RIP Sunny: How Red Hook paid tribute to one of its greatest characters this weekend

Via Goodyearsarah on Instagram
Via Goodyearsarah on Instagram

To outsiders, I usually describe Sunny’s, the venerable Red Hook bar that’s slipping into the stuff of NYC tavern lore, as the kind of place Popeye would drink at. It’s one of the few places left in New York City where something truly Weird can happen, one of the bars where the spirit of ghostly drunk time seemed to possess every person who walked through the door: My own memories recall a very drunken evening arguing with a guy in the back garden who swore on his life he watched his friend’s leg bone grow before his eyes, plus any number of odd run ins with characters who felt like they’d become unstuck from time and New York City, floating on the last bar at the edge of the world before it drifted off into Red Hook Channel forever.

Sunny Balzano, the bar’s owner and guiding spirit, died on Thursday night after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage. He was, as Gothamist’s John Del Signore said, “the patron saint of misfits,” a lighthouse drawing in artists, lost souls and anyone seeking desperately for somewhere to feel like a regular. His loss was a blow for the Red Hook community, who gathered on its cobblestone streets way outside the din of regular city life to pay tribute. Here’s how they remembered one of the all-time greats this weekend.

Sunny’s famous truck in front of the bar became a memorial:

“You can measure the mark of a man on the day that he dies. In the mixture of memory and wreckage that he leaves behind.” — RIP Sunny

A photo posted by Eric Scott Anderson (@therealericanderson) on

RIP Sunny 🎼 A photo posted by Anais Maroon (@anaismaroon) on

So long Sunny… 💛

A photo posted by @micilin on

R.I.P Sunny A photo posted by beth rosner (@bethrosner) on

Signs of tribute popped up around the neighborhood. 

#sunnys #Sunny #heartbroken #RedHook #love

A photo posted by home/made (@homemadebklyn) on

One last bluegrass jam in the back room of the bar in Sunny’s honor:

Turned it out at Sunny’s for Sunny with @pugnaciousspirit & @pizzamoto A video posted by Mike Carnahan (@carnypics) on

A video posted by Chris Burns (@burnsnoticed) on

Remembering that the more things change…:

Sunny, I met you in 2009: this faucet was dripping then, it’s dripping now A video posted by @kylergarnett on

This anecdote from the New York Times story seems like the appropriate send off:

He never regained consciousness after the hemorrhage. As he lay in the hospital in his final hours, his wife and friends sang to him the Frank Sinatra songs he liked and the novelty songs he enjoyed, like “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts,” and they sang his mother’s favorite song, “A Little on the Lonely Side.”

And then his wife and the parade of female friends who came to pay their respects, they all made sure they kissed him. He died with lipstick kisses all over his face.

To learn more about the history of the bar and Sunny’s influence on the world, check out Tim Sultan’s just-released book Sunny’s Nights (available at your local bookstore) and read Del Signore’s moving tribute in Gothamist. Not even a hurricane could keep that place down. 

RIP Sunny, you will be missed. Cherish your characters, Brooklyn, and make yourself a regular somewhere before it’s too late.

Follow Tim: @timdonnelly.

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