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Red Hook is not one of those “New York” neighbourhoods. In fact, it’s so not New York that even Brooklyn-based architecture bureaus tend to build Dutch-style townhouses here. The central street is called Van Brunt. This is the neighbourhood where I clearly missed Amsterdam.
Although it’s just a mere geometric mile from Manhattan, the neighbourhood has lived a fascinating, quite authentic and not-that-easy life. Once a warehouse center of the area, one of the busiest ports, Red Hook saw severe criminal resurgence (hey, to Al Capone). A gradual hipsterfication was paused, abruptly, by hurricane Sandy, when nearly every business in the area was devastated. The good news is, everyone is back, storefronts stainless and shiny. Today, Red Hook is known for a free IKEA ferry and the best lobster in New York City.
Red hook circa 1875.
As if secretly arranged with its North counterpart Greenpoint, Red Hook presents no painless way of getting there. There is no train stop in the mile radius, and the notorious B61 bus is getting all the kicks. Amusingly, there’s IKEA ferry and the bus (which, I start to realize, is a smart marketing move).
Red Hook is as grungy as a Photoshop brush stroke — rust and spectacular old pick-up trucks handsomely mix with the lines of sleek concrete European townhouses. Out of curiosity, I searched Craigslist for rooms and apartments available for rent in the area. None showed up.
Red Hook is most certainly designed for bikes: long carless asphalt surprises bikers with historical paving stones that turn back to smooth asphalt without much of a caution. Walking on the sidewalk is close to gliding on broken ice: the surface is studded with holes and funky hollows.
The original “Public Enemy Number One,” mob kingpin Al Capone, may be the most famous criminal of all time. Capone is best known as a Chicago crime boss, but he spent his formative years in Red Hook before moving on to terrorize the midwest.
By the 1920s, Red Hook had the busiest freight port in the world, but this ended in the 1960s with the advent of containerization. In the 1930s, the area was poor, and the site of the current Red Hook Houses was the site of a shack city for the homeless, called a “Hooverville”.
The 1954 film On the Waterfront starring Marlon Brando is set in Red Hook, though it was filmed in Hoboken, New Jersey.
The neighbourhood doesn’t seem to pay much attention to its graphic identity. These trash bins are the only identity signals I could find
Red Hook was severely damaged during hurricane Sandy. Most of the businesses thrived, some couldn’t make it
Cacao Prieto Distillery
Kempton offers a hand-picked selection of accessories, apothecary and home goods
Chocolate display at Cacao Prieto
A surprising find in the backyard of Cacao Prieto — a birdhouse with exotic dwellers
Should you get bored, there’s Queen Mary II that leaves from Red Hook every two weeks. Queen Mary II is the last cruise ship in the world to do transatlantic crossings and the only large ship that docks in Red Hook
Places to Explore in Red Hook
Raaka Chocolate runs introductory classes — for $50 you’ll taste raw cacao from different regions and compare how the flavors vary across the world. You’ll also get to load our stone grinders with raw ingredients and pour your own bars into molds. At the end of the class, you’ll have a bespoke, hand-crafted bar. Book your class at raakachocolate.com
Grab a Bite
1. Baked, Bakery serving cakes, cupcakes, and coffee 359 Van Brunt St. bakednyc.com
2. Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies, Delicious lime pies 185 Van Dyke St. stevesauthentic.com
3. Red Hook Lobster Pound, Nautical-themed joint serving lobster rolls & other New England-style seafood 284 Van Brunt St. redhooklobster.com
4. Red Hook Bait and Tackle, Adirondack lodge meets Brooklyn dive bar at what was once a gathering place for local fishermen 320 Van Brunt St. redhookbaitandtackle.com
Learn Something New
5. She-weld, Classes on welding, blacksmithing, design, sculpture 106 Ferris St., 10B she-weld.com
6. Pioneer Works, Classes on storytelling and art 159 Pioneer St. pioneerworks.org
7. Brooklyn Slate Company, Showroom for kitchen items handcrafted from slate sourced from a NY quarry, plus gourmet provisions 305 Van Brunt St. brooklynslate.com
8. Botta Di Vino, Wine boutique with a tasting room 357 Van Brunt St. bottadivino.net
9. Papillionaire Bicycles, Bicycle Shop 390 Van Brunt St. papillionaire.com
10. Kempton & Co., Accessories and home goods 392 Van Brunt St. kemptonandco.com
11. Pier 44 Antiques, Interior pieces sold at an auction 290 Conover St. pier44antiques.com
Uncover The Process
12. Sixpoint Brewery, All public and private tours are on pause while they renovate their facilities 40 Van Dyke St. sixpoint.com
13. Cacao Prieto, Chocolate factory and distillery tours (Saturday & Sunday: Noon, 2 p.m., 4 p.m. / $20 a person) 218 Conover St. cacaoprieto.com
14. Van Brunt Stillhouse, Enjoy a cocktail or take a tour and see how the magic is made (Thursday & Friday 4—9 p.m., Saturday 1—9 p.m., Sunday 2—6 p.m.) 6 Bay St. vanbruntstillhouse.com
15. Red Hook Winery, Behind the scenes look at the process and tastings (daily from 11 a.m.—5 p.m.) 175 Van Dyke St. redhookwinery.com
16. Raaka Chocolate, Get to taste raw cacao from different regions and compare how flavors vary across the world 64 Seabring St. raakachocolate.com