It’s time to salvage summer. Don your boat shoes and jump on this ferry. We’re going to a nautical neighborhood that is closer than any beach island, where we’ll find fishing village vibes circa Montauk 2008. Put on this sunscreen, take this book and prepare yourself for a day of seafood, summertime sweets and the best of outdoorsy games in Red Hook.
During one of the hottest weeks of the year, I met up with a hodgepodge of friends and kids and traversed the empty blocks of industrial warehouses juxtaposed with romantic waterfront docks. The neighborhood was moving extra slow, and we were grateful for corners of a shady park, ice cold beverages and an array of frozen treats. In Red Hook, it’s eternally summer: a community where buoys are used as year-round decorations and there are numerous opportunities for napping and relaxing.
If you’ve skipped work to #liveyourbestlife, and it happens to be a Tuesday, make sure to stick around for Red Hook Flicks in Valentino Pier Park. Upcoming screenings include the deliciously dark Silence of the Lambs (August 14th), kid-favorite Coco (August 21st) and political satire Dr. Strangelove (August 28th.) These free movies come with a view of the Statue of Liberty, and in case of rain, the film is moved indoors to Rocky Sullivan’s. Or even better, swing by our Total Red Hook Immersion this Saturday, August 18th where you’ll get free beer and deals on all the lobster tacos, ice cream scoops and mini-golf that the neighborhood has on offer.
11am, Arrive by Ferry
There is no subway access to Red Hook, which is why it feels low-key and not full of glass condominiums. The neighborhood is not actually remote. The B61 meanders down Van Brunt all day long, the IKEA shuttle has access points all over town, and parking is plentiful if you have a car. But, the best way to get here is via the NYC Ferry. For the price of a MetroCard, (you’ll need a specific ferry card, not an MTA MetroCard), you can take a short boat ride that includes a snack and coffee bar. I got on at Pier 6 and took a five-minute relaxing float, getting right into vacation mode. The South Brooklyn Ferry Route runs about every half hour, and the schedule is available online.
11:30am, Portside on the Mary Whalen
Ahoy! Did you just realize that the ferry was your first time being on a boat all summer? Remedy that by hanging onboard a real ship for a bit longer at Portside. They are just steps from the ferry (you’ll be walking right past it) and you can climb on up for free on weekdays from 10-6pm and on Sundays from 5pm till midnight. (This also would be a great place to wait for your ferry, if you are planning on taking it home.) There are hammocks for napping and books for reading. Apply some sunscreen and work on your tan. The ship is stationary, so although you’ll feel the lull of the waves, you won’t be going anywhere at all. When you’re ready for lunch, just return to harbor. It’s like having your personal yacht, if only for the afternoon. One caveat: if the weather is scorching, like the day I was there, they may be closed due to a heat advisory. Check the website for details. (Ship MARY WHALEN, Pier 11, Atlantic Basin, Red Hook, Brooklyn.)
12pm, Lunch at Red Hook Lobster Pound
Nothing says summer like a classic lobster roll, and Red Hook Lobster Pound is known for having some of the best in Brooklyn. I’m from New England, so I’m biased and very hard to impress. The service was excruciatingly slow, Mercury was in retrograde, and at one point our server seemed to be crying. So, it might have been an off day. I ordered a Connecticut-style lobster roll (butter, no mayo) and was surprised at how thin the sandwich was. There wasn’t much lobster meat for $26, but what was there was sweet and delicious. (The lobsters are brought right in from Maine.) The bun was buttered and toasted, which seems obvious, but a detail that many places get wrong. It came with a pickle, a side of fries and a bright coleslaw. Get a beer while you wait so you won’t be cranky. (Red Hook Lobster Pound, 284 Van Brunt St., Red Hook)
2pm, Discover Pioneer Works
Pioneer Works is exactly the thing missing from most “cool” neighborhoods in Brooklyn. It’s a gallery/ studio / community space, a garden, and a publisher with a nearby bookstore. Every month, the enormous downstairs space transforms into a free party with Second Sundays that brings the whole neighborhood to the yard. Through August 26th, you can trek up to the third floor to see a small show by filmmaker and photographer, John Lucas and writer, Claudia Rankine called “Stamped,” which explores the concept of blondeness. Afterward, enter the secret garden through the wide gates next to the building. Inside, you’ll find covered paths, tunnels, flowers, an airstream, a coffee bar, and an actual tank that has been meticulously covered in rainbow beads by artist, Ralph Ziman. In other words, there is much to explore here. You can meander through and pick one of many benches on which to rest. (Pioneer Works, 159 Pioneer St., Red Hook.)
