Red Hook Restaurants and Bars Struggle to Reopen After the Storm


On Sunday afternoon, musicians played Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan songs as they walked down Van Brunt Street, stomping their feet and singing. Usually these guys come with their banjos and harmonicas to Sunny’s, the beloved, family-owned bar on Red Hook’s waterfront, but it’s one of the many places closed since the storm.

So the band roamed the streets second-line style. A crowd followed as the sun set on the water and Sunny Balzano, the bar’s 78-year-old owner, stood smiling over the scene. Parents bounced with kids on their shoulders and sipped hot cider. Others lit cigarettes, twisted open hip flasks, and toasted to Red Hook. Soon, they all hoped, things could get back to normal.

[See More: Conditions Still Bad in Sheepshead Bay and Brighton Beach, Most Restaurants Closed | Two Weeks After Sandy, Can Red Hook Winery Be Saved?

On the Sunny’s website, a note promised reopening by the following weekend, and pointed out that other neighborhoods were hit much harder than Red Hook, where thousands are still without power and heat, but homes have not been devastated as they were in the Rockaways, Breezy Point, or Staten Island. “Please try to devote your attention to those who need it most,” the note read.

Sunny’s has a history of shying away from attention. It’s part of what makes the bar so wonderful. But it could use a little attention right now.

Sunny’s, Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies, home/made, Fort Defiance, and so many other places that help define the community in this corner of Brooklyn are still closed. Fairway, which brought jobs to the neighborhood and shoppers to its streets, won’t reopen for months. Others aren’t able to set a date as the work to reopen after serious flooding will be expensive: Floors and walls must be rebuilt, kitchen equipment must be replaced.

To try and speed things up, local business owners have come together to found Restore Red Hook, with the Fund for the City of New York as fiscal sponsor. A few, such as The Good Fork and Bait & Tackle, are also taking donations directly. So far, 204 people have donated a total of $30,768 to Good Fork; 79 people have pledged $13,186 to Bait & Tackle via Kickstarter.

As the neighborhood works to get back on its feet, you can still head over to visit the shops and restaurants that are open for business: Bait & Tackle and the Ice House are serving drinks. Hope and Anchor was ladling not one but four soups of the day this weekend. Baked is open daily, with display cases full of cupcakes and pies, and Defonte’s is making their massive sandwiches for regulars, visiting volunteers, and construction crews. Dry Dock has opened a temporary outpost where you can pick up liquor and wine.

Or head to Park Slope. I went looking for chef Sohui Kim’s comforting food at Skylark this weekend after I heard the Good Fork team was taking turns cooking out of the bar’s tiny kitchen, trying to earn what they can while their own restaurant remains shuttered.

It was nice enough but a world away from Red Hook, and I sipped a highball there with a heavy heart. Until the food came out! The chicken wings were reassuringly hot and sticky. The wrinkled pork dumplings tasted of home.

Links [updated 11/16]:

Restore Red Hook is a nonprofit founded by a team of local businesses.

Fort Defiance is raising money with junk bonds (gift certificates worth half their dollar amount when the bar reopens) and blogging about the recovery process on Epicurious.

The Good Fork is taking donations to reopen on Go Fund Me and cooking temporarily at Skylark Bar.

Bait & Tackle is raising money to reopen on Kickstarter.

Red Hook Lobster Pound is raising money on Small Knot for new equipment, walls, and floors.

Court Street Grocers is raising money on Small Knot to rebuild their Red Hook kitchen on Sullivan Street.

Home/Made is raising money on Go Fund Me to gut the space, redo the electrical, and purchase new equipment.

Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies, Red Hook’s 18-year-old pie shop, is raising money to rebuild on Go Fund Me.

Read our post-storm reports on Coney Island, Manhattan’s Chinatown, and Sheepshead Bay.