Red Hook is known for a few things (‘hit hard by Hurricane Sandy’; ‘that’s where IKEA is, right?’), but remains a bit of a mystery to most.
I’m here to tell you that this saltwater locale, this almost-a-beach-town, is a pearl of the Brooklyn waterfront. Despite being slightly off the beaten track (i.e. not exactly on the subway), it’s a great place to explore on a sunny day – especially if you appreciate character, quality dining options and independent businesses with sustainable practices.
The nearest subway is Smith & 9th on the F and G lines. If you don’t fancy a 15 minute walk, you can transfer to the B61 bus right outside the station, which takes you to Red Hook’s main artery, Van Brunt St.
Alternatively, you could catch the IKEA ferry from Pier 11 at the bottom of Wall Street; it’s free all weekend, or $5 each way. Check the schedule here. For explorers with wheels, the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway cycle route runs right through Red Hook.
I made it! Now what?
The bus stops directly opposite cake mecca Baked at 359 Van Brunt St. Fuel up on local Stumptown coffee along with a homemade cookie, cake or sandwich. The Sweet & Salty layer cake, served in enormous slices, is award-winning – try it and you’ll see.
Tear yourself away from the convivial and sweet-smelling atmosphere to have a nose around some of Van Brunt’s independent stores. Across the street, Erie Basin specializes in antique and vintage jewelry and has its own in-house line that is entirely made in New York. Foxy & Winston sells gorgeous printed stationary and organic screen-printed textiles among other things, most of them designed and made by the owner. The unique Wooden Sleepers sells men’s clothes, handpicked and vintage in a range of high quality fabrics, as well as a few locally-made accessories. Dry Dock Wine + Spirits sells a good range of locally-produced wines and liquors, with free tastings most weekends.
I’m done shopping; what else?
If locally-produced tipples capture your imagination, there are two – yes two – whiskey distilleries based in Red Hook that do tours and tastings for a small fee. Head south east to the end of Coffey Street for the Van Brunt Stillhouse, which sources its whiskeys’ ingredients direct from upstate farmers. Back up to where Coffey and Conover cross, Cacao Prieto will serve you a taste of five of its small-batch liquors (the Widow Jane whiskey is made from New York water) for $5, if you’re feeling too lazy for the tour. The other stars here, as you might have guessed, are their “single origin Dominican organic beans-to-bar” chocolates, made onsite from beans grown at the Prieto family’s sustainable farm. Maybe you’re not quite done shopping after all.
Can’t you see the Statue of Liberty from Red Hook?
Yes you can. Residents and visitors are treated to a good look at Lady Lib, who gazes right back across the water. From Cacao Prieto, continue north west up Coffey until you reach Louis Valentino Jr Park. There are great views of Lower Manhattan from this spot, too.
You are now only minutes away from the Red Hook Winery, which sells a diverse range of wines from about 15 New York State vineyards. We recommend you choose the $8 tasting sampler and tell one of the super-knowledgeable staff members to pick three wines that they think everyone should know about. Just round the corner, Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies are made from scratch using fresh Florida lime juice. This company takes its civic responsibility seriously as an active member of the local community – and supporter of the City Harvest community food program, among other things.
I’m so hungry now!
Good, because there are plenty of great places to eat. The Good Fork is a favorite (you’ll probably need to book ahead), often using local farm ingredients and featuring local brews on its food and bar menus. For those of reduced financial situations, Red Hook Food Vendors opened up for the season in May (weekends only), serving authentic and award-winning Latin American street food. Back on Van Brunt, Fort Defiance is a great bar that also serves seasonal, locally sourced food, as does Home/Made.
What about my culture fix?
Well, Red Hook Flicks begins its season of free outdoor film screenings in July, so you could finish off your day with a movie on the pier. The impressive Pioneer Works Center for Art and Innovation usually has two or more artists exhibiting, as well as an exciting schedule of events, often free, such as film screenings and concerts.
You can sense the community between these establishments, who support each other where they can, and the emphasis is largely on locally-sourced, sustainable practices. Just one example is the Red Hook Initiative‘s work in the community to empower local young people and drive social change. This makes for an excellent little area that is well worth taking a day or two to explore, especially now that more things are open for the summer season. I hope you’ll love it as much as I do!
If I’ve missed anything, please do let me know in the comments.