Big Bar Hunter’s Red Hook Pub Crawl

Of course we forgot the map. The map, so lovingly adorned with the locations of the bars we had scouted on the internet, with a little path drawn to assist us in finding them. Of course we forgot it. There we were at the Pier 11 Water Taxi Terminal at 5:30 on Saturday evening, hunched over a smart phone, hurriedly piecing our plan back together before the phone died. An inauspicious start for sure, especially considering how we didn’t want to wing it in a neighborhood with a history of violence going to back to the 1830s. Alas, with only a couple of the addresses recovered, we boarded the water taxi.

We examined our boat-mates. Most appeared to be IKEA-bound, with the vacant NY Water Taxiexpressions of middle-aged adults who spend their weekends buying furniture. The boat did not have a bar. After a twenty minute ride through placid waters, we arrived in Red Hook. The sun had set during the boat ride, casting an ominous darkness over our disembarkation.

Our plan was to walk to DeFonte’s Sandwich Shop which, according to the Internet, is world famous and not to be missed. First, though, we had to get into Red Hook proper, which required a ten-minute walk through the IKEA parking lot. No sidewalk? No problem! As intrepid explorers of New York’s nooks and crannies, we valiantly dodged cars and minivans until we passed out of the bright lights of IKEA and into the real Red Hook. The rest of our boat-mates had disappeared; it was just us against the Hook now.

The area right outside of the IKEA is not a friendly one. Foot traffic is nonexistent (although that’s true for every part of Red Hook not immediately outside a bar). It’s overrun with abandoned warehouses and empty lots (also true for 99% of Red Hook). Cars full of Swedish furniture blow by at 40 mph. The only person we saw was urinating in a dilapidated children’s playground. No picture could capture just how alone you feel in Red Hook at night–not “by yourself” alone, but “end-of-humanity” alone. A little bit of fear crept into us.

And then we hit the projects. It wasn’t clear whether or not this was better than the run-down urban blight we had just walked through. The thought of delicious sandwiches helped us push on.

And of course the damn sandwich place was closed.

Picture of Defonte's sandwhich shop closedAlso, Big  Bar Hunter is in the market for a photographer.

Initial impression of Red Hook: fuck you, Red Hook. We walked over to Van Brunt avenue, which is Red Hook’s main drag. It was a better-looking block (relatively speaking) with rowhouses, a gas station, and the faint sound of humans. We saw a bar that, despite hours and hours of Red Hook research, was not on our list of bars. Welcome to Bomba.

Bomba Billards and Bar
Arrival time: 6:30pm
250 Van Brunt St, Brooklyn NY

I mean, I guess this is what we were looking for. The bar was completely empty except for the bartender, Irene, who had been out sweeping the street before we came in. The lights were bright and Lord of the Rings was on the T.V. When we walked in, Irene hustled to mute the T.V., dim the lights, and turn on some Jason DeRulo. Now it’s a party. Saturday’s special was 2 beers for $7. There wasn’t anything on tap. We each got a bottle of Aguila, a Colombian beer, and looked around the bar.

BombaBillards&Bar

The bar is….strange. Coming in, we saw a dominoes table by the door and pool tables in a back room. So it’s a low-key hangout place, right? But behind the bar are dozens of bottles of wine. Nothing like swilling pinot while throwing bones. Irene explained: the bar was supposed to be upscale, with draft beer and a full kitchen, but she ended up settling for bottles, a popcorn machine, and a pretzel rack when the city held up her license and she spent six months paying rent with no income. We asked if Bomba catered to the project crowd; she says no. (Actually, what she said was a little more colorful: “If a project guy comes in, I just don’t show him hospitality until he leaves. But the project people usually keep to themselves. Sometimes we get some well-groomed blacks in here, and that’s okay.”) We also asked who DID come to Bomba…to which Irene just kind of shrugged.

In the unlikely event that you are in Red Hook and dying to play pool or drink cheap bottled beer, Bomba’s your place. But, as a bar that has only been open for two months, there is both room and time for improvement.

A block down from Bomba are both Brooklyn Ice House and Red Hook Bait and Tackle, but at 7:00pm they couldn’t have had a more different feel. Bomba was barely open, but Brooklyn Ice House was so crowded we couldn’t get seats. We went next door to check out Red Hook Bait & Tackle.

