Red Hook: A charming nabe that rolls with the punches
The best part of living in Red Hook, according to a long-term resident, is “that it takes 20 minutes to walk from my house down the block to get my morning coffee.”
The worst part is that it takes 20 minutes to make the walk. Since everyone knows each other, local errands require a string of greetings and conversations along the way.
In this nabe, isolated from the rest of the borough by geography and a roaring highway, the pace is slow, the feel is much more small-town than big city, more like a New England fishing village than a New York neighborhood.
Dutch settlers gave Red Hook its name — Roode Hoek — because of its iron-rich red soil and peninsular shape.
Van Brunt Street, the main drag and the heart and soul of 21st century Red Hook, is named after an 18th century descendant of a Dutch family that settled in the marshy area in the mid-1600s.
Red Hook was the pinnacle port in the U.S. after the opening of the Erie Canal in the 1830s. More than a hundred years later, Red Hook houses, the New York City Housing Authority development where most of Red Hook’s 11,000 residents live, was built to house some local workers.
According to Anita McCrae, who grew up in the Red Hook houses in the ’70s and ’80s, “We were the last group of kids there who experienced the good life, the normal life, before crack came along in the late ’80s, early ’90s.”
Since those “bad old days” 20 plus years ago, Red Hook has “undergone radical transformation” according to Craig Hammerman, district manager of Community Board 6. In the ’90s residents created a community development plan. Cheap rents, large studio spaces and the remoteness of the area’s vacant manufacturing buildings attracted artists and craftspeople. Tourists followed. Red Hook’s most recent challenge, Superstorm Sandy, ravaged the neighborhood but also brought the community together in amazing ways.
Diane Fargo, a scenic artist who lives there, thinks it’s because “Here, everyone feels responsible for the success of everyone else.”
Indeed, as spring arrives and warmer weather comes to this waterfront neighborhood, the locals are optimistic about the coming season.
Find it: Red Hook is the peninsula south of Hamilton Street, surrounded on all three sides by Gowanus Bay, the Gowanus Canal and Buttermilk Channel. The construction of the Gowanus Expressway in the 40’s and the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel in the 1950s lopped Red Hook off from the rest of South Brooklyn.
One resident likes the fact that Red Hook is isolated by a shortage of public transportation: “It helps keep people away.” And Red Hook is one of the very few places in the city where a resident can park a car right in front of the house.
You can walk from the F or G train stop at Carroll Street on a nice day or take your bike — there’s not a hill in sight.
The No. 61 and 57 buses are the only public transportation in and out of Red Hook. They connect with subway stops in downtown Brooklyn where you can get to the 2,3,4,5, and R lines. Ikea runs a ferry between Manhattan at Pier 11 and their Red Hook store seven days a week. The store also runs shuttle buses from nearby subway stations every day of the week.
It’s at 615 Clinton Street and got only two stars on Yelp.
So far this year, there were no rapes or murders reported to the 76th Precinct. There were no murders in 2012, according to the precinct’s CompStat report, but there were 114 robberies.
The branch at 7 Wolcott St. reopened in April after replacing nearly half the 2,500 waterlogged books.
South Brooklyn Community High School, 173 Conover St.
P.S. 15 Patrick F. Daly,71 Sullivan St.
Red Hook Neighborhood School P.S. 676, 27 Huntington St.
Summit Academy Charter School, 27 Huntington St.
Red Hook’s renaissance owes a great deal to its small cafes and restaurants, as well as the arrival of a Fairway in 2006. Consider a dinner or weekend brunch or a picnic along the pier with takeout from Fairway or a lobster roll from the Red Hook Lobster Pound.