3pm, Shopping: Record Shop, Erie Basin, Kempton & Co.
Van Brunt has a sprinkling of cute shops, and depending when you are here will depend on what’s open. You’ll notice Record Shop first when you hear it; music drifts out from the store into the street, serenading passersby with jazz or meringue or reggae. This is one of the coolest record stores in NYC, and audiophiles may not ever re-emerge from these stacks. Also of note, there is a speakeasy-style hair salon in the back of the store. (Record Shop, 360 Van Brunt., Red Hook.) If Erie Basin is open (Wednesday through Saturday, but closed for most of August), you will find unparalleled treasure in the form of 18th through 20th-century jewelry. The price point might be steep like $1,050 for a 1920s art deco signet ring, but it’s where all the cool girls look for engagement rings. (Erie Basin, 388 Van Brunt., Red Hook.) You’ve probably noticed these Kempton & Co. distressed canvas bags all over town and wondered where they were from. The store offers totes, purses, backpacks and small pouches and gifts. You can even buy a slingshot here. It’s British sensibility mixed with a Brooklyn backbone; in other words, lovely. (Kempton & Co., 392 Van Brunt St., Red Hook.)
3:30pm, Iced coffee break at Baked
You’ll notice the famous orange door first at Baked, Red Hook’s iconic bakery. Inside you’ll find some beautiful cakes, brownies and homemade treats. Everything is made from scratch on the premises, including a delicious granola. If you’re lucky, they will be handing out samples of their salted caramel brownies, and you will debate about getting a whole one to go. There are also shelves stocked with their cookbook, in case you’d prefer to make your own. What you’re here for now is the cold brew. Sit in the AC and drink it, or take it to go to hydrate. (Baked, 359 Van Brunt St., Red Hook.)
4pm, Chocolate & whiskey at Cacao Prieto
Step off the beaten path of Van Brunt, and down to Cacao Prieto, a behemoth distillery and chocolate factory. This is no silly Wonka world though, it’s for foodies. At 4pm on Saturdays and Sundays (as well as 12pm, 2pm and 6pm) there is a chocolate and distillery tour which I reviewed last year. A tour guide will lead you through the bowels of this clean new building, where you’ll see the chocolate being processed into artisanal candy bars. Out in the back garden, you’ll notice the chickens squawking, and you’ll be forgiven for feeling like you are upstate. In the last room, the shiny machines are making rum and whiskey. The tour lasts about an hour, or you can skip it just do a flight tasting of Widow Jane in the front a la carte. (Cacao Prieto, 218 Conover St., Red Hook.) Tours: $20/ per person.
5pm, Eat a Swingle at Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies
What is the secret behind Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies? Let me tell you. The pie uses 100% fresh squeezed key lime juice. When you come to the Red Hook headquarters, past the vacant lots and warehouses, you’ll feel like you stumbled into the Florida Keys. This little jumble of a shack is brightly painted with picnic tables out front. Steve Tarpin opened his headquarters in 2001, and with the waterfront views, passing ferries, and ocean breeze, it’s easy to see why. Purchase a Swingle, a mini key lime pie frozen on a stick, and then dunked in chocolate. It’s better than any popsicle you’ll ever eat. There are a few different flavors (Raspberry and the Raspberry Blonde) to choose from, but I recommend the classic. Take a fistful of napkins with you, as these things are messy. Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie, 185 Van Dyke St., Red Hook. Classic Swingle: $6.50.
