International hospitality from Iceland to Bosnia
From Coffey Street, turn right back onto Van Brunt in the direction of the water. On your right, Erie Basin – named for the neighbourhood’s 19th-century unloading dock – is an artfully curated vintage jewellery and furniture shop with a corner storefront modelled after the neighbourhood’s original clapboard homes. Further south, the shop Saipua crafts unorthodox candle and hand soap scents, like cracked sea salt or ground coffee and mint. And where Van Brunt meets the harbour, a hidden waterfront promenade tucked behind Fairway’s massive facade extends past a set of rusted vintage street cars, a floating barge museum that doubles as a theatre and the Pier 44 Waterfront Garden, where meandering pathways are lined with diverse vegetation and wooden benches looking out to the water. One block north, hand-painted signs direct you to arguably the best key lime pie that money can buy.
At Steve's Authentic Key Lime Pies, located in an old soda factory on Van Dyke Street, Steve Tarpin uses 54 boxes of imported Mexican key limes every week to create the lightly tart pie filling that is poured into 4in, 8in and 10in graham cracker crusts. Seeds from freshly-squeezed key limes dot the production area floor, and eye-catching paraphernalia from Mexico and Tarpin's native Florida hang from the ceiling.
Take away a pie and a plastic spoon for a sunset picnic at the waterfront Louis Valentino Jr Park, once home to Fort Defiance, which protected Manhattan from British ships in 1776 during the American Revolutionary War. Today, a manicured lawn and refurbished pier with views of the Statue of Liberty stand in its place.
Once hunger hits again, think seafood – and specifically, think Brooklyn Crab. With space for nearly 300 guests, a waterfront bar that churns out homemade piña coladas in colossal neon mugs, an umbrella-studded dining deck and 18 holes of miniature golf, the three-story structure is a self-contained party. Come midweek to dine with locals or prevent a lengthier wait on the weekends by arriving early.
Where seafood does not satisfy, Van Brunt Street offers top notch alternatives. The Good Fork is filled with a candle-lit glow, a devoted local crowd and offers inventive dishes like steak and eggs with kimchee rice. Fort Defiance, a few blocks north, serves up fresh pasta, small plates like chicken liver pate with bacon-onion jam, and historically-inspired cocktails like the Colonial Cooler, a twist on the Pimm's Cup that was first mixed in British North Borneo in the 1920s. The pocket-sized Home Made cafe provides plush couch seating and flatbread pizzas built on Italian staples like parmesan cheese, arugula, prosciutto and fresh tomatoes. Make a selection from a long wine list and relax.
Post dinner, wind down at Red Hook's legendary Sunny's, just around the corner from Brooklyn Crab. Long time owner Sunny Balzano was born in the building next door and the bar has been in the family for generations. Today, the drinking hole hosts bluegrass bands and displays the work of local painters. Coloured lights frame the cash-only bar and a miniature courtyard fits snugly between front and back room seating areas.
Exiting the merriment at Sunny's onto a quiet cobblestone is the perfect way to leave New York City's most remote getaway. But do not worry: the trusty B61 bus stops just around the corner on Beard Street to bring you back to civilization (namely, the rest of Brooklyn and subway connections).
Red Hook's culinary, shopping and sightseeing destinations can be tackled in one relaxed and very walkable midday to evening itinerary. From the subway (the F or G Carroll stop in Brooklyn), the B61 bus will scoot you down Van Brunt Street and into the neighbourhood’s commercial centre. Alternately, you can start your trip by sea via the New York City Water Taxi. Embark from Pier 11 at the southern tip of Manhattan and step off at Ikea's oversized, modern pier. A five-minute walk east along adjacent Beard Street provides your first taste of the neighbourhood’s minimalist industrial vibe. A free Brooklyn Crab shuttle bus also departs from the F and G Carroll Street stop.