Hot Red Hook is turning cold one year after New York’s gentrification guard branded it — the neighborhood that birthed “On the Waterfront” — as The Next Big Thing.
Last summer, anything seemed possible on Van Brunt Street. Big-time broker Barbara Corcoran had recently paid $1-million for one of the drag’s narrow, 19th-century buildings. Fairway foodies were stopping at the Old Pioneer for post-grocery beers, and every balmy evening brought another fancy-people caravan to eat small plates of costly, farm-raised food at 360 and the Good Fork.
This July, the outlook is bleaker. Posh 360 is closed, with the metal gate rolled down for an indefinite period of time. Also dark is the Old Pioneer, which owners plan to sell because of lagging profits. Over on Commerce Street, the Hook is turning off its distortion pedals and shutting down after a noisy attempt to become Brooklyn’s most post-punk rock grounds.
My favorite bookstore, Freebird on nearby Columbia Street, is for sale on Craig’s List, as is another Columbia Street establishment, Lido bar. Already sold is the Liberty Heights Tap Room on Van Dyke Street, which reopened late last month as Rocky Sullivan’s, an Irish-themed, Manhattan-style pub.
To add to the despair, soon enough Red Hookers won’t even be able to drown the bad news in a bottle of good bourbon.
LeNell’s — a Van Brunt Street-born liquor store that is so at one with the neighborhood that it sells its own brand of Red Hook Rye — learned recently that it will have to leave its 416 Van Brunt St. location next summer because the building’s owner wants to use the storefront for his own business.
Tonya “LeNell” Smothers, the booze boutique’s owner, said she wants to stay in the ’hood, but where she will end up remains murky as watered-down ouzo.
“Red Hook is a difficult place to run a business and I will leave it at that,” she said. Even the Laundromat at 282 Van Brunt St. has a “For Rent” sign in the front window — a disaster in the making as this is the only washing machine for a mile (even Red Hookers need their blue jeans cleaned occasionally).
But most alarming is the loss of local drinking establishments.
“Maybe Red Hook is no longer summer camp for alcoholics,” said Chris Curen, an authority on drinking customs.
Curen sees the demise of Van Brunt Street’s Old Pioneer as fallout from the neighborhood’s hyping.
“Landlords are seeing dollar signs and not the reality,” he said, knocking back a Budweiser at his customary stool at the Bait and Tackle on Van Brunt Street at Pioneer Street, which is “not going anywhere,” according to co-owner Edie Stone.
Stone said she and her B & T co-owners were considering selling the tavern before hearing of the demise of the Old Pioneer next door, a bar that helped create a booze alley atmosphere on the block. Now, they have decided to stay open.
“The Pioneer is closing. Lido’s is closing. Sunny’s is only open three nights a week. How could there be Red Hook without a bar?” she asked incredulously.
People sell businesses for reasons that range from the personal and idiosyncratic to the global. An over-hyped market is partly to blame, but so is another villain: laziness. Not enough people travel across Brooklyn–Queens Expressway to visit Red Hook’s restaurants, bars and galleries. Do it this summer.
You won’t regret it. And if you do, at least LeNell will still be around to help you forget.
Ariella Cohen is a staff reporter for The Brooklyn Paper
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