This column was supposed to be an obituary
by Ed Wendell
Jan 15, 2020 | 4758 views | 0 0 comments | 89 89 recommendations | email to a friend | print
There were few smiles in a group photo we thought would be our last at Neir's Tavern.
There were few smiles in a group photo we thought would be our last at Neir's Tavern.
What if you went to a funeral but the corpse didn’t show up? That’s what it was like at 190-year-old Neir’s Tavern this weekend, which rose triumphantly from its death bed to become the toast of the town.

Let’s take a step back a few days to set the scene. I got a call from Neir’s owner Loy Gordon last Tuesday, and he broke the news to me that he would have to close the doors on the historic bar that he’d championed over the past decade.

As a history buff this was shocking and sad. As a resident of Woodhaven, this was a terrible blow. But there’s a more personal side to this.

Loy is a dear friend. He and his wife Aïsha and son Evan are family. They are much beloved by residents in our community.

As much as this news hurt Woodhaven, it was devastating watching people you love losing everything they had worked so hard for.

Simply put, it was like a death in the family. I don’t want to trivialize the death of a loved one; I’ve lost loved ones, I know what that feels like.

But that’s exactly what this felt like. The next 72 hours were a blur, it was hard to concentrate.

Loy told me not to say anything which, being a big mouth, wasn’t easy. The day after he told me, a friend messaged me and asked if I wanted to meet at Neir’s “next week.” I never answered him.

I couldn’t answer.

There wasn’t going to be a “next week.” Not ever again. The doors would close Sunday and that would be that. It would be gutted and turned into a grocery store. Or a liquor store. Or maybe a laundromat.

I got depressed thinking about future walking tours, how I’d point to that building and tell people that’s where Neir’s used to be.

We gathered at Neir’s the next evening to make it official, and it was just heartbreaking. It was eerily quiet as Loy struggled to speak, his emotions getting the better of him as he explained how bleak the situation was.

There were tears; there was a lot of hugging. We looked around the place, the belief sinking in that it was truly over.

We went through the various stages of grief in one sitting: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

We posed for a group photo, but our hearts weren’t in it. It’s hard to smile when your guts are churning.

We knew how bad this was going to be for the morale of the community. Even if you’re not a customer, even if you’re not a drinker, it was always a source of pride that we had something so old and important right here in Woodhaven.

It wasn’t just that it was old, older than Woodhaven itself. It had the whole Mae West and “Goodfellas” connection, it had the horse-racing history. It was fun having a place like that in our community and the thought of it being shuttered, gutted and replaced was just plain awful.

And then the news started to leak out. First it was just a few rumors. And then it was official and people were, as expected, shocked and stunned and angry and sad.

A lot of people had ideas on how to save it and all ideas were on the table, at this point. My wife and I even doubled our weekly lottery budget.

But unfortunately, time wasn’t just running out, it was running out fast. The problem that couldn’t be solved over the past few years now needed to be solved in just three days.

But as bleak as things were, it wasn’t Sunday yet and the doors weren’t locked.

I didn’t think I could be there all weekend, it would be too sad.

But we did plan to gather Saturday night for karaoke and Sunday for “last call,” and in between hope and pray that the phone would ring with news that a miracle had just arrived.

And that’s exactly what happened. By now you know that this story has a happy ending, that Neir’s was saved and will be around a bit longer. How long it will be around is still to be determined.

In next week’s column, we’ll talk about that miracle and the people involved in pulling it off. This was supposed to be an obituary. Thanks to all your good thoughts and prayers, it wasn't.
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