A 190-year-old bar in Queens, New York, which is known for appearing in the movie “Goodfellas” was nearly forced close in the face of a steep rent increase, according to its owner, until a last-minute deal saved the local institution.
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Mayor Bill de Blasio's office told FOX Business that a deal had been reached Friday night to save the bar. Details about the deal weren't immediately available.
The location where James Conway (Robert DeNiro), Tommy Devito (Joe Pesci) and Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) planned the fictionalized Lufthansa heist, the largest in U.S. history at the time, in Martin Scorcese's "Goodfellas" was set to close after an LLC bought the building and jacked up the rent on the bar.
Outside of its unique history, Neir’s Tavern could be almost any neighborhood bar in the country. It’s a cozy spot where locals meet to celebrate Halloween, sing karaoke or share a meal. And like many other small businesses, it operates on some tight margins. So the sudden 50 percent increase in rent that owner Loy Gordon said he faced was “unsustainable.”
Gordon is originally from Jamaica and works full time as a lieutenant with the New York City Fire Department in addition to running the bar.
But he owns the business, not the building.
He told FOX Business he bought the bar 11 years ago as a way to give back to the community when it was at risk of closing at that time. The bar lacked publicity in a rapidly changing but mostly residential area.
“I’m not a bar- or restaurateur or anything like that,” Gordon said. “At the time, I just felt a calling to help because I’m an immigrant that moved to the United States at 10 years old … A community came together for me and actually helped me get up to speed and everything, and it was Queens. I got everything from Queens — my education, even my wife, my first job.”
The owner of a local horse track first opened the bar under a different name in 1829. It’s gone by a few different names over the years, but it’s remained the neighborhood watering hole.
Along the way, Mae West is said to have performed there when she lived around the corner. In addition to its prominent place in “Goodfellas,” it appeared in the 2011 Ben Stiller movie “Tower Heist” and Anthony Bourdain visited for an episode of “Parts Unknown.” As recently as December, a film crew was shooting in the bar.
Gordon told Bourdain the bar is “the most famous place you’ve never heard of.” He previously made an unsuccessful bid to have the city designate the bar a historic landmark.
Without the bar, neighborhood residents like Richard Fogal said they wouldn't have a place to gather.
“If it closes, it’s just going to isolate the neighborhood more and more,” he said.
The owner, a limited liability corporation, bought the building for $1.35 million in 2018, New York City property records show. Gordon said the previous owner “sold it out from under us without letting us know” and never gave him a chance to buy the building. Locals said the buyer made the purchase sight unseen, possibly unaware of the building's out-of-the-way location.
While the new landlord raised the rent by half, Gordon said he had threatened to raise it to 2.5 times what the bar previously been paying.
The building's owner didn’t return a call from FOX Business before time of publication. A current listing for the property asked $2.38 million.
Neighbors had been trying to save the bar. They raised money and enlisted the help of local politicians, including a city council member, the mayor, a state assemblyman and senator. But Sunday was going to be the “last hurrah unless a miracle happens between now and then,” Gordon said.
That "miracle" appears to have happened. Friday evening, Councilmember Robert F. Holden wrote on Facebook that the bar "has been saved."
"I’m thrilled to have been part of the negotiations with Queens Chamber of Commerce, NYC Mayor's Office and Assemblyman Mike Miller, and I’m thankful the landlord was willing to work with Loy to preserve this historic institution," Holden wrote.
“It’s terrible because the community has been trying their best to save it by ourselves,” Gordon said. “And we need help to save our local businesses that are quickly disappearing. We’re getting squeezed by the Uber Eats and delivery apps. People need to throw that crap in the garbage, all the review sites, at least for a day, and come out and thank the local business owners because we’re dying out here."
The historic bar's struggles are emblematic of the struggles small business people have, he said.
“This isn’t only my problem, it’s a lot of local business’ problem,” he added. “We just happen to be 190 years old.”