postcards he had addressed to the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. The commission rejected the bar’s application last year.
When Mr. Gordon applied for the designation last August, he cited Neir’s history and interior decorations, including its artifacts and antiquated ice-coil tap system. The tavern needed protection, he said, even if the commission could not prevent someone from buying it.
But the commission, a spokeswoman said, did not believe the bar rose “to the level of an interior landmark” because it “contains standard commercial finishes,’’ making it difficult, without proper documentation, to prove the tavern’s age.