The Budweiser Bill Burlingame had at Neir’s Tavern with his three daughters last Saturday was his first at the Woodhaven watering hole in almost 60 years.
The 92-year-old World War II veteran had not been there since moving to Long Island decades ago and thought the bar had closed some time after.
“I assumed this was gone completely,” Burlingame said.
He learned the 186-year-old drinking establishment was alive and well while watching a public access television show last August.
For him, Neir’s was more than his favorite bar — it was the place he and his wife Peggy, who has since died, had their wedding reception.
Burlingame wrote to Loycent Gordon, Neir’s owner, and detailed his memories of the bar and expressing interest in one day returning.
“It was very touching,” Gordon said of the letter, which is hanging in the bar for all to see. “These are things that just don’t happen anymore in today’s society.”
Burlingame, a native of Ozone Park, started frequenting Neir’s was he was 18, then the legal drinking age.
During their courtship, he and his wife, who lived in Richmond Hill, would knock down a few pins at the bowling alley that once stood in the bar.
While Burlingame stuck to beer, usually a Piel’s, his wife would order a more unique drink — a Tom Collins without the gin.
“The bartender wouldn’t buy the premade mix, he’d just make it,” Burlingame said of the Tom Collinses served back then. “So he’d serve the drink with the shot of gin on the side and my wife would just drink the mix.”
It wasn’t until after the end of WWII, during which Burlingame served in the Army Air Corps, that the two were engaged.
While looking for a place to hold their reception, Burlingame was approached by Mrs. Neir, whose husband owned the bar back then, who suggested having it upstairs.
“My sister-in-law played the piano and one of the local delicatessens provided sandwiches,” he said of the party. “I don’t even know if [Neir’s] charged anything. Maybe my father paid for it, but I didn’t pay anything.”
The then-newlyweds would visit Neir’s a couple of times before they moved to Long Island — but their memory of it never went away.
They’d often reminisce about it while looking through their wedding album, which Burlingame brought with him to the bar last Saturday.
For Gordon, who bought the bar about six years ago and saved it from closing it down, bringing Burlingame back to Neir’s was a validating moment.
“It just really makes me feel glad that I jumped into this and saved it before it closed,” he said. “History is important and we should preserve it. Just for things like this.”