Sandy-blasted Sunny’s Bar will shine again

Sunny’s revived: Red Hook’s historic Sunny’s Bar was battered by Hurricane Sandy but is finally reopening on Aug. 29, legendary barkeep Sunny Balzano’s birthday.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Break out the aged whiskey — Sunny’s Bar is back!

The more-than-a-century-old Red Hook watering hole is reopening its doors later this month for the first time since Hurricane Sandy ripped through the waterfront neighborhood nearly 10 months ago. The superstorm clobbered the Conover Street pub with floodwaters that completely wiped out the bar’s basement, causing major structural and electrical damage. But now, after a lot of sweat and tears and more than $100,000 in repairs, legendary barkeep couple Sunny Balzano and Tone Johansen are reopening the saloon on Aug. 29, Balzano’s 78th birthday.

“I never considered that we wouldn’t get here,” Balzano said.

The Sandy-battered bar did not qualify for a disaster assistance loan from the Small Business Administration because it is so old, so it had to rely on the help of hundreds of Sunny’s fans to get on the road to recovery, according to Balzano. Supporters pulled through in spades, first contributing $35,000 in December through a Kickstarter campaign, which paid for a new boiler, floor, gas line, compressors, and electrical work. In May, the pub raked in another $12,000 at a benefit party that drew more than 400 Sunny’s devotees and kicked off a second online fund-raising campaign that netted an additional $20,000.

Balzano and Johansen said that they would not have been able to reopen had it not been for the outpouring of support.

“I feel like we’ve been on this crazy conveyor belt and all of these hands were pulling us forward underneath,” said Johansen, who was in the bar’s basement when Sandy hit and narrowly escaped the rushing waters.

Sunny’s is among the last Red Hook businesses still closed after Sandy.

Balzano, whose grandfather opened the bar in 1890, said he plans to repaint the facade of the bar black and transform it into a blackboard where patrons can sign their names and create a living memorial to the community’s support.

The grand reopening ceremony will include tunes from the band Xylophone People and Johansen says that she is breathless with anticipation.

“It’s like an out-of-body experience — I can’t wait,” said Johansen, adding that all remains to be done is installing the ice machine and stocking the shelves with liquor.

Sunny’s Bar grand reopening [253 Conover St., between Beard and Reed streets in Red Hook, (718) 625-8211, www.sunnysredhook.com]. 7:30 pm ceremony.

Reach reporter Natalie Musumeci at nmusumeci@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her at twitter.com/souleddout.

More from Around New York