253 Conover St
Brooklyn, NY 11231-1022
Hours: Wed, Fri, Sat 8p-4a
Transportation: A,C,F to Jay St/Borough Hall—then Bus B61 to Red Hook or F, G to Carroll St—then, $6 Cab
Written by: Paula Pahnke
The mystique of Sunny’s Bar is rooted in its old world ambience. The bar nestles itself on a quiet, cobblestone street right off the Pier 41 waterfront, in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Housed within a vintage landscape, this once watering hole for long-shore fishermen, has become a neighborhood institution, playing host to a variety of American folk talent and performers within the Brooklyn roots music scene.
Owned and operated by the Balzano family for over three generations, artist and proprietor Sunny Balzano and his wife, Tone, have created an off-the-grid oasis that caters to an eclectic crowd who doesn’t mind a fifteen minute walk from the nearest train station. “People like the idea of going to a place where they feel like they could almost get lost and they’d be proud to get lost; they’d be proud the cab driver got lost,” says Tim Sultan, a bartender, who’s worked at Sunny’s for over fifteen years.
The front room is rustic and adorned with maritime antiquities, quirky strings of Christmas lights and abstract canvases painted by Sunny, himself. The long, mahogany bar houses an impressive selection of beer and hot cider, served with a splash of whiskey or rum—the house favorite during the winter months—however, Tone clarifies,
“I believe people would still come even if all we served was Budweiser.”
A makeshift stage allows for audience and band interaction. “There’s a human connection when you play for people sitting right in front of you,” Tone explains. Patrons can be seen attempting to two-step, especially on Wednesday nights, which feature Smokey Hormel of Smokey’s Roundup, who’s played with everyone from Beck to Johnny Cash. On Friday and Saturday nights performers like John Pinamonti can be heard paying homage to Brooklyn natives with songs like “The Ballad of Biggies Smalls” (referencing the late Bed-Stuy Rapper, The Notorious B.I.G.), accompanied by a mandolin.
The back room is a refined parlor and often the scene for impromptu jam sessions. Anyone within arm’s reach of an instrument is encouraged to join. The walls exhibit local artists’ work that rotates throughout the year, and once a month authors are invited to read excerpts from their work during the Sunday at Sunny’s reading series.