New Column! Hook Lines: Life and Property in Red Hook

Editor’s note: Hook Lines is a new biweekly column by Sadie Stein, an editor at the blog Jezebel and a Brooklyn resident, about the property and daily life of Red Hook.

 

Red Hook is a rough place to break up. “As soon as it happened, I knew I’d have to move,” says Charlie Stein, 24, who tends bar at two of the neighborhood’s watering holes.  “It’s too small.  I didn’t want to deal with the que­stions and the gossip and the speculation, and I knew we’d run into each other everywhere.”

Mr. Stein isn’t the first to be driven out of Red Hook by a relationship’s end.  While many New Yorkers pass through the onetime longshoreman’s stronghold only long enough to visit Fairway or Ikea, to the denizens of the community, it’s a village as insular as Peyton Place. It’s geographically isolated, cut off effectively by Robert Moses’ BQE and the largest project in New York, accessible only by bus or a half-hour’s walk to the Smith–9th Street F-G stop in Carroll Gardens.

“But most of us don’t have commuter jobs, so it’s a non-issue,” says Mr. Stein (the author’s brother).

Adds Dan Herbert, 27, “It’s essentially a self-propagating economy: We drink at each other’s bars and spend at each other’s stores and you’ll hire someone from the neighborhood to work at your restaurant or program your Web site; there’s no need to leave.”

This may be an overstatement—commuting professionals largely comprise Red Hook’s community­—but it can certainly feel like the core group of neighborhood characters are as stationery as the stock cast of a ’50 sitcom.  On any given evening, if you go to one of the neighborhood’s few bars, you’ll see the same faces, swapping gossip, trading job tips, speaking in the shorthand of long acquaintance. 

On a recent Wednesday night at the Bait and Tackle, a comfortable dive with a haphazard nautical décor and the occasional piece of taxidermy, the talk is of a recent breakup; theories are exchanged, heads are shaken.  People, addressed by nicknames like “Girl-Pants Charlie” (to distinguish him from “Old Charlie”) or “Whiskey” wander in and out, and join effortlessly in the conversation.  A quartet of young men from the nearby projects wander in. “How’s the new job?” a youngish guy in Buddy Holly glasses asks one of them. The bartender from nearby Sunny’s comes in; the bartender pours him his regular without asking.  New tattoos are compared and contemplated; someone is considering getting a red hook on his forearm. At one point the bartender wanders out to get an ice refill from the rival bar next door. Later in the evening, the cops from the project pull their squad car up to chat with the locals having a cigarette outside, all of whom know them by name.