June is synonymous with the Belmont Stakes, run annually every June at Long Island’s beautiful Belmont Park. For the Turf History Times, Long Island is also synonymous with its legendary 19th-century track, the Union Course. The Times visited the former site of this course in Queens where Neir’s Tavern, the track’s remaining historic bar, still stands—originally opened in 1829 as The Blue Pump Room by Cadwallader Colden, Union Course proprietor.
The Blue Pump Room bar, or “Blue Pump House,” as stated by some sources, was renamed The Old Abbey in 1835. According to the Neir’s Tavern blog, it became notorious as a watering hole for “black legs, thieves, housebreakers [and] fighting men” who patronized the nearby track. Ownership of The Old Abbey changed hands in 1841 and was later purchased in 1898 by its namesake Louis Neir, whose Neir’s Social Hall provided expanded offerings including a bowling alley, ballroom and hotel.
New owners revisited the bar’s origins by naming it the Union Course Tavern in 1967. In 2009, the name reverted back to Neir’s Tavern when partners, including current owner Loy Gordon, purchased the bar and spent nearly a year restoring it.
Readers may remember the Times’ reports last year about the various challenges faced by Neir’s, but not only did the bar survive the threat of an unaffordable rent increase, it also weathered the uncertainty and closures related to COVID-19.
This year, Neir’s has received more positive news. At the tavern’s location at the corner of 78th Street and 88th Avenue, the street will be co-named “Neir’s Tavern Way,” with a new sign to be unveiled in October for the bar’s 192nd anniversary. Neir’s also received a $40,000 “Backing Historic Small Restaurants” grant from American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation to be used toward exterior upgrades and general repairs.
Owner Loy Gordon and community members have also formed the group Neirs 200, which continues to rally support for this historic treasure and seeks to secure the tavern’s future to its 200th anniversary in 2029, and beyond.
Read more about the Union Course in the Times’ Great Match Race series that details the track’s 1823 match race between American Eclipse and Sir Henry. It was Union proprietor Colden who provided a detailed race account, having closely followed the action himself while riding around the track on horseback!