Go where no subway goes: A day trip guide to Red Hook, thanks to car2go

Car2go cars go together
car2go cars go 2-gether on Pioneer Street in Red Hook. All photos by Kate Mooney

Every time I find myself in Red Hook, the sleepy, tucked-away neighborhood in Southwestern Brooklyn along the New York City Harbor, I always think the same thing: when was the last time I was down here? Why don’t I come here more often, like, every week?! Part of what makes Red Hook so appealing, gives it that feeling of a preserved, maritime community, inextricably tied to New York history and yet a far cry from what the majority of us associate with the day-to-day of living here, is its remoteness. Inaccessible by train, it’s a schlep to get to; you really need a bike or a car. So when car2go offered free registration to check out the service, we signed right up and planned a day trip.

How it Works

You can join car2go for free right now and get your first 15 minutes free through June 19 (registration is usually $35)! Once your membership is approved (car2go first reviews your driving record) you can rent cars for $.41/minute, $14.99/hour, or $84.99 for a full 24 hours. What makes car2go super accessible is that its pick up and drop off locations are right on the street—similar to the CitiBike model. Using the smartphone app, you can view which available cars are nearest to you. You can reserve a car up to 30 minutes in advance, or walk up and select one on the spot. Once you’re done with your trip, you park it in any legal parking space within car2go’s “home area,” which currently covers all of Brooklyn and parts of Queens.

How to get to Red Hook 

Red Hook sits southwest of Carroll Gardens, about a fifteen minute walk or a five minute bike ride from the Smith and 9th stop on the F and G line.

By car, it’s easier: Take exit 26 for Hamilton Ave. off the BQE and make your way down. Make sure you actually exit; don’t, like me, accidentally get routed onto the Battery Tunnel into Manhattan ($8 toll each way, except luckily the toll worker took pity on me and gave me a voucher for the way back so I only had to pay once). It was absolutely my own mistake, which I attribute to rustiness from basically not having driven in the city since I first moved here five years ago. (I don’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to driving here. Within my first month of being in New York, I forgot where I parked my car one night, reported it stolen, cancelled my insurance, then spotted it 3 months later in the same spot I left it, but ended up having to sell it due to complicated insurance issues. But that’s a whole ‘nother story.)

The reason I’m sharing this mishap, besides the fact that I think it’s funny to imagine me being helplessly churned through the Battery Tunnel, gripping the steering wheel, white-knuckled and sobbing from shock and panic like Dee in Clueless when she accidentally merges onto the LA freeway, is because it gave me the revelation that cars can also serve as an emotional vehicle, a much-needed space in which to let it all out. Living in New York, we’re constantly surrounded by people, whether crammed in on the subway or sharing a too-small apartment with multiple roommates, and it’s a challenge finding a private place to really cry. The next time you find yourself in desperate need of a wail, I would absolutely recommend reserving a car2go—even if you don’t need to go anywhere, except, within yourself—and having a good, long, ugly cry. The $.41/minute will pay for itself in emotional catharsis.

First stop: lunch at Fort Defiance 

Creole red beans on toast and a cold brew iced coffee hit the spot for lunch at Fort Defiance

Once I made it to Red Hook, I was starved and in need of a stiff drink (aka, cold brew iced coffee). I easily parked the car—the compact shape really makes parallel parking a breeze—on Van Brunt right across the street from Fort Defiance.


Car2go is incredibly easy to park, especially in Red Hook, where spaces abound
car2go is incredibly easy to park, especially in Red Hook, where spaces abound

Named after the Revolutionary War stronghold where General Washington and his troops shot down British boats in the Red Hook harbor during the Battle of Brooklyn, Fort Defiance is a neighborhood staple offering both New Orleans and locally-inspired dishes, open for breakfast through dinner and also making for a good late night bar hang. I sat at the bar and ordered the aforementioned cold brew iced coffee and Creole red beans on toast, a brunchy take on the New Orleans classic, and decompressed.


After lunch: Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie and sunbathing at Valentino Pier 

A view of the harbor and Lady Liberty from Valentino Pier
A view of the harbor and Lady Liberty from Valentino Pier

I had half of my coffee still to drink and the sun was out, so I took it to go and drove on over to Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies to pick up a little after-lunch dessert. I easily found a parking spot on a side street; even though you’d think a lot of Red Hook residents have cars, I never had to contend with a shortage of spaces.