Red Hook Bait and Tackle
Arrival Time: 7:10pm
320 Van Brunt St, Brooklyn NY

Styled like a hunting cabin out of the North Woods, Bait and Tackle didn’t really fit with the harsh industrial environment outside–and neither did the prices. It had more taxidermied animals inside than most natural history museums, but instead of giving the bar a creepy “Deliverance” type feel, the dead animals just seemed like pawns in some hipster interior decorating contest. The condescending bowtie-wearing bartender confirmed what we The Interior of Red Hook Bait And Tacklesuspected: this place might have real fur but it was faux Williamsburg. We asked Mr. Bowtie if they had any happy hour specials and his reply was “everything’s one dollar off, now that’s pretty special right?” Well, not really when its usually $4 for a can of Tecate. We looked around to see who comes to this place. Other than “lilly white,” (we doubt they’ve ever had anyone coming over from the projects, well groomed or otherwise) you can’t really characterize the clientele: there was a woman breast feeding at the bar, there was a group of formally dressed older people drinking wine and there were some young people (artists?) lounging in the back playing on their iPads. Despite the hunting theme, the Big Buck Hunter console in the back wasn’t working and we didn’t feel like playing pinball so after draining our cans we headed out to try the BBQ next door at Brooklyn Ice House

Brooklyn Ice House
Arrival Time: 7:45pm
318 Van Brunt St, Brooklyn, NY

God, who are these people and where did they all come from. Every street in Red Hook is completely deserted, yet both Bait & Tackle and Brooklyn Ice House are packed. Unlike Bait and Tackle, though, the Ice House deserves it’s popularity. The space is cozy and comfortable, with zero standing room but a decent amount of seating at both tables and the bar. Their booze selection is extremely large and caters to both beer snobs and thrifty drunks. We each ordered a $5 “Highbeam” (a Miller High Life and a shot of Jim Beam). Top-notch and inexpensive, the food put this bar on a different level. Two pork shoulder sliders for $5? A cheese-stuffed hot dog wrapped in bacon with sweet potato fries for $6? Yes. Yes please. We’re just getting started: Hershey’s Kisses adorn the tables, The Interior of Brooklyn Ice Houseboard games are stacked in a corner (for the record, Jenga is a stellar drinking game) and Big Buck Hunter (fully operational) sits in the back.

Leaving the Brooklyn Ice House, we could feel the alcohol finally having its effect. We were no longer in scary Red Hook; instead, we felt like we were safe in the all-encompassing bosom of Anywheresville, New York. Our voices grew loud and fearless as we traipsed to our next stop, the Red Hook Lobster Pound.

Red Hook Lobster Pound
284 Van Brunt St, Brooklyn NY
Arrival Time: 8:30

The  first thing you should know about the Red Hook Lobster Pound is that it is not a bar. It’s a place that sells lobster rolls. But since they were open till nine and the Internet says they make the best lobster roll in New York, we figured why not give it a shot.

The second thing you should know about Red Hook Lobster Pound is that their lobster roll costs 16 dollars. The other options were an $8 lobster BLT (not really an option since they were out of bacon) and $8 lobster mac and cheese (not really an option since who wants to eat lobster covered in melted cheese?).  We split a $16 dollar lobster roll.

For that price we were expecting a monster foot long sandwich. (Though, to be fair, the Big Bar Hunter team has minimal lobster roll experience, so we really have no idea how much they usually cost. Going on the idea that they’re basically just sandwiches with fancy meat, $16 seems like a foot’s worth.) Our roll was closer to six inches . Disappointed but past the point of no return, we trudged into the back room, which is decorated to make it more like the coast of Maine and less like part of an industrial wasteland (what is with places in Red Hook pretending they’re in Maine?). The sandwich was pleasantly surprising. Although undersized, it was just bread stuffed with lobster covered in butter. No filling. No mayonnaise. No nonsense. If you really like lobster, you might love this place.

