Dating back to 1890, Sunny’s Bar has a long and storied history.
In its early iteration as John’s Restaurant and Bar, the small riverfront establishment was a popular spot for the area’s longshoremen to unwind after a long day of work. But by the 1980s the shipping industry was long gone, the neighborhood was in decline, and a new, artsier clientele was drifting in. The bar eventually became a melting pot, patronized by Red Hook newcomers and old salts alike.
In the 1990s, Sunny’s operated under the name Red Hook Yacht and Kayak Club, posing as a nonprofit club where customers kept track of their own tabs and purchased drinks with a $3 “donation.” The place became a celebrated social hub, known for its wild Friday night festivities, but was briefly shuttered 2001 after being cited for numerous violations, including serving liquor without a license.
For several months Sunny Balzano, the bar’s proprietor and grandson of the original owner, his wife, and a handful of devoted community members worked to get the building and the licenses up to code. But the interior decorative touches that give Sunny’s a unique charm—such as a dizzying array of knick-knacks, some nautical-themed, some not—remained more or less untouched.
When the bar reopened, its new name paid tribute to the man who’d helped make it a community treasure. The bar’s live music and art exhibitions underscore the important role Red Hook’s artist community has played in the venue’s evolution.
In 2012, Sunny’s Bar was badly damaged by flooding brought on by Hurricane Sandy. Community support, including funds raised with an Indigogo campaign, helped raise money for repairs.