01 June 2006

Time Out Gets its Hooks in Red Hook

Time Out New York, the Lets-Kill-The-Trend-By-Naming-It weekly has officially trained its ruinous publicity gun on quiet old Red Hook. "Red Hook Has Arrived" screams the bright, brick-red cover of this week's issue. Say goodbye to cheap rents, Red Hookers!—TONY has gutted your lifestyle.

In TONY's defense, they don't screw things up this time around. The "27 Reasons" they list to visit Red Hook ARE actually the most interesting things about the neighborhood. These are the places the real locals frequent. What TONY doesn't say is they've selected the ONLY 27 interesting things in the neighborhood. There are still a lot of bleak, empty blocks in the old Hook; not a lot of hipster hubs to pick from. They also conveniently underreport the towering projects that still dominate the scene, and the poor residents of those towers, who probably don't spend much of their time sucking down treats at Baked and The Good Fork.

Another pet peeve: they fold in the slender nabe west of the BQE and north of Hamilton and the Gowanus Expressway into Red Hook proper. They had to do this in order to include some of the popular restaurants and bars on Columbia and Union into their purview. But—I've said it before and I'll say it again—that ain't Red Hook. I don't know rightly WHAT it is: Carroll Gardens West, Columbia Heights Waterfront District, whatever. But in the old days—before the BQE, before realtors invented Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens—this chunk of land was part of larger South Brooklyn, which stretched down to Hamilton. Look at any old map and Red Hook begins south of Hamilton. So how in hell did it suddenly creep north a dozen blocks? (I suspect the machinations of class-conscious parvenu Carroll Gardeners, who don't want their now swank neighborhood confused with grungy old, always-under-construction Columbia Street.)

That said, the TONY feature brings some deserved attention on two great pieces of authenica: DeFonte's Sandwich Shop and Sunny's Bar. The former, a long edifice of commerce in a sea of urban desolation at the end of Commerce Street, makes the best Italian sandwiches I've had since the death of the Lattacini Baresi Salumeria. It's the last of the old Red Hook lunch places once frequented by hordes of longshoreman. Sunny's meanwhile, near the very end of Van Brunt, is run by Sunny Balzano, the descendent of a family that's owned the tavern since the 1890's. The bare closed for a good patch until Sunny returned from an artist's life in Cali to revive it. It used to be open only once a month and was known only to artists through the grapevine. Donations were accepted for beers. Now, it's open Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights. The d├ęcor hasn't changed much. It's a frozen-in-time place. May it stay that way.

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