There is no doubt that the Upper East Side has a lot of attractions for riders on the new Soundview Route. Two of the world’s great museums, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim are just a short walk from the E. 90th Street Landing, but not all the attractions are huge. Reif’s Tavern, located on 92nd Street off First Avenue in the heart of Yorkville, is another kind of institution, considered by its regulars to be as great as the fanciest museum. A neighborhood favorite since it opened in 1942, Reif’s blends simplicity and authenticity and thrives on being a gathering place for its extended family of employees and regular customers. A 10 – 15-minute walk from the ferry landing, Reif’s is much more than just a tavern; it is a living piece of Yorkville history,
Whether you are a commuter or taking the ferry for a water tour of New York City, you will find Reif’s to be a home away from home. Patrons by as much for the conversation as the beers, wines, and spirits. “Our regulars call Reif’s their living room,” says bartender Michelle McMahon, who has tended bar there for 13 years. “Lots of the people who come to Reif’s were born and raised in Yorkville,” she adds. “It’s the true New York experience.”
“The only reason the tavern has survived is that it’s never tried to be anything more than what it is,” says Taryn Reif, the tavern’s current owner and granddaughter of its founders, Austrian – Hungarian immigrants John and Teresia Reif. After meeting her husband Robert Sonnenberg in Reif’s around 2002, she gave up her career as an actress to work full time in the family business.
“Every member of the Reif family has at one time or another worked behind the bar,” she adds.
After Reif’s opened, it quickly became a popular place for the working-class locals and immigrants that lived then in the Yorkville neighborhood. Among Reif’s most devoted early customers were young Freedom Fighters who fled their country after the Hungarian Uprising in 1956. Most didn’t have jobs or speak English. They would buy a couple of beers and then Teresia Reif would feed them, scraping together leftovers so they could have a decent meal in their new homeland.
Reif’s clientele remains pretty much unchanged, with most of its regulars still coming from the local neighborhood, some living on the 92nd street block for years. The long-term future of the tavern is also secure Reif says, since the building has been owned by the family since her father bought it in 1975.
Located in a typical Yorkville tenement, Reif’s consists of two ground floor rooms with a popular backyard. The bar in the front room dates back to the 1940’s although it was moved from one side to the other in the mid – 1950’s. The back recreational room features a pool table and framed newspaper front pages celebrating, among others, the New York football Giants most recent Super Bowl wins.
NYC Ferry riders would be greeted with open arms, says McMahon. “Reif’s is a great sports bar, no matter what the sport. It’s a very friendly, neighborhood crowd, particularly if you’re a Yankees, Rangers or Giants fan.” One of Reif’s most memorable nights, she continues, was when Giants fans “were dancing on the bar” during the 2008 Super Bowl when the Giants beat the New England Patriots thus ending the Patriots quest for a perfect season. Regardless of the teams, “the conversation just flows, especially if it is between a New York Yankees and a Boston Red Sox fan.”
“We have some Mets fans too,” McMahon adds with a smile.
Reif’s is also a gathering place for local groups. The Four Freedoms Democratic Club recently held their summer barbecue in the backyard. When the rain started, the party and the intense political discussions simply moved to the back room.
The Club has been holding this event at Reif’s for “at least” four years, says Kim Moscaritolo, a local District Leader for the Democratic party. “It’s a neighborhood place, has a great backyard with a grill, and it’s affordable,” she adds.
Food is no longer served but patrons are welcome to bring their own. The nearby Italian restaurant, Delizia, is a popular spot among Reif’s regulars for a slice of pizza on the way to the tavern. People looking for a taste of old Yorkville need only to walk a few short blocks south on Second Avenue to the Heidelberg Restaurant at 86th Street, which has been serving authentic German cuisine since 1936. Children are welcome at Reif’s under certain conditions. “We allow children to attend functions in the backyard and back recreational room,” says Reif, “but discourage any children in the actual bar area.”
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