Here's how you can take a stay-cation in Red Hook. Once the city's busiest shipping port, Red Hook is now a quiet neighborhood that feels like a small town in the city's biggest borough. Racketeering on the docks and changes in shipping methods lead to the deterioration of Red Hook's piers and reputation, but, like many New York neighborhoods, artists moved in and gave the area a softer, more creative edge. Now, with good food, free art, and waterfront access, Red Hook offers the perfect place to get away in the city.
The most fun way to get to Red Hook is the IKEA Water Taxi. The twenty-minute ride is $5 on weekdays (runs every 40 minutes after 2pm) and free on weekends (runs every 40 minutes after 11am) giving you a mini-tour of Red Hook’s working waterfront. The taxi docks in Erie Basin, where IKEA shares its piers with a 200-vessel fleet of tugboats and barges. We find the best way to see Ikea, if you're up for it, is to skip the showroom and go straight to the marketplace (go up the escalator, make weird detour through children's toys and back down the stairs for a money-saving shortcut).
Skip the Swedish lunch and head to the Red Hook Lobster Pound, where the “live and naïve” critters are waiting for you. The Pound offers two types of lobster rolls: warm, Connecticut style, and the more traditional Maine style, served cold with homemade mayonnaise, both $15. The latter is preferable, dressed with the perfect amount of mayo and seasoned with lemon juice, scallions, and fresh herbs.
If you’re looking for a cheaper, but equally delicious meal, go to the ball fields near Clinton Street, where you’ll find the famed Red Hook food vendors. For more than thirty years, artisan cooks have populated the remote corner of the park with some of the best Latin cuisine, spring through fall. For less than $20, you will feast. Try the spicy pork huarache from the Martinez Taco truck, usually on the corner of Clinton and Bay Streets. The taco-quesadilla hybrid drips with juicy shredded meat and is topped with fresh veggies and queso-fresco.
After you’ve stuffed yourself silly, spend the afternoon gallery hopping. Artists converted many of Red Hook's old warehouses into studios and exhibit spaces. The Brooklyn Waterfront Artist Coalition, the borough’s largest artist-run organization, operates in a Civil War-era warehouse on the water next to The Fairway market. The gallery is open weekends from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. The current show, “Nailed,” features more than 1200 paintings, photographs, drawings, sculptures, and mixed media pieces from more than 225 artists. Most of the work in the show, which closes June 13, is affordable for those of us with shallow pockets, and book and poetry readings take place Saturday afternoons.
Not too far away, you’ll find Lucky Gallery, currently showing “Made in Red Hook.” The salon-style exhibition features sixteen little-known artists working in Red Hook. A few standouts are Rachel Mosler’s intricate botanically influenced watercolor and ink drawings and Bariah Wall’s small plaster message coins.
Many of the nearby shops could double as galleries. Everyone knows the blue and yellow megastore IKEA, but Red Hook’s small businesses reflect the neighborhood’s creative and eccentric character. From the arts and crafts-inspired jewelry and accessories at Metal and Thread to the hand-blown glass décor at Pier Glass, the shops are filled with unique, locally made artisan offerings.
Then grab an afternoon pick-me-up at Baked. Co-owners Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito serve up to-die-for cakes, like their award-winning Sweet and Salty – a dark chocolate cake with a caramel center, topped with chocolate ganache and sprinkled with fleur de sel. They offer all their cakes as cupcakes for $2 – a price that makes it hard to have just one.
Arguably the best part of Red Hook is its prime waterfront location. Stop by the Waterfront Museum, located on a red barge at the end of Conover Street, where David Sharps will happily teach you about the neighborhood’s history. “Red Hook is a changing neighborhood, but the piers are still just as busy as ever,” says Sharps. “The shipping is just done in such a quiet manner that the public is unaware.”
Spend the evening strolling along the waterfront promenade. The Red Hook Garden Pier right beside the museum is the perfect place to read a book or just watch the sailboats and tugs on the water. “I come here at least twice a week, even in the winter,” says Linda Mailor, 45, a life-long Red Hook resident. “It’s very calming to watch the sunset.” Valentino Park’s location at the tip of Red Hook offers unobstructed views of the Upper Bay, Statue of Liberty and Manhattan skyline.
For a relaxing end to the day, enjoy dinner at Home/Made. The cozy interior feels more like your living room than a restaurant, perhaps because the seats are comfy couches instead of chairs. While the eatery’s claim to fame is its scrambled eggs during brunch, dinner options are just as delicious. The open-faced smoke salmon and goat cheese sandwich is mouth-watering, as is the ham and Gruyere tart. After dinner, sit back and unwind with selections from the extensive wine list.
If delicate eats aren’t for you (and you passed on the lobster roll earlier), head to Rocky Sullivan’s for their Think Global, Act Local menu (rooftop pictured). For $23, you get a fresh lobster from the Red Hook Lobster Pound, two sides and a dessert. Wash it all down with $5 Six Points Craft Ales drafts. Stick around after dinner for live music by Seanchai and The Unity Squad, fronted by Chris Byrne, owner of the bar. The band offers a unique blend of funk, hip-hop, and traditional Irish music. Bonus: Rocky Sullivan’s spacious rooftop deck is the most serene in the city, thanks to the bar’s Red Hook location.
(Waterfront image by Pro-Zak via Flickr)
(Image via Lucky Gallery)
(image via Flatbush Gardener)
(Image via GlenwoodNYC)
This post updated Spring 2012