City Guide: Red Hook, Brooklyn
Sunny's, Defonte's, Red Hook Tavern, San Pedro Inn...
Welcome to City Guides, featuring personal recommendations for my favorite neighborhood spots for drinking and eating around New York City and beyond. City Guides is a Friday paid-subscriber exclusive, but today’s inaugural dispatch is free to all readers.
City Guide: Red Hook, Brooklyn
Like Succession’s Kendall Roy, I, too, possess a somewhat melancholic attraction to bodies of water. For over a decade I’ve lived close to the Brooklyn waterfront and often walk up to the Promenade or down the block to the end of Pier 6 and post up on a bench, ostensibly to think. The sounds of seagulls and fog horns, the colorful tug boats guiding their cargo up the East River, and the rhythm of the splashing tide—all set against the Manhattan skyline across the harbor—fill me a sense of calm.
I’m especially fortunate to live relatively close to Red Hook, which has the feel of an actual harbor town, with a rich, and often rough-and-tumble, maritime history from the American Revolution through an industrial era as a major commercial port, with shipping yards lining the canals, inlets, and waterfront.
The neighborhood sits on a low-lying peninsula surrounded by water on three sides by the Buttermilk Channel, Upper New York Bay, and the Gowanus Canal, and offers some of the best unobstructed views of the Statue of Liberty. Red Hook was also one of the areas most affected by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 with significant flooding, with more than 10 feet of water in some spots (you may encounter markers on buildings showing the watermarks) prompting many forced evacuations and damage to countless businesses.
Like most neighborhoods in New York, parts of Red Hook are feeling the steady and uneasy beat of gentrification, with former warehouses and Civil War-era buildings being converted into condominiums. And these days instead of longshoremen you’re more likely to see the silhouette of the Queen Mary 2 along the waterfront, depositing waves of seemingly confused tourists onto Van Brunt Street, but the sense of community among its residents carries on.
Due to its relative isolation, Red Hook has limited direct access via public transportation, but can be reached by the F or G Carroll Street or Smith-9th Street subway stops (followed by a 20-minute walk) or NYC Ferry service. I’m lucky that the B61 bus, which travels from Downtown Brooklyn to Park Slope via Red Hook offers me door-to-door service (I’m also a “bus guy”).
Red Hook Fun Facts!
Former Syracuse Orangeman and New York Knick Carmelo Anthony was born in the Red Hook housing projects and spent his early life and high school career in Red Hook.
Serves as the setting of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge, On the Waterfront (though it was filmed in New Jersey), and Hubert Selby Jr.’s novel (and film adaptation), Last Exit to Brooklyn.
MTV’s The Real World: Brooklyn (2009) cast resided at Pier 41.
Birthplace of notorious gangsters Al Capone and Joseph “Crazy Joe” Gallo.
Eli Wallach, James McBride, Norman Mailer have all lived in Red Hook. (And on the actor front, Red Hook resident Michael Shannon is my most frequent South Brooklyn “in the wild” star sighting (sometimes daily). (See: LAST CALL dispatch “Autumn Equinox and the Many Constellations of Brooklyn.” ).
Read on to learn more about some of my favorite places to hang out in Red Hook.
Drinking & Eating in Red Hook, Brooklyn
You can’t talk about Red Hook without talking about Sunny’s, one of the oldest bars in the neighborhood (dating back to 1890) and likely the main reason many people make their first trek to Red Hook. I like stopping by for a beer during the day, before it gets too crowded at night with revelers and live bluegrass and jazz, and it’s one of the best places to bring friends visiting Brooklyn.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial