Must-See Red Hook

Michael Hsu

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With its sweeping views of New York Bay, the occasional cobblestone street and an industrial vibe (a holdover from when it was one of the country's busiest shipping centers), Red Hook has a character all its own. It's the big city infused with the flavor of New England, and it's become home to artisans, musicians, beekeepers, rooftop gardeners and a host of creatives and entrepreneurs.  

Getting to the neighborhood is easier than ever. Every weekend the New York Water Taxi runs free ferry rides from Lower Manhattan. Hop on at Pier 11/Wall Street, enjoy a scenic 25-minute journey over the East River and jump off at the Ikea dock. The ferries depart every 50 minutes and run from 11:30am to 8:40pm.

To get there by public transportation, the way to go is the B61 bus (the B57 goes there less frequently), which does a loop through the neighborhood; it's an easy connection from many subway lines. Get on at Jay St./MetroTech from the A, C, F or R trains; at Borough Hall from the 2, 3, 4 or 5 trains; or at 4th Ave./9th St. from the F, G or R. There are free shuttle buses to Ikea from the subway stops at the corner of Smith and 9th Streets, 4th Avenue and 9th Street and from Brooklyn Borough Hall. Many of the spots in this roundup are within walking distance of Ikea.

With its stellar food scene, eclectic shopping and stunning views of the Statue of Liberty, Red Hook is filled with unexpected treasures. The resourceful will be rewarded.

 

View our Red Hook video below.

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Photo: Joe Buglewicz

Louis Valentino, Jr. Park and Pier
Ferris Street (bet. Coffey and Van Dyke Streets)
Nestled in a cove off the New York Bay, this small waterfront park has a little bit of everything: green grass, tall reeds, a rocky shore and a sandy beach. The views from land are spectacular, but just wait until you walk to the end of the adjacent pier. There you'll find one of the best views of the Statue of Liberty without stepping foot off dry land, with Lady Liberty facing the pier almost directly. You'll also get great views of Lower Manhattan, Governors Island, Staten Island and the Civil War–era Red Hook Stores Building, a beautiful brick structure just to the south. The shore next to the pier is one of the City's kayak and canoe launching points (permits are required). For the casual paddler, the volunteer-run Red Hook Boaters provides kayaks for free on Sunday afternoons from 1pm to 5pm (June through September) as well as on Thursday evenings from 6pm to 8pm (June through mid-August). Or stop by on a Tuesday at dusk to catch a free film screening: the Red Hook Flicks summer movies run during July and August, and it’s a culinary as well as cinematic treat. You’ll find food stands set up by local establishments including Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies, the Red Hook Lobster Pound and Hometown Bar-B-Que.

Photo: David Sharps

Waterfront Museum and Showboat Barge
Pier 44, 290 Conover St., 718-624-4719
Before the proliferation of highways, tunnels and bridges, the New York Bay was bustling with ships. At the time, waterways were the main paths of transport for cargo and commuters alike. The Waterfront Museum and Showboat Barge preserves and celebrates the period from 1860 to 1960, when waterways thrived. Housed on the last remaining wood-covered barge of its kind (the Lehigh Valley Railroad Barge no. 79), this charming and creaky museum literally rises and falls with the tide. The barge itself, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was salvaged in 1985 and restorers needed more than two years to get the vessel floating (there were 300 tons of mud below its deck). Today, it welcomes aboard children and adults alike to learn and explore. The museum is open Thursdays from 4 to 8pm and Saturdays from 1 to 5pm. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged. From the barge, you can often get a good look at Red Hook's contemporary role in NYC's cruise-ship economy, as spectacularly large luxury liners like those of Cunard and Princess Cruises come and go from the new Brooklyn Cruise Terminal nearby.

