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George O’Neill can see it now: a packed dining room, a raucous bar and a Maspeth neighborhood thrilled to have its favorite place back.
Days after a fire tore through his eponymous eatery, O’Neill’s was already having visions of his rebuilt restaurant. And now more than two years after the blaze, the 53rd Street fixture is on target for a June 14 grand reopening.
“I’ve been dreaming of seeing all of my old friends and customers again,” he said. “It’s been far too long and I need to hear that noise of a busy restaurant.”
The Maspeth eatery, at 64-21 53rd St., has been in the family since 1928, when O’Neill’s father opened what was then called the Plateau Tavern. As years passed, O’Neill began buying up the property surrounding the watering hole: a grocery store, a barbershop, a liquor store, a cleaners, a bakery, a delicatessen.
Throughout the years, O’Neill’s hosted nearly every imaginable character at the bar, in the dining room and in the old catering space. From the champion New York Mets of the 1980s to neighborhood regulars, the restaurant was a beloved meeting place for decades.
But the blaze in May 2011 robbed the neighborhood of that meeting place, just as it robbed O’Neill and his employees of a livelihood.
“I have people here that I need to get back to work,” he said, referring to O’Neill’s’ approximately 75 employees. “I’m not the only one anxious to get going and get customers in this building.”
O’Neill plans to pack in even more new friends with an expanded catering room in the back of the restaurant. He said the space will hold around 300 to 350 patrons and will be available for every party imaginable.
And when customers return, O’Neill said they will find the same top quality food they had become accustomed to before the fire. O’Neill is the most proud of his steaks, which he orders from the same suppliers as some of the city’s top steak houses.
“I don’t think you can get a better steak in Queens,” O’Neill said, without a hint of pretense. “You have got to have quality food in this industry. If you don’t use top quality food, get out of the restaurant business.”
O’Neill operates the restaurant with his son-in-law, Danny Pyle, a former firefighter with the FDNY. And when the restaurant opens on Flag Day, O’Neill expects another son-in-law to be there: former New York Ranger and hockey legend Brian Leetch.
The restaurant’s reopening is on pace to be a huge event in Maspeth. O’Neill said he is working on closing 53rd Street and holding a special ceremony outside. He wants the restaurant’s Maspeth return to be a grand neighborhood event, more than two years in the making.
“If everyone who says they’re going to be here shows up, the line will be around the corner,” he said. “It won’t be the same. It will be better.”
Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4546.
©2013 Community Newspaper Group
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