Durow’s of Glendale, a 96-year-old restaurant, and Dan Foley’s Pub located in the same building, both closed their doors Sunday night and a chapter of Queens’ history ended.
Despite the loud music and drinks at a closing night party, for many regulars the evening had the somber feel of a wake. Some even wore black for the occasion.
“It’s like someone in the family dying,” said Rocky Locasto, who has been coming to the restaurant with his wife, Helen, once a week for 28 years. “We’re really going to miss this place.”
For the Locastos and many other Queens families, Durow’s was the place to mark the rites of passage. The Locastos gathered there for their grandson’s first birthday, their daughter’s 21st, Helen’s 40th and after the passing of Rocky’s brother.
Also at the bar on Sunday were Heinz and Margot Ottmar, who immigrated to Middle Village from Stuttgart, Germany, and were married in the restaurant 45 years ago. Since then, they have eaten at Durow’s once a week.
“There are a lot of memories in this place,” said Heinz, who was a waiter and bartender at Durow’s from 1969 to 1983. It is not just the closing of the restaurant, but the entire neighborhood that is different, he said. “People pass away, their children move out, everything has changed.”
With the closing of Niederstein’s in Middle Village on February 8th, many residents wonder where and when they will get together again. “I’m very upset. This was not just a bar. Everyone from the neighborhood came here to meet and talk to their friends,” said Charlie Cocuzza, who has been going to Durow’s since 1964. “Basically, if we were going anywhere, this was the place to meet first.”
Owner Bridie Keane, who has been the proprietor since August 1989, said closing Durow’s was more of an inevitability than a choice. Building codes, she said, had become stricter in recent years and more difficult for owners of older buildings to comply with. Keeping Durow’s open, according to Keane, would have required more than $350,000 worth of repairs.
After the last snowstorm there was almost a foot of flooding because of leaks in the roof. It was then that Keane realized Durow’s would have to close and she did not return until the final night, to make sure she didn’t change her mind.
Coming back to a place she worked in every day for almost 16 years was not easy. “I feel like I’m inside a funeral home,” Keane said. “But I had to put my head before my heart.”
As she sat at the bar with old friends on Sunday, one customer after another came by to say good-bye. “We’re leaving, we love you,” said one woman as first she, then her husband hugged Keane. Around them, others took pictures of their friends.
It isn’t just the costs of repairs that have made the business prohibitively expensive, according to Keane. Property taxes have gone up to nearly $55,000 per year, insurance costs are skyrocketing, and city fines for everything from loud music to cigarette butts on the sidewalk are rising as well.
Although the building has not yet been sold, it seems likely that when it is it will be demolished and replaced by homes. Any new structure would not have the privilege of the same cabaret license. Out of respect for nearby residents, Keane said she doesn’t want to sell to anyone who would fix up the old building and bring a night club into the space.
In addition to Durow’s, Keane also owned Bridie’s on Woodhaven Boulevard in Middle Village, which she recently sold. That long-time establishment will be kept open by the new owners under the name Killarney’s Cottage.
No matter how many reasons there are for closing Durow’s, none convinced a number of regulars who were at the bar on Sunday. “This is really hard to take,” said Gary, who declined to give his last name. “To level it you’re killing the neighborhood.”
There has been a bar or restaurant at 81-01 Myrtle Avenue in Glendale almost continuously since 1909, when Frederick Werner leased the property from a farmer and opened a saloon catering to golfers and factory workers. A portion of the original farmhouse still remains as part of the building today. The farmer, Louis Sahner, purchased the land for $600. It is likely to be worth more than a million today.
In 1912, the property was leased by William Palmer, who named the saloon the 19th Hole and built lockers inside that he rented to golfers.
The building switched hands several more times in later years. There were rumors that during prohibition a speakeasy operated on the premises. In 1931 it became a candy and stationery store.
Henry “Happy” Miller rented the premises during the Depression in 1933, when the restaurant became known as Happy’s. It is said that when Happy took over he hired unemployed artists to decorate the walls. Some say the artists paid their tabs in exchange for the three-dimensional pieces that still line the walls.
It is the artwork, above all else, that has preserved the sense of stepping back in time. There are horses galloping on a dark green racetrack above the bar, a nearly life-size hunter with dogs on the opposite wall, men gathered in a wooded area nearby, a wading fisherman and a dancing couple holding hands. Keane said she will most likely donate the art to the Ridgewood Historical Society.
“Happy” continued to operate a night- club with chorus girls and floor shows until 1942. The establishment was then leased by and named for Victor Koenig. Two years later the Durow family, from Hamburg, Germany, took over. Although there have been at least three more owners since then, the name Durow’s has remained since 1944.
As music played late into Sunday night in one of the bar areas, the crowd danced to YMCA and even formed a conga line. In the other bar area the regulars remained more subdued.
“Where are we going to meet?” Carole Barrowman asked her friend, Barbara Vancott. The two had reconnected at Durow’s nearly 30 years after graduating from elementary school. “I don’t know,” Vancott answered. “There is no other place that feels like home.”