Cheers may have been the place where everybody knew your name, but that’s nothing compared to O’Neill’s, the iconic Maspeth bar and restaurant that held its grand reopening last Friday following a two-year hiatus, the result of a horrific fire in 2011 — a place many of its loyal followers describe as home.
“I’m really excited. It’s almost as if a childhood home burned down and was rebuilt. My whole family is on their way,” said Mary O’Donnell, who lives nearby and was joined by some friends to celebrate her 33rd birthday.
“I’ve been coming here my whole life,” O’Donnell said. When she heard about the fire, in which practically everything was destroyed, “I came here crying the next day,” she recalled.
She had already been back several times since the eatery quietly reopened its doors the week before Labor Day. But the official big day packed the place beyond capacity, as revelers overflowed onto the sidewalk out front.
“It’s exciting. We’re getting great feedback,” said Tara O’Neill-Pyle, daughter of co-owner George O’Neill and wife of his business partner, Dan Pyle.
“We tried to keep the same atmosphere, the same menu,” she said. “Now we can accommodate more parties. The catering rooms are booking up. The first wedding is booked for November. It’s amazing.”
Among the changes is a new state-of-the-art sound system which means, according to O’Neill-Pyle, “Every room has the capacity to play videos or whatever you need to play.”
Other new touches include a mahogany bar that has replaced the old oak bar, and charging stations that are now available for laptops and phones. Some 60 television screens have been installed.
O’Neill’s staff consists of approximately 40 workers, both full- and part-time, and most of the old-timers are back. One five-year veteran waitress, Caroline, greeted a customer with a rousing “Hello, love!” and said it “feels great to see all the old faces.”
The bar, located at 64-21 53 Dr. in Maspeth, was opened as Plateau Tavern in 1928 by George O’Neill’s father. Called O’Neill’s since 1933, it has since expanded several times, and has played host to, among other visitors, practically the entire Mets team after they won the 1986 World Series.
Lori Bittner, a teacher from Middle Village who was on hand to celebrate the restaurant’s return along with a group of colleagues, has been coming to O’Neill’s for 20 years.
“It’s a great place to hang out with friends, very casual,” a member of her party, Jenna Monaco of Howard Beach, said.
Some celebrants share an even longer history with the tavern. Jack Boyle of Middle Village, who said he has known George O’Neill his whole life, grew up around the corner. At Friday’s reopening, joined by his wife, Dawn, he said, “The first place I ever saw a TV was right here. It was a small neighborhood bar.”
Gary Ackerman of Middle Village, not the former congressman, recalled, “I was in Vegas the night it burned down. I’m so happy this place is back up from the grave. I love this place. Coming back is sentimental.”
The grand reopening date had been pushed back several times, most recently from June 14, when it was scheduled to coincide with Flag Day. It is that date that is engraved on a memento finally presented last Friday: a triangular case containing the flag that flew over the bar and was recovered by members of FDNY Rescue 4, who were on hand to present it to the owners.
Pyle, who declined to say how much the re-construction cost, said, “We’re just happy to be back in the neighborhood doing business.”