City’s oldest bar holds a grand reopening in Woodhaven

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The owners of what they contend is the city’s oldest bar held the grand reopening of Neir’s in Woodhaven last week, which featured a Mae West impersonator and longtime patrons reminiscing about the watering hole that opened in 1829.

The real West used to perform at a theater next to the bar and entertainer W.C. Fields would go there for a drink, the owners said.

It was founded in 1829 as The Old Blue Pump House by Cadwaller R. Coldon, who was also the manager of the Union Course horse racing track across the street and was a cousin of Mayor Cadwaller D. Coldon.

In 1835, the bar’s name was changed to the Old Abbey and again in 1898 to Neir’s Social Hall after it was bought by Louis Neir.

During Prohibition, the bar was a speakeasy and rooms above it were converted into a bordello.

Martin Scorsese also filmed part of his film “Goodfellas” at the bar.

The Neir family sold the bar at 78th Street and 88th Avenue in 1967 and it was then renamed the Union Course Tavern. The establishment closed in 2009.

But David Eng, who bought the building that included Neir’s and converted an adjoining theater into a recording studio, decided to keep a piece of Woodhaven history and bring the bar back.

Although the grand re-opening was held last Thursday, Neir’s officially reopened in the beginning of the year.

“My feeling was it was such a beautiful place,” said one of the bar’s part owners, Alex Ewen, 52. “Even though it was a dump, it was beautiful. We couldn’t let it become a bodega.”

Ewen said the bar’s original gas fixtures are intact and the mahogany bar is the same one used 150 years ago.

“A lot of the stuff is original,” he said.

Carol Miller, 49, who said she has come to Neir’s for the last 25 years, said she was excited the bar was making a comeback.

“I love the renovations,” she said. “I love the fact they didn’t change what they didn’t have to. The new owners are fabulous. They listen to what you have to say.”

Cesar Araujo, a former Woodhaven resident who was visiting from Portugal, said unlike some other bars in the neighborhood, Neir’s does not blast loud music and does not have unfriendly bartenders.

“It’s what a neighborhood bar really ought to be,” he said. “I’m just glad that there’s something like this back in the neighborhood again.”

Bayside resident and musician Aeric Lee, 24, said he started coming to Neir’s earlier this year.

“They have the coldest beer in Queens, that’s why I come here,” Lee said. “You walk in here and you feel the history. It’s great for the community.”

The owners, who also own the recording studio adjacent to the bar, also hold open jams Wednesdays at Neir’s.

Woodhaven resident Maureen Biglin, 69, said she grew up in a high chair at the back of the bar and remembered the days when women were not allowed to sit at the bar and instead had to sit near the back.

“They have the best beer in town,” she said.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4573.

Updated 5:58 pm, October 10, 2011
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