A well-known Irish bar and restaurant in the heart of Queens, New York, was part of a group of businesses which were “completely destroyed” by a massive fire in the early hours of Thursday.
Sidetracks, owned by Meath man, Bernard Reilly, was a popular destination for both Irish immigrants and locals since opening its doors in 1987. The bar had only undergone extensive refurbishments last year.
Firefighters say the flames appear to have started just after 2 am inside the New York Style Eats diner, three doors down from Sidetracks.
It tore through several commercial storefronts on Queens Boulevard between 45th and 46th streets in Sunnyside injuring 12 people including seven firefighters.
The injuries are not considered to be life-threatening although a Sidetracks workers suffered a fractured elbow.
Firefighters dodged a frightening backdraught that ripped through the Sidetracks building at around 3am, sending them scrambling to Queens Boulevard for safety as the fire grew to five alarms – the highest category used by fire departments in the United States, requiring the assistance of 200 emergency personnel.
It was brought under control at 8am, and the cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Firefighters said the flames appeared to have started somewhere on the first floor in the diner and quickly spread.
Then an explosion collapsed one of the buildings; video captured a blast of smoke billowing into the street, as firefighters disappeared in the smoke.
“We felt it shake and we could certainly hear it,” said neighbour, Gabby Goldstein.
“It was pretty alarming.”
Sidetracks had been standing at the Queens Boulevard site for more than 30 years, and had gone through significant changes over the years, including renovations just in 2017.
Sarah Riney, a local Irish American said it is terrible news for the community.
“Sidetracks was the go-to place for Irish people living in the area. It was a real modern and comfortable place to meet up. In fact, my family were visiting last week and we all met there for drinks.
“The staff there were excellent and it’s just so disappointing for everyone associated with the pub and the other businesses – especially before Christmas.”
Those thoughts were echoed by Beth Gratzer who has lived in the area all her life: “Sidetracks was like an institution for people living in Sunnyside, it’s such a shame for everyone involved.”
Councilman Jimmy van Bramer said about 70 people in total have lost their jobs as a result of the fire.