Steve’s is caddy corner to Valentino Pier, which offers great views of New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty. I strolled the pier, waved at Lady Liberty, and then sat on a bench in the grassy area overlooking the water and ate my mini key lime pie, perfectly tart and sweet. The area was scattered with others enjoying the nice weather; there was a mother and child sitting on a blanket together, a solo dude reading, and a young woman playing fetch with her dog. I felt FOMO for my own dog, who I’d left at home, although she could have joined; car2go’s pet policy only requires that they be crated while in the vehicle. The representative told me that folks often use car2go to get their pets to the vet or elsewhere, as cabs and Uber are unreliable when it comes to taking on animal passengers (I know this to be true from experience).

Culture hour at Pioneer Works 

Crystal Cavern, a sculpture by Serra Victoria Bothwell Fels, on view at Pioneer Works

Fully sated and sunned, I hopped back in my whip and drove over to Pioneer Works, the gallery and event space. I found parking right across the street, next to another car2go! My car found a friend! Adorable. I wondered what the renter of that car was up to today. If these cars could talk…

Known for Second Sundays, a monthly series of open studios, new exhibits, plus live bands and DJs, Pioneer Works is free and open to the public from noon-6 every day except Monday and Tuesday. It was on a Wednesday that I went, and I basically had the place to myself. On the first floor, there currently wasn’t an exhibit up, but the space is stunning on its own, with high ceilings of exposed wooden rafters and a full wall of windows. They also have a pretty chill, nicely landscaped backyard; when I wandered out back, folks were enjoying lunch under a tree.


Folks enjoying lunch in the Pioneer Works' sunny backyard.
Folks enjoying lunch in the Pioneer Works’ sunny backyard.

Upstairs, I checked out photographs by Mickalene Thomas, and I spent some time sitting inside this sculpture called the Crystal Cavern, a wooden geometrical structure with a space you can crawl into. I sat in the dark and tried to meditate for five minutes, but mostly felt like a little kid playing hide and seek, or 12 year-old Claudia Kincaid from The Mixed Up Files of Basil E. Frankweiler, who runs away with her little brother Jamie to live in the MET.


Peruse small presses and zines at Pioneer Works' bookstore
Peruse small presses and zines at Pioneer Works’ bookstore.

Just down the street, Pioneer Works also has a small independent bookstore, Pioneer Books, that’s worth a stop in. It’s right across the street from Brokelyn favorite, the Brooklyn Ice House. (The only downside to driving to Red Hook is not being able to drink at the bevy of amazing bars—Sunny’s, Rocky Sullivan’s, Red Hook Bait & Tackle, among others.) In the one room space, you’ll find small presses, zines, books on subjects ranging from architecture to mysticism, and Pioneer Works’ own publications, such as their bi-annual magazine, Intercourse, and Groundworks, which they refer to as their pocket series of essays, poetry and other explorations in cultural discourse.


Say hello to the folks at PortSide NewYork aboard the Mary Whalen, docked at Pier 11
Say hello to the folks at nonprofit PortSide NewYork aboard the Mary Whalen, docked at Pier 11

I also recommend checking out PortSide NewYork, a nonprofit housed on the historic ocean-liner the Mary Whalen, which is docked in the Atlantic Basin of Pier 11, caddy corner to Pioneer Works. I spoke with the founder Carolina Salguero, who told me they’re getting ready to launch WaterStories, an online interactive multimedia project comprising oral histories, interviews and data to educate the public about Red Hook’s maritime history and culture. They expect to have it up and running by the end of June.

In the meantime, on weekdays from 9 am-5 pm, weather pending, the ship’s main deck is open to the public for “tanker time,” where you can lounge in a hammock or bring your lunch to eat at one of their tables. Tanker Time will also be open in conjunction with Pioneer Works’ Second Sundays, so folks can get take-out or drinks and hang out on the ship after a day of art.

Final stop: Fairway Market

For a break from the sun, I wandered the brightly-lit, well-stocked aisles of the beloved Fairway Market. Since I had a car, I could have loaded up on groceries, or sought home improvements at Ikea, which is a few blocks over on Beard Street. I ended up just grabbing a seltzer and hitting the road.

I drove home to Bed-Stuy and parked about a block from my house. Then I resumed my life as a simple pedestrian; but the next time I need a lift, especially if Red Hook is the destination, car2go will be my ride.

Plan your own Brooklyn day trip with car2go, which is offering free registration through June 19! Sign up here.

This post is sponsored by car2go.

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