Sunny’s Bar. Photo: Julienne Schaer

Red Hook Bait and Tackle
320 Van Brunt St., 718-451-4665
Brooklyn Ice House
318 Van Brunt St., 718-222-1865
Sunny's Bar
253 Conover St., 718-625-8211
During the heyday of the local shipping industry, there were around 40 bars in Red Hook—today, only a handful of drinking spots exist, but they’re well worth a trip. Red Hook Bait and Tackle, as the name suggests, is located in what was once a bait shop frequented by local fishermen. Hang your coat on the deer-foot hooks and enjoy one of the numerous beers on tap. Live music on Friday and Saturday nights runs the rootsy gamut: honky-tonk, blues infused with jazz and heavy metal, old-time bluegrass and the like. Right next door, Brooklyn Ice House boasts a beer list with over 50 domestic and international brews, some from far-flung locales (Skull Splitter from Scotland, Samichlaus Classic Bier from Austria, Hitachino Nest from Japan). Be sure to head to the backyard garden to sample their menu of classic, well-priced bar food, like the cheese-stuffed, bacon-wrapped Dirty Dog or the signature pulled-pork sandwich, which is served on a fluffy bun with pickles and sweet BBQ sauce. Sunny's Bar, the neighborhood's oldest hostelry, is a true Red Hook institution that has been in the proprietor's family since 1890. Between the homespun interior (the owner, Sunny Balzano, is a painter), bluegrass jams and convivial cast of regulars, it makes for the kind of destination that could hold you until late in the night. 

The Good Fork. Photo: Joe Buglewicz

The Good Fork
391 Van Brunt St., 718-643-6636
Fort Defiance
365 Van Brunt St., 347-453-6672
Hope & Anchor
347 Van Brunt St., 718-237-0276
Whether you're a foodie on a mission or you're just looking for a simple, affordable meal, Red Hook has you covered. Rave reviews have made the Good Fork a destination among discerning diners. The restaurant serves traditional market-driven fare with an Asian-inspired twist: farm-raised chicken, for example, comes with a black-bean butter sauce, and sides include kimchi rice and Korean shrimp-scallion pancakes. A block away, Fort Defiance serves breakfast, lunch and dinner—not to mention a stellar brunch and top-notch cocktails. At dinner choose from snacks (try the incredibly fluffy deviled eggs with fried capers), appetizers (like seared scallops) and proper entrees, such as grilled skirt steak and pan-roasted dorade. Walk another block north and you'll hit Hope & Anchor, a local favorite. It's the spot for comfort-food classics like fried-shrimp po'boys or mac and cheese with homemade bread crumbs. The extensive burger menu includes nearly 20 options, ranging from traditional ground beef with all manner of toppings to variations featuring duck, salmon and tofu. For breakfast, standard fare—as well as a jerk-chicken hash—is offered. There is a popular karaoke party on Friday and Saturday nights, from 9:30pm to 1am.

Baked. Photo: Julienne Schaer

Baked
359 Van Brunt St., 718-222-0345
Steve's Authentic Key Lime Pies
185 Van Dyke St., 718-858-5333
If you have a sweet tooth, Red Hook has two must-try spots. Baked serves up a dizzying selection of unabashedly decadent desserts: a three-layer malted-milk cake that’s frosted and filled with a whipped milk-chocolate ganache and topped with (what else?) malt balls; bundt cake infused with Coca-Cola; and butterscotch tart. And for breakfast there are four blends of house-made granola, which range from sensible (almonds, hazelnuts, cherries) to indulgent (cocoa-dusted oats with chocolate chips). At the other end of the spectrum is Steve's Authentic Key Lime Pies, which, as you may have guessed, serves only one product, and proudly: key lime pies, made with freshly squeezed key lime juice and a graham-cracker-crumb crust. The pies are not overly creamy and have the perfect amount of tang—enough to make your mouth pucker. The only decision you have to make here is what size you want; choices start with the 3-inch “teaser” and move up incrementally to the 10-inch round, which should satisfy you and your seven best friends. And there's also the Swingle, a lime tart dipped in chocolate and served on a stick.

