How Neir’s was saved: Behind the scenes

Saving Historic Neir’s Tavern from shutting down for good after 190 years came down to a single, precious piece of paper.

Because of a number of deficiencies, the Woodhaven building where the historic tavern has been since 1829 has no certificate of occupancy from the City of New York. 

People live and work — and drink  — in homes and  businesses without a permanent certificate of occupancy all the time. But for Neir’s, the lack of a certificate created a special problem.

As explained by several people who — during a two-hour, closed-door session at the Queen Chamber of Commerce in East Elmhurst — negotiated to save the corner tavern, the key to the deal turned out to be obtaining that certificate.

Henry Shi from College Point and his brother bought the building — which also includes two apartments, a karate school and a commercial recording studio —  in December 2018 without a C of O, city records show. The price was $1.3 million. 

Such transactions are not infrequent, real estate people say. Usually, the price is discounted to compensate the new owners for repairs that will have to be made to bring the building up to standards.

The previous owner, listed as Richard Straus, had bought the building for $60,000 in 1985. According to people who knew Straus, he wanted to retire to Florida and was eager to sell.

Without a C of O, Shi could not get a traditional loan from a bank to finance the purchase. His loans, he told the officials at the meeting, were from private lenders and the interest was far above commercial rates.

At the meeting were Queens Chamber of Commerce President Tom Grech, a former energy company executive and business professor who offered his office at the Bulova Corporate Center as a meeting spot; Loycent Gordon, the young FDNYT lieutenant who bought and renovated Neir’s 11 years ago; Mayor de Blasio’s Small Business Services commissioner, Gregg Bishop, one of the few people in city government who can claim to be taller than the 6-foot-5-inch mayor; City Councilman Bob Holden (D-Middle Village) and Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven), whose districts include Neir’s; and Rob MacKay, the Queens Tourism Council’s director of public relations.

At the last minute, Grech also recruited a translator to help communications with the Shi brothers, whose English is limited. 

Gordon last year told the Chronicle that the transaction between the former owner and the Shi brothers had come as surprise to him and that he’d have tried to buy the building himself if he’d had the opportunity.

When he approached the Ridgewood management company that represented the brothers, Gordon said, he discovered the new owners had never heard of Neir’s and had no idea of its history.

At one point during during the talks, Grech told the brothers that something that was 190 years old may not qualify as old or venerable in their culture. “But in ours, 190 years is a long time,” he said.

The numbers were plain. 

Neir’s rent had been $2,000 a month until the property was sold. 

The rent jumped to $3,100 last January and was due to jump again this month to $5,000 plus $400 a month for property taxes. 

Faced with the increases, Gordon said last Thursday, he had no choice but to shut down on Sunday, Jan. 12.

For their part, the brothers said they could not keep up their loan payments without the increase.

In the end, the deal was cobbled together from different sources.

The city pledged to get a certificate of occupancy that would enable the landlords to find a standard bank mortgage.

It also pledged a $90,000 grant to begin the work of upgrading the building to get it into compliance, according to the Mayor's Office.

When it was all done, the negotiators shook hands and posed for pictures that would be posted on Twitter. Bishop called the mayor with the good news. 

De Blasio — who had his standing date night with wife Chirlane McCray on Friday — rearranged plans to show up at Neir’s at 8 o’clock and announce the deal to save Neir’s from behind its antique bar. Uncharacteristically, he arrived 10 minutes early.

Grech invited the Shi brothers to come to Neir’s that night and join the celebration.

They declined, he said.


This article originally said that a tenant in the building was being evicted as part of the deal to save Neir's, but any eviction is unrelated to the agreement. We regret the error.


This article was updated to include the higher value of a city grant offered to upgrade the building, according to the Mayor's Office.