The longtime owner of O’Neill’s Restaurant at 65th Place and 53rd Drive, O’Neill passed away early Thursday morning. He was hospitalized and in hospice care when he returned home from Florida earlier this month.
Hundreds of family, friends and community members impacted by the affable neighborhood leader packed the church for the funeral mass. Tears were flowing when two of O’Neill’s children, Tracy Murphy and George O’Neill, gave their words of remembrance.
After the funeral, many of his friends and restaurant patrons spoke highly of O’Neill.
“He’s always been there for me in my life, he’s more than a special friend to me, he’s family,” said George Mandato from Maspeth. “And I feel the O’Neill family always treated me and my family like we were family.
“I’ll never forget him,” added Mandato, who has known O’Neill since they were teenagers. “He’ll always have that spot in my heart.
O’Neill’s, known then as the Plateau Tavern, first opened in 1933. In addition to being apopular spot with numerous athletes from the Rangers, Mets and Jets, as well as local leagues, O’Neill’s was known for its philanthropic activities.
The restaurant regularly hosted fundraisers for law enforcement and first responders, St. Jude Children’s Hospital and other charities.
Every Christmas, O’Neill’s hosted a holiday party for the NYPD Honor Legion, which is dedicated to children and family members who have lost loved ones in the line of duty.
Patty Mascia, who worked for O’Neill for 27 years, said the restaurant owner was “nothing but a gentleman,” in addition to being a community activist.
“My grandchildren, when they would visit, he would run around the corner and buy Barbie dolls and bring them over to the kids,” she said. “He was just a wonderful man.”
Johnny McBride, a Sunnyside resident who has known O’Neill for 25 years, said whenever the community would have any benefit or charity events, O’Neill was the first man there with a check in hand.
“The church is packed,” McBride said, “and that’s what it tells you about him.”
“George’s [death] is a great loss to the neighborhood,” added Kenny Glennon, who has been a regular patron for 25 years. “He was always there when you needed him.”
Glennon said O’Neill was a great greeter, and customers always walked into the bar and restaurant with a smile on their faces.
“He knew everybody who walked through that door,” he said. “Anything you ask him to do, he’d take care of it for you.”
O’Neill’s Restaurant suffered a devastating blow in 2011 when a fire destroyed the community staple. But the family-run eatery was quickly rebuilt. In the last few months, the restaurant also got the community board’s approval to expand with a second-floor catering hall.
Paul Bradshaw, a former baseball player in the Detroit Tigers organization, said O’Neill, who put his picture up on the wall in the restaurant, was always a “funny dude” with a great attitude about life. The Woodside resident said O’Neill was always going out of his way to be nice to everyone.
“He’s one of a kind,” Bradshaw said. “He’ll be deeply missed.”