Beloved Harbor Light Pub, the 'Rockaway Cheers,' Destroyed by Sandy
QUEENS — For more than a decade, the restaurant at the corner of Beach 130th Street and Newport Avenue served as a refuge from the hardships that hit the close-knit community.
After the owners of the Harbor Light Pub lost their son in the 9/11 attacks, the eatery became a neighborhood memorial to the dead.
When American Airlines Flight 587 slammed into Beach 131st Street Nov. 12, 2001, the Harbor Light opened its doors for use as a command station for emergency workers.
But on Monday, the fires that raged through the Rockaways burned the neighborhood fixture to the ground, taking with it a beloved neighborhood landmark, longtime customers and one of its founders said Thursday.
"It's heartbreaking. Everything [here] is heartbreaking, but that was the middle," said Paul Wade, a Belle Harbor resident, who visited the Harbor Light several times a month for burgers and beer since the eatery first opened more than 30 years ago.
Little more than the Harbor Light's blue awning and an unscathed American flag remained after the fire at the restaurant, which was located at 12918 Newport Ave.
Barbara Heeran, who opened the bar in 1980 with her husband Bernie, said she and her family prided themselves on serving reasonably priced meals and providing a meeting place for the community.
After her 23-year-old son Charles, who worked on Wall Street, was killed on 9/11, her family covered the walls with photographs of him and other people lost in the attack.
Members of the family, who took turns working as waiters, bartenders and busboys, looked to Charles as a protector, said Barbara Heeran, who is 62.
When Flight 587 missed hitting their house and the restaurant by mere blocks, the Heerans said their late son had watched over them.
"My husband said [Charles] gave the plane a little kick so it didn't hit our house," she said Thursday in her home, which was still without electricity or water service.
Their son's friend Christopher Lawler, who was also 23, and his mother Kathy were killed when the plane exploded on top of their house.
Right after the crash, the Harbor Light served as an impromptu disaster center, Heeran said.
"It was the Ground Zero," she said.
Before this latest disaster, Heeran and her family taped a photograph of Charles onto a mirror in their living room.
"We said, 'Let's put him up. He'll help us with the storm,'" Heeran said.
While many homes in the Rockaways burned, Hurricane Sandy mostly spared the Heerans' home, though the basement filled with 6 feet of water.
Heeran learned of the fire at the Harbor Light from a text message her nephew Brian received.
"I said, 'Oh my God. I hope everyone is OK,'" she said.
Heeran, who has lived in the area since age 10, walked to the restaurant Wednesday and was stunned.
"I couldn't believe it," she said.
Regulars said they would miss the neighborhood standby for fish, steaks and hamburgers. On its second floor, a party room hosted countless locals' baptism and engagement parties.
"Everyone went there. Everyone had good times there," said Wade, 53.
"It was the Rockaway 'Cheers,'" said resident Vinny Furlong, who has lived in the neighborhood for nearly 30 years. "You walk in and you're going to know 15 people."
Heeran said her husband and their four surviving children will rebuild the bar and in the meantime will be sustained by their friends and Catholic faith.
"I feel there's a reason for things," she said.