5:15pm Relax in the Louis Valentino Jr. Pier Park
Instead of eating your swingle at Steve’s, follow the waterline through to Louis Valentino Jr. Pier and Park, where you will find stunning views of Lady Liberty, Governors Island and the Manhattan skyline. There is also some nice shaded greenery to sit under. This was once the site of a bustling shipping industry, but now it is a sleepy pier with a sprinkling of people on park benches. We had a beach towel and spent some time catching up on our summer reading. A cool breeze rippled through the humidity, a few dogs came up to cuddle, but for the most part we were undisturbed. This is the perfect little park for daydreaming. It also would be a perfect place for a quick nap. Wake me up in ten minutes. (Louis Valentino Jr. Pier and Park, Ferris St. & Coffey St.)
6pm, Dinner and games at Brooklyn Crab
It’s true that we already had seafood earlier in the day, but you’re going to Brooklyn Crab for their game yard. From the front, this crab shack looks enticing. It’s three levels of fun: an outdoor bar, open decks with views of the water. But wander in through the Reed Park backyard and you’ll also find video games, a sandbox for kids, corn hole and a wide selection of tables. Get a cold drink and get comfortable! They serve whatever you’re hankering for during the summer months: a frozen margarita, Aperol spritz or a pitcher of cold beer. Start with a game of miniature golf, and build up your appetite. Then put your order in for a bucket of crab legs, which are sharable with a few sides. This is when the magic of Red Hook will hit you. The sun is on its way to setting, the fish is fresh and the crowd feels familiar. (Brooklyn Crab, 24 Reed St., Red Hook.)
8pm, A final treat at the new Ample Hills Factory
The most exciting thing to open in Red Hook this summer is the Ample Hills Red Hook Factory. This mammoth space is about 15,000 square feet. According to Eater, this location will have the ability to produce 500,000 gallons a year or ten times the amount they currently make out of the Gowanus shop. (So expect to see a lot more packaged flavors coming to a grocery store near you!) In the meantime, this place also has a shop and huge eating area complete with an interactive exhibits for kids. There’s a tunnel, a microwave, and scratch-and-sniff bottles. We found the mixture of air conditioning, open space and kid stuff to be a pleasant respite from outside. All of your favorite flavors and cones are here. This summer I discovered the pretzel cone and haven’t looked back. There is also one special flavor that can only be found in here: The Hook, made of burnt sugar base, pieces of stroopwafel and globs of fudge. Saying it’s sweet is an understatement, but I can’t wait to try it again, mixed with another more subdued flavor. (Ample Hills Red Hook Factory, 421 Van Brunt., Red Hook.)
8:30pm, Nightcap at Sunny’s
I have never been able to figure out why ice cream makes you so thirsty. If you’ve been hydrating all day, you’ll be in the mood for one more brewsky before you call it quits. Sunny’s is Red Hook’s staple; literally, it’s been here since the 1890s. It’s gone through different owners and Sunny (whom this incarnation of the bar was named after) has passed away (Tim Sultan’s memoir, Sunny’s Nights, about tending bar here with Sunny is a terrific portrait of him.). Somehow, often by the skin of its teeth, the bar stays open. It’s a classic dive bar; the decor is “longshoremen” complete with knick-knacks and bluegrass. There’s a large outdoor patio/ smoking section, an array of great bartenders and cheap drinks. It seems that every time I am there, it’s someone’s birthday. That’s the kind of place this is. It’s also the kind of place you run into random acquaintances or celebrities on their off hours. (I saw Paul Dano here once.) For a dive bar, it feels like an event. It’s the type of bar and community that people are searching for (and rarely find) when they move to Brooklyn. By the time you take a car service home, you may be scrolling Streeteasy for Red Hook listings. I can’t say I’d blame you. (Sunny’s, 253 Conover St., Red Hook. CASH ONLY.)