On the East Side outside of Neary’s on Wednesday night, a who’s who of New York politicians turned out for a street naming ceremony — an event that wouldn’t always be so well attended. But they were there to honor Jimmy Neary, the late owner of the eponymous Irish restaurant. At the corner of East 57th Street and First Avenue, his name now also graces the intersection.
“I haven’t seen this big of a collection of political powerhouses in one place in New York City since, I don’t know, the last New Year’s Eve at Neary’s, maybe,” said Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine.
Mayor Eric Adams was joined by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, plus other local politicians, in making an appearance. Many spoke about their personal relationships with Neary and his family — and joined in singing happy birthday to the restaurateur, who would have turned 92 years old on the occasion. “Although everyone enjoys Neary’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, pints of Guinness and broiled lamb chops with mint jelly, it was honestly Jimmy himself who was the main attraction,” said Upper East Side Council Member Julie Menin, who hosted the event.
“Great Ambition And Entrepreneurial Spirit”
Neary, who was born in Ireland and served in the United States Army after emigrating, first opened the doors to his famed East Side restaurant on St. Patrick’s Day in 1967. He “came to this city with very little money in his pocket, but with great ambition and entrepreneurial spirit,” Menin said.
Customers over the decades have included speakers in attendance — like Bloomberg and broadcast journalist Hoda Kotb — plus the likes of Kathie Lee Gifford, former New York Governor George Pataki, late House Speaker Thomas Phillip “Tip” O’Neill and others.
Neary never once closed the restaurant’s doors to customers — except for on Christmas each year. When a fire tore through the restaurant’s kitchen, Neary’s stayed open even though all he could serve was a buffet of cold cuts, according to his daughter Una Neary, who now runs the family business. “He didn’t do it for the money, he didn’t do it for the fame,” she said. “He just loved being around people.”
That level of dedication to New York City is special, speakers said. “Jimmy stayed here through the tough years; He could’ve closed when it got rough,” Levine said. “He stayed during the good years; They could’ve sold that for so much money during the boom years of the 80’s and since. Jimmy never would have done that.”
A Community Mainstay
With a huge pool of loyal patrons, Adams posed Neary’s as a monumental product of the New York City melting pot. “Owners of restaurants play such a significant role of bringing people together,” he said.
Neary was known for cultivating friendly relationships with everyone who walked through his doors, often making rounds to chat up patrons. Menin shared that her father, after becoming “homebound” following a COVID-19 diagnosis, was coaxed out of his apartment to visit Neary’s for a birthday celebration last year. Bloomberg told a story of having three chairs at the table when he dined with his partner, Diana Taylor, so that Neary could join them.
East Side Council Member Keith Powers said he began his career in politics on the same block as Neary’s. “It was more than just a local watering hole, the place next door,” he said. “It was because of Jimmy Neary, this was a place for the community and for the whole city.”
Looking Up To Jimmy
Now, Una is keeping his legacy alive. “The only thing that would make Jimmy prouder than seeing his name on this block is that Una’s still running the restaurant and carrying on the tradition,” Bloomberg said.
The new street name, politicians hope, will attract passersby to Neary’s and its history. Without a countdown, speakers eagerly pulled a cover off of the street sign above their heads to unveil Jimmy’s name. “Somebody who doesn’t know Jimmy Neary is going to walk down this block one day, maybe it’s a kid, maybe it’s somebody who’s visiting the city,” Powers said. “And they’re going to look up and they’re going to Google — or hopefully, they’ll walk right inside and they’ll get a Guinness — but they’ll get to know who Jimmy Neary was.”
It was a celebration fit for Neary, his daughter said. “But he’s probably wondering, no offense, what took so long.”
“Although everyone enjoys Neary’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, pints of Guinness and broiled lamb chops with mint jelly, it was honestly Jimmy himself who was the main attraction.” Council Member Julie Menin