Baked, 359 Van Brunt St. Hop off the 61 bus and walk right into this popular cafe. According to Julie Inzanti who works in Red Hook, “This is the staple cafe in the neighborhood with delicious treats and good coffee. It’s also the business center or dorm common area of Red Hook.” Another regular recommends their salted chocolate brownies and chocolate Coca Cola Bundt cake. 718-222-0345
Kevin’s, 227A Van Brunt St. Beautifully renovated post-Sandy, this cozy little restaurant features seafood specialties lovingly prepared by chef Kevin Moore. One fan says that for brunch you’ve got to try the Chesapeake crabcake Benedict or the Adirondack Benedict — poached eggs with hollandaise on challah with a side of pan-seared trout. Be sure to check out the lovely oil on paper paintings on the walls by Kevin’s wife, Caroline Parker. 718-596-8335
The Good Fork, 391 Van Brunt St. This widely and well-reviewed spot is where locals take their out-of-town guests for a special treat. The menu changes regularly, featuring local and seasonal ingredients. Vegetarians are welcome: steak and eggs Korean style can be converted to tofu and eggs. Eat in or out in their backyard. 718-643-6636
Fort Defiance, 365 Van Brunt St. Food and drink writer St. John Frissell’s popular cafe/diner/bar named after the Revolutionary War fort that stood in Red Hook. Locals and visitors alike come for the “neoclassical” cocktails and one regular, Francis Kerrigan, says that their Irish coffee “is the best I’ve ever had.” 347-453-6672
Bait & Tackle, 320 Van Brunt St. One resident said, “If you go to Red Hook and don’t have a beer at Bait and Tackle then you really haven’t gone to Red Hook.” 718-451-4665
The Ice House, 318 Van Brunt St.The Ice House has a large, funky backyard and a huge beer list and, considering the decor, an incongruous goat cheese and beet salad. 718-222-1865
Dry Dock Wine and Spirits, 424 Van Brunt St. Mary Dudine Kyle had to move her popular shop further up Van Brunt after the storm but has happily moved back to her original spot. She gets lots of out-of-borough and out-of-town shoppers who come for her supply of smaller batch wine and hard liquor from local distilleries. Ask Mary for a palm card that charts the Brooklyn Spirits Trail, a tour of local booze-making spots including Red Hook Winery and Cacao Prieto. 718-852-3625
Erie Basin, 388 Van Brunt St. This lovely antique shop is the domain of Russell Whitmore who has been selling jewelry — mostly art deco and Georgian rings and necklaces — at this spot for more than six years. He has a few pieces of Victorian and Egyptial Revival furniture on display as well but it’s the jewelry that’s the real draw. Call for an appointment: 718-554-6147
Metal and Thread, 398 Van Brunt St. This attractive shop with turmeric walls and oriental rugs is a showcase for the crafts made by the husband and wife team of Derek Diominy and Denise Carbonell. Derek makes objects from metal, Denise is a textile artist. Their studio is behind the shop; they live upstairs. 718-414-9651
Red Hook Recreation Area and Pool, 155 Bay St. The area is an impressive 58 acres large with handball, basketball and soccer fields always teeming with locals. But it’s the Red Hook Pool, opened in 1936 with 40,000 people watching, that’s the stand out feature. Operated by the Parks Department from the end of June to Labor Day, it’s huge with lanes for lap swimming, a kiddie pool, fountains for the kids to romp in and bleachers for the parents.
Red Hook Flicks. Watch a movie on Valentino Pier every Tuesday night during the summer. Bring a picnic and your (quiet) dog along; buy popcorn from Home/Made and key lime pie from Steve’s and food provided by the businesses that sponsor the series. Before the movie starts, enjoy the spectacular view of Lady Liberty from the Pier — this is the only stretch of the city where you can see Lady Liberty’s face straight on. Redhookflicks.com
Look North NY, 275 Conover St. #4E, in the Fairway Building, hours by appointment. When you’re looking for something interesting to do when the weather makes an indoor adventure preferable, consider a visit to this gallery of Inuit art. The owner, Jim Clark, spent 15 years as first mate on an Alaskan crab boat (yes, he was on the Discovery Channel’s “The Deadliest Catch”) where he developed an interest in the art of the indigenous people of the Alaskan and Canadian Arctic. For a great guide and map of Red Hook, check out the Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Development Corporation, sbidc.org.
As you’d expect, it’s all about the neighborhood’s slow but steady recovery from Superstorm Sandy’s destruction.
It will be a while before all of Red Hook is back to where it was pre-Sandy, and residents and merchants are still dealing with FEMA and the city’s Small Business Association.
Some stores are still closed and/or have limited hours while they go about the work of reconstruction.
Also in the works is the highly contentious Gowanus Canal cleanup.
Another local issue is the EPA’s consideration of a plan to put a toxic waste facility behind the Red Hook ballfields.
Just about every storefront on Van Brunt has a sign that says “Tell the EPA No to a Toxic Red Hook.”
Q&A with Jane Buck
Jane Buck, an illustrator/printmaker, moved to Red Hook five years ago and set up a studio on the waterfront where she made her stationery and textiles using letterpress and silk screening. About four years ago, a storefront on Van Brunt Street came up for rent and Buck took the plunge. Now she has a shop, Foxy & Winston, in front and a studio in back at 392 Van Brunt St., in the heart of Red Hook’s commercial district.
Why did you move to Red Hook? I lived in the South Slope and hated my apartment — it was badly built, cramped. I found an apartment on the waterfront in the building right above Fairway, and finally I was going to live in an apartment I could love. It’s like living in a hotel — you never have to leave.
What’s it like to live in Red Hook? It’s not like anywhere else I’ve ever lived. It’s a small town, really. Everyone knows everyone. When I go in for my morning coffee, I know at least five out of six of the people in the cafe. ... And the way everyone pitched in after Sandy shows just how tight-knit and supportive the community is. I will never forget the night after the storm. Things were in terrible shape. Just a mess. So what did we all do? We went to the Bait and Tackle, a bar that is the pulse of the neighborhood, and had a party. Why the hell not?
What do you think the next 10 years will be like here? As long as all of the great food places stay, it’s going to do well. When the restaurants were closed after the storm, the businesses that could stay open struggled. It’s the people who come from other parts of Brooklyn, Manhattan, out of towners on weekends, that make our businesses thrive.