Photo: Joe Buglewicz

Fairway Market
480-500 Van Brunt St., 718-694-6868
The Brooklyn outpost of this gourmet-grocery-store empire offers something no other Fairways do: amazing views. The outdoor dining area, which is heated and enclosed in the winter, sits right on the water and offers a clear view of the Statue of Liberty and a huge, glorious, uninterrupted swath of harbor and sky. The café inside the store offers breakfast, lunch and dinner; you can take your meal out of the restaurant to an area that is enclosed during wintertime. From Memorial Day to Labor Day weekend, the Fairway Patio Grill serves made-to-order classics with ingredients drawn from the store's aisles, like Murray’s BBQ chicken and baby back ribs marinated in Fairway’s homemade sauce. Or try the clams on the half shell and grilled lobster, both pulled from the seafood counter a hundred feet away. You can even buy your own meats at the butcher, pay for it at the register, and bring it to the grill to have it prepared for you, free of charge. The Patio’s family-friendliness makes it a godsend for parents stocking up for the week. Head over around dusk and leave your partially filled shopping cart near the café, as many others do. Taking a break from shopping to catch the sunset and enjoy a snack is a simple luxury not to be missed.

Photo: Adam Kuban

Red Hook Food Vendors
Red Hook Recreational Area (at Bay and Clinton Streets)
On weekends in spring, summer and fall, Brooklyn becomes a culinary smorgasbord, with an array of gourmet food stands setting up shop in empty lots around the borough. While other spots may have hip, clever names, few are as deliciously authentic as the gathering of Latin American food vendors in the Red Hook Ball Fields. You'll find them there every Saturday and Sunday, May through October, offering traditional foods from El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and other locales. Try the pupusas (a substantial corn tortilla filled with cheese, zucchini or other delights), elotes (corn on a stick, slathered with mayo and dusted with chili powder) or tamales. And wash it all down with a sweet drink: horchata, perhaps, or a tamarind or watermelon juice. The assemblage—which has been gathering here in some form since 1974—is a short walk from the nearby Ikea pier (a stop on the free water-taxi service on weekends) as well as the Red Hook Pool (one of the largest public pools in the city). Once you have your food, you can sit and watch the soccer game that will no doubt be in progress on the field.

Red Hook Lobster Pound. Photo: Julienne Schaer

Red Hook Lobster Pound
284 Van Brunt St., 718-858-7650
Brooklyn Crab
24 Reed St., 718-643-2722
Kevin’s
277A Van Brunt St., 718-596-8335
Given Red Hook’s proximity to the waterfront, it’s not surprising that some of the City’s freshest and most charming seafood eateries are in the neighborhood. For one of the top lobster rolls in town, check out the Red Hook Lobster Pound. Co-owner Ralph Gorham makes regular pilgrimages to Maine to bring just-caught lobster directly from boat to City, eschewing crustaceans that have been held onshore for too long. The rolls at this casual Red Hook joint are served three ways: cold and dressed with mayo, celery and spices (Maine style) or with basil vinaigrette (Tuscan style), or hot with melted butter (Connecticut style). The Pound also offers shrimp rolls, killer lobster bisque and New England clam chowder as well as full-on lobster dinners. And they've recently added a full-service dining room serving beer, wine and other cool libations. The newer kid on the block, Brooklyn Crab, is located just off the water. Head to the third-floor, open-air patio to enjoy the amazing views while dining on fresh seafood, simply prepared: plump oysters, steamer clams, Dungeness crab, snow crab legs and steamed Maine lobster. Meanwhile, Kevin’s offers a broad, seafood-inspired menu—at brunch, the eggs Chesapeake is a riff on a classic Benedict, replacing ham with crab cakes. At dinner, Raffetto's pappardelle has shrimp and scallops tossed in a light lobster cream sauce.

