At the intersection of 53rd Drive and 65th Place in Maspeth, a local legend lives on in the form of “George O’Neill Way.”.
Dozens gathered outside O’Neill’s Bar and Restaurant, where former owner George O’Neill used to sit and observe the neighborhood, to honor the heart and soul of the restaurant’s longtime owner. He passed away on July 18, 2018
The nearly 88-year-old establishment has served the Maspeth community as host for countless fundraisers and charitable events, as well as being a gathering spot for numerous celebrations.
“This was the center of the universe, or Maspeth at least,” said Councilman Robert Holden. “Any place that is 88 years old is a warm place to be. George was always out in front talking to people and helping out anybody that needed help.”
Originally founded as Plateau Tavern on December 5, 1933, the day prohibition ended, the establishment was renamed during the 1970’s when George O’Neill took over ownership from his father, George O’Neill, Sr.
The restaurant was destroyed by a fire in 2011, but rebuilt. Today, it is managed by O’Neill’s daughter, Deirdre.
“He crossed that street everyday,” said Deirdre O’Neill. “He never looked both ways, but he still got across somehow. He made this a legacy. I’m trying, as the manager, to honor his legacy as much as I can.”
Danny Pyle, current co-owner of the restaurant and O’Neill’s son-in-law, said the moment of the unveiling gave him chills.
“It’s a tough act to follow,” Pyle said. “But being with and working with George since 1993, you pick up his traits, like being friendly to people.”
Pyle, a retired firefighter, said he always admired the way O’Neill treated people in the Maspeth community. From hosting annual holiday parties for the NYPD Honor Legion, to raising money for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, Pyle remembers his father-in-law as a “charitable, personable and genuine nice guy.”
“He grew up in Maspeth and basically never wanted to leave Maspeth,” he said. “He helped everybody. He loved being a part of Maspeth.”
Pyle reminisced on the highs and lows of working at the restaurant for the past 25 years, while praising the community for always returning to the Maspeth mainstay.
“When we burned down in 2011, we were closed for two years,” said Pyle. “When we re-opened, the whole community came back. Even during the pandemic, we got shut down but when they let people back in, everybody came back in.”
Just a few months after the reopening of the restaurant in 2013, the establishment celebrated its 80th anniversary.
O’Neill’s Restaurant also served as the celebration destination for the 1986 New York Mets following their World Series clinching win in Game 7 against the Boston Red Sox.
Former Mets pitcher Jesse Orosco was on the mound at Shea Stadium when the team clinched their last World Series championship. O’Neill would later become the godfather to Orosco’s son, said Pyle, adding that the pair became close friends.
Since O’Neill’s death, the restaurant has been aiming to keep the same family atmosphere it has had for the past eight decades. From the kitchen up, O’Neill’s daughter says, every part of the establishment hopes to embody the spirit of the late George O’Neill.
“Making good food and having great drinks is one thing, but you also have to have great people,” she said. “That to me is how you keep the legacy going. Communities change, neighborhoods change, but we’re not changing. If anything, we want to be bigger and better.”