Rocky Sullivan’s
34 Van Dyke Street Brooklyn NY
Arrival Time: 8:55

We arrived at Rocky Sullivan’s at a little before 9. Rocky’s is the closest bar to the ferry terminal, and the last ferry would be leaving at 9. The question hung in the air: do we settle with our cursory tour of Red Hook and safely leave? Or do we push on into the wee hours, leaving only when all bars have been investigated, and exiting through the heretofore undiscovered land route through Brooklyn? We examined the exterior of Rocky Sullivan’s: a neon sign beckoned. We took the plunge.

Rocky Sullivan’s is a place where you expect to see peanut shells on the ground. The big space is occupied by wood tables, benches, and barstools behind a no-frills bar counter. Fancy, this bar was not. The Rocky Sullivan's neon signcrowd skews old and white. It wasn’t really a dive, though–many people were eating dinner with their families.

Not feeling the scene, we thought it would be a good time to take a break. (And yeah, on a pub crawl, Bud Lite counts as a break) We went into the large back room, which had been set up as an auditorium but was being converted into a concert hall. It was quite a cool, versatile space. We hung out, recuperating in peace, until the music started. Then it got weird. A choice lyric from the fanatically Irish rock band:

“The Red Hook Saints are lifting weights / A riot’s about to start”

And that was how it felt, too. The music was too loud for the space so we got a move on. We left Rocky Sullivan’s with trepidation. We had two bars left on the crawl, and the walk to Sunny’s was taking us to the most deserted part of Red Hook. Escape was seeming less and less likely.

Sunny’s
253 Conover Street  Brooklyn NY
Arrival Time: 10:10pm

Walking into Sunny’s, it was immediately clear that this bar embraced Red Hook. No Maine themed decorations here. That’s probably because Sunny’s is not an outgrowth of the new artist colony but a vestige of the once-famous Red Hook waterfront. Stepping inside, we once again had the bizarre experience of going from desolate streets to a packed bar. The front room at Sunny’s is narrow like a ship’s galley, decorated with a mix of things that Sunny's Neon Signseem like they were either left over from the port’s heyday or were found on the street. Every space at the bar was taken and so were all booths. Most people were drinking out of coffee mugs. We were impressed: “wow, a bar that serves grog!” No, Sunny’s is a bar, not a time capsule or pirate ship. They just serve drafts in coffee mugs, probably for the same reason they are only open Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays: because they can. With no room in the front, we moved through a small room that felt like it used to be a kitchen and passed into the backroom. If the front room exudes old Red Hook then the back room personifies the new Red Hook. Strange artsy photos decorated the wall as if it were an amateur art gallery but no one was here for the art. They were here for the music.

Welcome to the best bluegrass jam session in the city. At first there were only a few people around the sides watching, but as more and more instrumentalists kept arriving, adding layers to the sound and drawing a larger audience. Soon almost twenty people were playing Bluegrass musicians at Sunny'sguitars, banjos, and mandolins together. The room seemed transformed into to some smalltown gathering in rural America. We sipped our beers, amazed by what was going on and put off the last leg of the crawl, which would now be conducted in the lightly falling snow.

Botanica
220 Conover Street, Brooklyn NY
Arrival time: Drunk

Ahhh, the bar that advertises a $35 beer. The vitriol we have reserved for you. Unfortunately, the bar was closed.

Fuck that bar. We went back to Brooklyn Ice for more sliders and to plan our escape from Red Hook. Breaking into a car? some sort of airlift? We eventually took to wandering the streets, thumbs outstretched, awaiting the sweet kiss of death by hypothermia. We even peeked in Bomba Bar now filled with a eclectic mix of well-groomed people. And then–what?! A bus! The mythical B61. We boarded, knowing only that it was headed out of Red Hook. Soon we were underground, speeding away, heading towards safety, towards home.

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About dc89

Founded Uruguay Business Reports in 2012. Donovan is a 2011 graduate of Wake Forest University. He has spent significant time in Latin America including studying at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.
This entry was posted in Brooklyn, Pub Crawls. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Big Bar Hunter’s Red Hook Pub Crawl

  1. anonymous says:

    Great article, You should try out “Jalopy Theaters ” if you ever try.to risk going to Red Hook again. It has amateurs play old-Time music, bluegrass, country, gypsy and jazz, and there;s no cover on Wednesday.