Courtesy, Erie Basin

Erie Basin
388 Van Brunt St., 718-554-6147
Saipua
147 Van Dyke St., 718-624-2929
Pier Glass
499 Van Brunt St., #2A, 718-237-2073
There’s no such thing as a “typical” store in Red Hook. The neighborhood’s boutiques are known for their own strong, unabashedly idiosyncratic identities. For example, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more exquisitely or thoughtfully curated collection of objects than the one at Erie Basin. The space itself is a blank canvas (glossy black floor, matte white walls) for pieces from the 18th to 20th centuries commingled with work by contemporary designers. There's a fine selection of vintage jewelry—rings, brooches, tie clips and other delicate little items—with new pieces woven seamlessly into the mix. The florist Saipua, about two blocks away, is equally distinctive. If its delicate yet unfussy flower arrangements are too fleeting a souvenir, look to its line of handmade soaps and candles. The saltwater bar soap is made using seaweed, crushed sea salt, rosemary and patchouli, while the coffee mint hand soap draws on brewed coffee, coffee grounds and peppermint essential oil. Meanwhile, at the Beard Street Warehouse, check out Pier Glass, the studio of artisan glass blowers Kevin Kutch and Mary Ellen Buxton. There you’ll find richly colored objects, including vases, bowls, Christmas ornaments and perfume vials. 

Cacao Prieto. Photo: Julienne Schaer

Dry Dock Wines + Spirits
424 Van Brunt St., 718-852-3625
Van Brunt Stillhouse
6 Bay St., 718-852-6405
Cacao Prieto
218 Conover St., 347-225-0130
Brooklyn is known for its devotion to the handcrafted. In Red Hook, this applies to libations as well. Dry Dock Wine + Spirits happily offers expert advice on how best to navigate its stock of more than 400 wines. (For the budget conscious, it has a wide selection under $12.) It's also a great source for locally made spirits, like Brooklyn-made moonshine, bourbon and bitters. The store carries more than 75 types of whiskey alone, including flasks from Kings County Distillery, New York City's oldest operating whiskey distillery. The Van Brunt Stillhouse, meanwhile, retails its whiskeys, grappa, rum and moonshine and offers weekend tours, during which you can taste a bourbon, a rye and an “American” whiskey. Cacao Prieto, makers of chocolate and liqueurs, sources cacao from a family farm in the Dominican Republic—one run by owner Daniel Prieto Preston's family for more than 100 years. Tours (of the production facility, not the farm) are offered on Saturdays at 2 and 4pm; they cost $20 and include plenty of samples. Also distilled on the premises: Widow Jane whiskeys.

Photo: Joe Buglewicz

Dog Day Cyclery
115 Van Brunt St., 347-799-2739
With many of its streets extending out toward the East River—and the relative dearth of public transportation—Red Hook is a neighborhood best explored by bike. The City’s bike-share program, Citi Bike, doesn’t have a station in the neighborhood, but Dog Day Cyclery, just beyond the northern boundary of Red Hook proper, can fill your needs. It offers a full-day bike rental for $25 if you return the bike by closing time (6pm); the charge is $60 if you want to keep the bike overnight, lock included. The shop, a 15-minute walk from the Carroll St. stop on the F and G subway lines, is also a great place to get a flat tire fixed. Or stop by if you’re in the market for a new, used or custom-built bike. 

Pioneer Works. Photo: Marley White

Look North Inuit Art Gallery
275 Conover St., suite 4E, 347-721-3995
Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition
499 Van Brunt St., 718-596-2506/7
Kentler International Drawing Space
353 Van Brunt St., 718-875-2098
Pioneer Works 
159 Pioneer St., 718-596-3001
Red Hook's art scene is eclectic and rapidly growing, and the galleries here are unique in their approach and mission. The Look North Inuit Art Gallery, for example, displays work by the roughly 30 art-producing Inuit communities in Canada's Arctic. You'll find traditional Inuit sculptures carved from various stones (serpentine, quartz, white marble) as well as photographic prints, paintings and etchings on display here. The Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition, the borough's largest artist-run organization, promotes the work of local artists, with ongoing displays as well as three larger exhibitions and two national juried shows during the year. Also on Van Brunt, the Kentler International Drawing Space, located in the storefront of a former men's haberdashery, primarily features contemporary drawings and works on paper. Check kentlergallery.org for information on its monthly and bimonthly exhibitions, as well as regular talks by artists and curators. Pioneer Works functions as a multipurpose cultural institution, displaying a range of artwork an open studios series (second Sunday of each month), which features free musical performances, as well as a wide range exhibits and other events.


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