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Close-Up on Red Hook | Village Voice


Close-Up on Red Hook


Portions of this article have been updated.

Lined with eminent warehouses that once thrived on the daily hustle of longshoremen, Red Hook’s cobblestone streets resemble Terry Malloy’s prophetic path in 1954’s On the Waterfront. Robert Moses’s Gowanus Expressway cut the area off from Brooklyn proper in 1946, sealing its derelict fate, but the beauty of the waterfront promises to put Red Hook on more than tourist and hipster maps. Priscilla Bain-Smith of the Brooklyn Working Artists Coalition romanticizes, “Once you’re here, you’re hooked on Red Hook. There’s a gentleness that helps the psyche.” Buildings sit commercially untapped, but many are sold. An Ikea store along the Gowanus Canal and a Fairway supermarket in the Van Brunt Street warehouse bring hope for traffic and jobs—and fears of gentrification. While Mark Lampert, a former bartender at Liberty Heights Tavern (34 Van Dyke Street), reasons, “It’s not a methadone clinic, it’s an Ikea,” BWAC artist Mary Hoffman wishes buildings were put to better use: “Where’s the imagination?” But all agree change is good, and anticipate the Brooklyn Historic Railway Association’s trolley and the New York Water Taxi.

Boundaries: Hamilton Avenue and the shadow of Robert Moses keep Carroll Gardeners at bay while the Buttermilk Channel, the Erie Basin, and Gowanus Canal surround the peninsula.

Transportation: Take the F or G train to Smith-9th streets and transfer to the B77 bus, or take the A, C, or F trains to Jay Street/Borough Hall and transfer to the mercurial B61 bus; roughly 50 minutes to Union Square.

Average Price to Rent: Studio, $1100 ($650 to $850); one-bedroom, $1300 ($800 to $1100); two-bedroom, $1500 and up ($1100 to $1600); lofts (1000 to 2000 square feet), $1500 and up ($1200 to $1975); landowner and area pioneer Gregory O’Connell recently sold 17 vacant lots designated for affordable housing.

Average Price to Buy: $600,000 and up ($300,000 to $500,000) for a two-family house.

Main Drag: Should O’Connell’s plans for revitalization drop anchor, Van Brunt Street could be the new Bedford Avenue. As O’Connell puts it: “Make sure you tell someone you came to Red Hook and survived.”

Cultural Institutions: BWAC, housed in one of the majestic warehouses (499 Van Brunt), Kentler International Drawing Space (353 Van Brunt) and the Diesal Gallery (242 Van Brunt). Martha Bowers’s Dance Theatre Etcetera performs on the piers, as does Dancing in the Streets. After repairing damage by shipworms, the Waterfront Museum and Showboat Barge (290 Conover Street) plans to resume maritime education, the Sunset Music Series, and CIRCUSundays (

Green Space: Find grass smack in Red Hook’s center at Coffey Park (Richards and Kings streets) or sport under a towering factory in Red Hook Park & Recreation Center (Bay and Henry streets). Louis Valentino Jr. Park (2 Coffey Street) offers views of Lady Liberty, and the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club rents canoes from spring to early fall.

Community Groups: Red Hook Navy works for public access to the waterfront, Fifth Avenue fights displacement caused by gentrification, Groups Against Garbage combat Giuliani’s Solid Waste Management Plan, and Friends of Coffey Park keep its green clean.

Famous Residents: Al Capone earned his “Scarface” moniker here.

Best Restaurant: Hope & Anchor Diner (347 Van Brunt), the first of a possible new wave of eateries, updates diner staples.

Best Bars: While Steve Deptula puts the finishing touches on the microbrewery, garden, and rooftop deck of his Liberty Heights Tavern, shoot some pool or chat with the friendly locals. The sign over the century-old bar at 253 Conover Street reads John’s Bar, but it’s actually Sunny’s Bar, owned by lifetime resident Sunny Balzano.

Happenings: The Red Hook Waterfront Arts Festival, held every May, unofficially heralds the area’s summer season, featuring dance, music, spoken word, and the Earth and Surf Parade of locals and students showcasing puppets and performances.

Local Politics: The working-class neighborhood teems with Democrats: Councilwoman Sara Gonzalez, Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, state senators Velmanette Montgomery and Martin Connor, and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez. Fiercely protective of their shores, Red Hook citizens fight for a clean, restored waterfront, housing, and jobs.

Crime Stats: The 76th Precinct serves Red Hook and Gowanus. As of September 25, 2005 it reported 2 murders, 2 rapes, 113 robberies, 82 felonious assaults, and 122 burglaries. (As of November 3, it reported two murders, down one from last year; 10 rapes, up six; 114 robberies, up one; 167 burglaries, down three; and 102 felonious assaults, down 15).

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