    • dc89 says:

      Thanks we’re glad you enjoyed it. We’re not huge fans of covers but if its as good as you say we may check it out.

  2. Allison says:

    1. The bartender you’re referring to at B&T doesn’t wear bow ties. (But we -including him- agree with the condescending part.)

    2. You should do your homework before coming out here and be willing to interact with the locals on a positive level instead of prejudging all poopy-like.

    • dc89 says:

      Thanks for writing. It is always good to hear from our fans. In response to your complaints:

      1) I can’t speak to if Mr. Bowtie usually wears bowties. I’ve only met him once. I do assure you that on the night of February 11, 2012 he was most certainly wearing one. You can’t seriously think we went all the way to Red Hook just to make up malicious lies about bartenders’ neck garments. If we were going to do that we wouldn’t have gotten on a water taxi.

      2) $4 dollars for a can of Tecate!

      3) I don’t know what homework we didn’t do. We found the bar. We read about it online. We read “the horror of Red Hook” which surprisingly is not about Bait and Tackle.

      4) Did I mention $4 dollar cans of Tecate

  3. generalzod says:

    1. Who cares if he wears bow ties or not, you brought it up, like he should be smited for wearing one. Have you never dealt with Pete from Melody Lanes? He always rocks a bow tie.

    2. Yeah we get it, youre cheap. Well drinks are $5 there. Who drinks Tecate anyway?

    3. Your assignment was to get great sandwiches, you failed because you couldnt do this http://lmgtfy.com/?q=defontes+brooklyn+hours

    4. Was it $4 for a Tecate? I cant remember. Drink whiskey.

    5. If you want cheap i know of a ton of bars you can frequent in Murray Hill with $8 pitchers of slop. You might enjoy the frat party atmosphere.

    6. I was raised to believe that going to the bar was to be social, not sit with your friend judging everyone you have never met and getting hammered on cheap beer. Perhaps Im old fashioned for believing this and that getting drunk is a by-product of having a good time, not the other way around.

    7. Sigh…Sunny;s doesnt serve draft beer.

    8. I find it odd that you have created this blog, think about it. You are going to go to all these bars and probably find some great ones; bars that are cheap, not too crowded and overall fun. After that you will blog about it, people will read your blog and want to go to these great bars. These bars will not be so great after that.

    9. Fuck Botanica.

    • dive89 says:

      Hi generalzod! Thank you for taking the time to read our blog. Allow me to respond to a couple of your comments:

      Bow ties aren’t intrinsically bad, but are notoriously difficult to pull off. For every Pete from Melody Lanes, you have a Pee-Wee Herman. The bartender at Bait and Tackle was much more like Pee-Wee Herman.

      DeFonte’s website doesn’t have hours on it. Neither does their Yelp page (although they are mentioned in the comments). So thanks for googlin’ that for us, but that was information that we could really only find out once we had boots on the ground.

      Yes, we may find bars that are cool and encourage people to go to them. In fact, we’ve recommended the Ice House to many, many people since visiting it. It’s okay, though–no one will ever go, BECAUSE IT’S IN RED HOOK.

    • dc89 says:

      As Dive89 said, we do greatly appreciate all the fan feedback. Dedicated readers like yourself are what makes the blogging and drinking worth it.

      1) We simply used Mr. Bowtie’s Bowtie as a identifying charactersitc. Our true problem with Mr. Bowtie wasn’t how he chose to cloth his neck (which given his name seems to have been a very logical choice) but how he chose to serve $4 Tecate.

      2) If I wanted to pay five dollars for a beer I wouldn’t be pubcrawling the outerboroughs.

      3) Yes, we too were greatly disappointed by this failure. Don’t worry, we promptly fired our intern and it shouldn’t happen again.

      4) I couldn’t agree with you more.

      5)
      A) The only Murray Hill we’ve been to is in Queens.
      B) They prefered to be called fraternities. Frat is a derogatory term.
      C) We also agree that more NYC bars should serve Busch Light

      6) Such is the life of a critic.

      7) WAIT SO THEY DO SERVE GROG???

      8) You vastly over estimate the size of our readership and our influence over them.

      9) Yeah fuck Botanica

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