I get asked this question a lot. As a curious enthusiast residing in Brooklyn, I am constantly in search of unique experiences to make my own. Five summers ago when I first moved to Brooklyn and had nothing but time to kill, I would walk aimlessly around the borough, amazed at the changing neighborhoods and making an ever expanding ‘to do’ list of bars, restaurants, and cafes that piqued my interest.
One day, I walked all the way from my apartment in Crown Heights down to Red Hook. That’s where I fell in love.
Red Hook is special — an impossible to explain special. A kind of special you can only truly feel until you spend time there. A special that is all mine. I call Red Hook my happy place. It is where I often take my bike for a ride, stop for a beer and a bite, and get lost on the cobble stone streets. It is my favorite neighborhood in all of Brooklyn. It is where I often take visitors — friends I’ve known for years, friends I’ve just met, friends from around the world who know nothing about Brooklyn, let alone a little ‘hood tucked away along the river. When Hurricane Sandy hit, Red Hook was the first place I volunteered to help get its people back on their feet. It is where I recently was asked to talk about my obsession on camera, for a future documentary (details TBD).
There is plenty to see and do and eat and drink in Red Hook and no matter how many times I visit, I always seem to find a new place to try. I love the camaraderie of the bars, restaurants, and boutique retailers along Van Brunt Street. I love watching the East River waves brush up against the piers that wrap around. I love peaking into the seemingly abandoned brick buildings that have turned into art museums and manufacturing shops. I love stopping at the Red Hook fields for a pupusa while watching families cheer on a soccer match. I love grocery shopping alone at Fairway on a late weekday night. I love everything about Red Hook and am always thrilled to see the smile on people’s faces when they fall in love with Red Hook too.
Below, my guide to Red Hook:
If you are not a biker and don’t want to be as ambitious as me by walking to Red Hook, take the F or G to Smith-9th St stop, and transfer to the B61 bus towards Downtown Brooklyn, which will be right outside the subway station. It’s about a 10/15-minute bus ride to the Van Brunt Street stop, which is the main lifeline in Red Hook filled with bars, restaurants, and retail shops.
Eating & Drinking in Red Hook
I love starting my Red Hook visits at Fort Defiance. It’s one of the few places that offers up true counter culture — sit at the bar inside or stroll up to the window for a drink and a bite. Every meal is a knockout and the drinks are packed with a punch. I often stop in for brunch, or go for early evening appetizers and a cocktail. Whatever time of day you end up here, you won’t be disappointed.
If you’re a dive bar fan, head to Brooklyn Ice House. Enjoy over 100 beers, bacon-wrapped hot dogs, and pulled pork sandwiches amongst working-class heroes, all under $10.
For those who appreciate nostalgia and true classics, skip the awful Brooklyn Crab Shack, turn ‘round the corner, and head into Sunny’s on Conover Street. This bar has been in Red Hook for over 100 years. It’s a local favorite with its blue grass live music — a very New Orleans vibe — and knick knack-lined walls. Inside Sunny’s is a trip back to simpler times where the bartenders are warm and kind, the customers are artists and musicians, and the prices are just right.
Sightseeing & Playing around Red Hook
One of the coolest activities I’ve enjoyed in Red Hook is kayaking. Thanks to the wonderful people at Red Hook boaters you can have a day of free kayaking at Valentino Pier. It’s very simple — just show up. Red Hook boaters provides all the gear and kayak equipment you need. Plus, they’ll instruct you on how to kayak, so if you’re a first timer, you won’t have to worry. It’s so much fun to be out in the New York Harbor!
I’ve got a sweet spot for tiny boutiques. Erie Basin and Kempton are my favorite places to shop in Red Hook. The antique jewelry Erie Basin collects is one-of-a-kind beauty, and the prices are unbelievably affordable. I’m not a diamond ring kind of gal, but Erie Basin taps into my girly side! On the other side, my tomboy side, I’m head over heels for Kempton & Co.’s designer bags for men. From beach bags to laptop bags to totes, Kempton sells premium leather and canvas bags that have me risking my bank account every time.
Pop up shops have become a staple part of Red Hook. I love visiting Nat Sherman cigar shop purely for entertainment. There’s always a group of older men sitting outside the shop laid back in their chairs, smoking away. They just seem so cool and relaxed! I only wish I knew someone who enjoyed smoking cigars to buy them a souvenir!
Red Hook is a neighborhood dependent on water. I love walking around and seeing all the boats and buoys that surround the waterfront. For the history buffs, go check out the Waterfront Museum to learn more about Red Hook’s history and how it’s changed over the years.
Last but not least, I would recommend ending your day in Red Hook with a long walk up Van Brunt Street to Atlantic Avenue’s Pier 6. The view of Manhattan is breathtaking, and at night it is the ultimate romantic spot. The lights shine, the air is crisp, and it’s one of those ultimate New York moments.
These are just a few of my favorite places, but there is plenty more. I hope you’ve enjoyed my Red Hook recommendations and if you have more questions, please reach out!