Nestled in the New York Harbor of Red Hook, Brooklyn remains Sunny’s Bar. Originally called John’s Restaurant and Bar, this acclaimed dive is operating unders its 19th owner, Tone Johansen. Adorned by all, Sunny’s as a place and a people is determined to preserve old practices and nurture the spirits of everyone who has, and will, step inside - making their way to a crowded booth with old friends or setting up at a bar stool to take it all in.
Still and forever named after Tone’s late husband, Sunny Balzano, this piece of ‘Old Brooklyn’ was severely damaged after Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and nearly taken over by developers looking to make a quick buck; over-development has not taken a pass here. After three resilient years of negotiating within the Brooklyn Supreme Court followed by months of restoration, largely completed by Tone, this piece of family history a hundred years in the making, harboring more heartbreak than most can manage in a lifetime, was reclaimed.
I sat down with Tone on my third or fourth visit to Conover Street, knowing I had to meet her if I wanted to hear it all. We gathered in the front room where the summer sun bursts through windows; painting everyone and everything in gold just before sunset. She spoke of loss and turmoil in the wake of her husband passing, “knowing the landscape at the bottom.” When tribulation seemed eternal her impetus to persevere was the product of a vision; to instill an everlasting belief that the life and love existing within a space cannot be stripped from those who deeply care for it after its innovators have gone.
With unyielding support and deep admiration from regulars and newcomers alike, Tone is working every day to keep the doors open for each one of us to sing, dance and just be.
Produced for Photo Workshop New York/Spazio Labo, the residents of Red Hook and regulars at Sunny’s.