It’s always Sunny’s: Book fest author celebrates bartender Sunny Balzano • Brooklyn Paper

It’s always Sunny’s: Book fest author celebrates bartender Sunny Balzano

Drink in his words: “Sunny’s Nights,” about the owner of Sunny’s Bar in Red Hook, is a finalist for the Brooklyn Eagles Literary Prize.

It will be a Sunny night!

During the run-up to the Brooklyn Book Festival on Sept. 18, the borough is lighting up with literary events — and the most Brooklyn-tastic of them will happen Sept. 13 at Franklin Park, with a reading from finalists for the Brooklyn Eagles Literary Prize, which rewards the “most Brooklyn” book published in the last year. Six nominees will vie for the prize, which is sponsored by the Brooklyn Public Library, but the clearest Kings County connection belongs to “Sunny’s Nights: Lost and Found at a Bar on the Edge of the World,” about the late owner of Brooklyn’s most famous watering hole — Sunny’s Bar in Red Hook. The author hopes his book will help fill in any blanks about the legendary barkeep’s storied life.

“He was a very widely known man, but in some ways he was little known,” said Tim Sultan, a Park Slope resident who was friends with Sunny Balzano for 20 years. “I know that there were many people who have their fragmented memories of Sunny, and in many ways this book fills in what people didn’t know about him.”

Sultan — who worked as a bartender at the Conover Street bar for 15 years — but describes himself as “more of a bottle opener” — spent eight years putting together the book, which is part memoir, part biography.

He based it on hundreds of hours of conversation with the eccentric Balzano, who told and retold stories from his 81-year life, often changing the details with each recollection, said Sultan.

“He was a very unusual man and by no means a traditional interview subject,” he said. “He was just as good at mis-remembering as he was at remembering.”

Balzano died just two weeks after the book was released, but Sultan said his friend did not read it, and would not have done so — he was dyslexic and not much of a reader. But Sunny backed the book all the way, said Sultan.

“He wanted me to write the book — he knew that this would be a very personal account of our friendship,” he said. “He was honored. He was not a man with any sense of embarrassment about anything he had ever done in his life.”

Sultan will read excerpts from his book with help from Balzano’s close friend Robert Francis Cole, who voiced the audiobook.

Other nominees for the Brooklyn Eagle Literary Prize reading that night include Mary Buser, reading “Lockdown on Rikers” about working at the island prison, and Tanwi Nandini Islam with her novel “Bright Lines,” about two young women living in Brooklyn and Bangladesh, among others.

2016 Brooklyn Eagles Literary Prize Finalists at Franklin Park (618 St. Johns Pl. at Franklin Ave. in Prospect Heights, www.franklinparkbrooklyn.com). Sept. 13 at 8 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill
A light in the night: Author Tim Sultan will read excerpts from his book, “Sunny’s Nights,” along with Sunny Balzano’s close friend Robert Francis Cole, at Franklin Park on Sept. 13.
Photo by Jason Speakman

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