It’s not hard to imagine Red Hook, Brooklyn, as the ‘hood where Al Capone got his start (and a four-inch slash across his cheek, which earned him the nickname “Scarface”). Broken trolley cars rust on crumbling docks. Abandoned factories sit next to crusty bars where longshoremen used to drink before the shipping industry moved to New Jersey. Now the housing projects built for them in the 1930s are inhabited by low-income families, and unemployment rates are high. And Red Hook is isolated: no subway stop, and the only direct transportation to Manhattan is via an infrequent water taxi.
But for some struggling artists, entrepreneurs, and young families, bleakness, danger, and inaccessibility are trumped by two words: “low rent.” There are still too many boarded-up windows to consider Red Hook gentrified, but the up-and-coming neighborhood now has a giant gourmet supermarket, and a handful of restaurants, bars, and specialty food shops that draw visitors from greater Brooklyn and Manhattan. For adventurous out-of-towners, Red Hook offers some excellent food, drink, and old-Brooklyn atmosphere—at prices that won’t break the vacation budget. There’s a poster inside the local bake shop, Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies, that says it best: “Red Hook! It’s not just for crackheads anymore.”
How to get there: Take the F or G subway line to the Smith–Ninth Street stop, and hop on the B77 bus near the subway’s entrance, going west toward Van Brunt Street. Get off the bus at the intersection of Van Brunt and Van Dyke, which is near Hope & Anchor. To get to the other locations, your best bet is to hail a cab. If coming from Manhattan, you can take the water taxi, though it runs only a few times a day. Check schedules at New York Water Taxi. If that’s too complicated, just drive. Despite the influx of newcomers, it’s still pretty easy to find street parking in “the Hook.”
Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies
Over a decade ago, Steve Tarpin started making fresh-juice key lime pies in his Brooklyn studio apartment, in an oven that had to be held shut with a bungee cord. He sold his creamy-citrusy creations to local restaurants and eventually moved into a Civil War–era building on Red Hook’s Pier 41. Now his pies are delivered to restaurants all over the city and online, but to get the freshest pie possible, you’d best stop by his shop. For a snack on the run, grab a $5 Swingle—a frozen mini-pie, crust and all, dipped in chocolate and served on a Popsicle stick.
Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies
204 Van Dyke Street; 888-450-5463
Locals linger in bright orange chairs sipping coffee and savoring cupcakes, icebox pies, and chocolate tarts made with peanut butter, honey, and bananas. Baked is a great breakfast spot, since they also serve muffins, scones, and house-made granola, but their adventurous cakes steal the spotlight. We love the sweet and salty chocolate cake, infused with fleur de sel caramel and topped with caramel chocolate ganache. Out-of-towners will appreciate their online shop, which offers homemade marshmallows, brownies, cookies, and double-entendres-for-stoners apparel.
359 Van Brunt Street; 718.222.0345
Hope & Anchor
Cheap comfort food, morning, noon, and night, is the draw at this homey diner. Two eggs, potatoes, and toast costs a mere $3.50. The roast pork hoagie, piled with fried-mozzarella sticks and cherry peppers, is killer, but save room for a slice of homemade apple pie. On weekend evenings, drag queen Kay Sera hosts a serious karaoke set, featuring gospel-trained local ladies who take Whitney Houston tunes to new heights and waiters who bring down the house with “Old Man River.” If you’re craving a swankier supper, head across Van Brunt to the restaurant 360, where the French-inspired $25 prix fixe menu changes daily, featuring specialties like Prince Edward Island mussels, savory onion tarts, and wine-braised short ribs—paired with biodynamic wines decanted in laboratory beakers. Or walk down to the Good Fork, a neighborhood newcomer with a Korean-infused New American menu (think skirt steak with kimchee rice) and a loyal local crowd.
Hope & Anchor
347 Van Brunt Street, at Wolcott Street; 718-237-0276
360 Van Brunt Street, between Sullivan and Wolcott streets; 718-246-0360 (reservations strongly recommended; cash only)
The Good Fork
391 Van Brunt Street, near Coffey Street; 718-643-6636
Red Hook’s dives are always roomier and generally cheaper than their equivalents in New York City and the rest of Brooklyn. Inside Pioneer Bar-B-Q (a bar that serves food), the walls are wood paneled, and hung with Christmas tree lights year round. Their house-smoked pulled pork, beef brisket, and mac and cheese do a fine job of soaking up pitchers of beer, and Red Hook’s own Six Point Craft Ales always has one of their brews on tap here. Make this the first stop on your Red Hook bar crawl, then head next door to Bait & Tackle, a pub heavily decorated with taxidermy. End your evening at Sunny’s, the oldest bar in town, near Pier 44.
318 Van Brunt Street, at Pioneer Street; 718-701-2189
Bait & Tackle
320 Van Brunt Street, at King Street; 718-797-4892
253 Conover Street, between Beard and Reed streets; 718-625-8211
Housed in a pre–Civil War coffee warehouse on Van Brunt Street, this huge grocery store is a maze of organic produce, rotisserie chickens, high-end meats, olive oils, cheeses from around the world, and fresh fish. The selection is unmatched, but with so much under one roof, shopping can be overwhelming. To take the edge off, head down the block to LeNell’s, a well-curated wine and liquor store, where LeNell herself frequently pours free samples.
480–500 Van Brunt Street; 718-694-6868
416 Van Brunt Street, between Coffey and Van Dyke streets; 1-877-NO-SNOBS (1-877-667-6627) or 718-360-0838