Haven’t met anyone named Loycent? Loycent Gordon hasn’t either, so as a teen, he asked his mom for the meaning behind his first name. Her answer was disappointing, but he didn't let it be defining. His biological father had given him the name but subsequently left the picture before Loycent was born.
“I kept the name anyway as a reminder that you can re-define your story,” Loycent says. “In the absence of meaning, you have to create your own. When people hear the name Loycent, I want them to think of love and community.”
Fitting since Loycent has nothing but love for his local Queens, New York community. Without that, Loycent’s story quite possibly would have taken a turn for the worse decades ago.
Born in Jamaica, Loycent came to Jamaica, Queens, at the age of 10. His first day of school there as a 4th grader was rough—his teachers realized he couldn’t read or write. The faculty devised a special plan for Loycent, and thanks to their commitment to providing him with extra help before and after school, he not only learned to read, he eventually graduated at the top of his class. That’s when he learned his favorite life lesson: there’s incredible power in a community.
“No matter what you want in life, the way to start building a community is to help someone, similar to how those teachers helped me,” Loycent says. “Community conquers all. If we truly get together and work together, we can overcome anything.”
That sense of togetherness with the community is why, after the attacks on September 11, 2001, Loycent signed up to be a New York City firefighter. He’d seen the devastation and wanted to help be a part of the New York City Fire Department’s recovery. That sense of community is also what inspired him eight years later when he bought Neir's Tavern after hearing that the local bar was on the verge of shutting its doors.
Loycent likes to call Neir’s “the most famous bar you’ve never heard of.” The tavern opened in 1829 as The Blue Pump Room in the Woodhaven neighborhood of Queens, which Loycent says makes it the oldest New York City bar to continuously operate in the same location. Scenes from “Goodfellas” and “Tower Heist” with Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy were filmed there. That history and its status as a cozy, warm gathering place for Queens residents were worth preserving for Loycent.
But as many in the hospitality industry can attest to, it’s a grueling business. Loycent had those days where he questioned everything—rent was a challenge, profits were low, and his desire to continue was even lower.
One of those particular days, a man walked in and promptly changed Loycent’s entire outlook.
“A guy walked in and asked me if I was the owner—I thought he was going to punch me,” Loycent laughs about now. Reluctantly, Loycent said yes. The man immediately thanked Loycent, which confused him.
“Thank you for saving the bar. I was told you saved the bar,” the man told Loycent.
The man continued, telling Loycent he was back in town from Florida. The last time he had been in town was for his father’s funeral. The two of them didn’t get along and had lost contact, but during the funeral services, he'd been told by others that his dad had been a regular at Neir's.
“Coming here and hearing stories from other customers and the bartenders about my dad is the only way I can remember him, and I’m so glad this place still exists so I can do that,” the man told Loycent.
That served as a reminder of what compelled Loycent to buy Neir’s in the first place—passion for community, not profit. “This is bigger than burgers and beer,” Loycent says.
It’s why he now gathers regulars for charity fundraisers and holiday parties, nurturing the sense of community that has kept Neir's in business for nearly two centuries.
“I probably did everything wrong and should have failed. I didn’t even understand how tap systems worked,” Loycent quips. “I wasn’t an expert in hospitality, but I was able to connect with the community, and eventually, the story of Neir’s resonated with more and more people.”
Along the way, Loycent’s name has become synonymous with a sense of community in the community that helped raise him.