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Sunny’s rises from the Sandy sludge

The Brooklyn Paper
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Photo gallery

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Full house: Hundreds of party people filled Sunny's Bar for an Aug. 29 shindig marking the legendary Red Hook watering hole's first time open since Hurricane Sandy hit.
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Open for business: Sunny's co-owner Tone Johansen cut the ribbon at the grand reopening ceremony.
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Root revival: Guitarist Smoky Hormel and fiddle player Charlie Burnham brought the Western swing at the grand reopening party of Sunny's Bar.
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Cheers: Sunny's fans of all ages celebrated the rebirth of the more-than-a-century-old watering hole on Aug. 29.
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Smokin': Paul Molnar of newly opened Hometown BBQ in Red Hook cooked up ribs and pulled pork for the jamboree welcoming Sunny's back to Red Hook after Hurricane Sandy soaked it.
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Till the break of dawn: Musicians jammed all night long to welcome back Sunny's Bar on Aug. 29.

Bottoms up!

Beloved Red Hook bar Sunny’s reopened on Thursday, 10 long months after Hurricane Sandy soaked the saloon. Legendary barkeep couple Sunny Balzano and Tone (pronounced “tuna”) Johansen are over the moon about the party that marked their return to slinging suds.

“It was quite magical,” said Balzano, who celebrated his birthday — his 78th or 79th, he was not sure which — on the night of the reopening that drew nearly 1,000 fans. “I feel like I had a wonderful dream.”

The crowd crammed into the pub and poured out onto the Conover Street block, which was shut down between Reed and Beard streets for a celebratory night of live music, food, speechifying, and, of course, a ton of drinking.

“It was the party of the century,” Johansen said. “We just about ran out of beer.”

Johansen performed at the bash for the crowd of bar regulars and first-timers, joined onstage by jazz and bluegrass musicians, including Smokey Hormel and the Luna Sisters.

“It was very gratifying to have all these folks come out to show their friendship,” Balzano said.

The party punctuated an outpouring of support that started not long after Sandy struck, flooding the basement and almost drowning Johansen.

The bar did not quality for a disaster assistance loan, so its owners turned to the community for aid. The barkeeps were able to pay for more than $100,000 in major structural and electrical repairs through benefit parties and online fund-raising campaigns. Put it this way: Sunny’s fans are passionate about their preferred pub.

“[Sunny’s Bar is] a community of people who congregate at the last bar at the end of the world,” said bar regular Dean Haspiel, who helped organize a Sunny’s benefit. “It’s a place where the bluegrass music uplifts your soul as you knock back amber gold within eye-shot of the Statue of Liberty.”

“I’m happy to see their front door open again,” he added.

Balzano, whose grandfather opened the watering hole in 1890, said he plans to transform the facade into a blackboard where patrons can sign their names and create a living memorial to the community’s support. The bar reopened with an expanded outdoor area in back.

The pint puller said that the future is bright for him, his family, and the saloon that bears his name — now that the doors are open again.

“We can now begin to make a living,” Balzano said, beaming.

Reach reporter Natalie Musumeci at nmusumeci@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her at twitter.com/souleddout.
Updated 10:14 pm, July 9, 2018
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