“Mayor of 57th Street” Jimmy Neary closed up his restaurant early on October 1st, went home, and died peacefully in his sleep. He was 91.
Jimmy was born in Tubbercurry, County Sligo and came to New York at age 24. His first job was as a porter at the New York Athletic Club, where he would become the only former employee to be elected a member. He also took a second job as a bartender at the old P.J. Moriarty’s on Third Avenue, saved his money, and in due course opened his own restaurant near Sutton Place.
Thanks to my oldest brother, though underaged, I was fortunate to be at Neary’s on Opening Night on St. Patrick’s Day in 1967 and received a warm welcome then and every time I dropped by, including Michelle’s and my visit just a week before he died.
Jimmy’s routine never changed. He rose early seven days a week, attended Mass, went to work and welcomed everyone who came through his doors with a radiant smile. “I love this life,” he often said, and he was loved in return. The crowd outside his wake at Campbell’s spilled out onto Madison Avenue, the NYPD closed Fifth Avenue for his funeral, and the Cathedral was packed with family, friends, customers, and staff, including Kathy Lee Gifford, Commissioner Ray Kelly, and “Mayor Mike” Bloomberg. Referring to his dozen or so co-Celebrants on the altar, Cardinal Dolan remarked, “I haven’t seen this many priests in one place since the last time I ate dinner at Neary’s.”
In his eulogy Mayor Bloomberg said, “There’s an old Gaelic word for the kind of man Jimmy was—mensch.”
Before departing St. Patrick’s after the Mass, the congregation sang, “God Bless America,” and after the burial there was a grand cèilidh at the Pierre Hotel. The restaurant will go on under the loving care of Jimmy’s beautiful daughter Una, and Neary’s will remain a home away from home for everyone who comes through its welcoming doors.