Historic Sunny’s bar in Red Hook to reopen

Online Fundraising Campaign Raises Funds for Repairs

August 28, 2013 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Break out the boilermakers and let’s do some drinking!

Against all odds, a historic Red Hook bar that was all washed up after Superstorm Sandy is being brought back to life.

“It is totally unreal,” Tone Johansen, who co-owns Sunny’s Bar with husband Sunny Balzano, told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “It felt like we woke up in the middle of the ocean and had to find land. We had to paddle, paddle, paddle.”

Ten months after the killer ‘cane, the bar – which has been around since 1890, and survived Prohibition and the Great Depression – is staging a “rebirthday party” Thursday night. That’s a fitting name for the big celebration because the date is Balzano’s 79th  birthday.

The bar at 253 Conover St., which has been in the Balzano family for three generations, was hit with two feet of flood water and its basement filled by Sandy’s storm surge. In May, when the Eagle made a visit, Johansen and Balzano were $65,000 short of desperately needed funds for repairs.

They used Internet fundraising sites Kickstarter and Indiegogo to generate cash, held more benefits than Johansen can count, and had private donors graciously step up. In all, they raised almost $100,000.

“I’m not going to ask for a cent more,” said Johansen, who called donors’ generosity “amazing” and said Tuesday, somebody knocked on the door and handed her a $1,000 check.

“I’m going to earn the rest,” she said.

They still owe a contractor $15,000.

Workers have installed new steel beams under the floor of the bar, added supports to the foundation wall, put in a new boiler, hot water heater and compressor, restored the electric service and brought a new gas line from the street. But they were careful not to change the old-fashioned look and feel of the much-loved bar with their repair work, she said.

Balzano, who remembers working in the bar as a schoolboy during World War II, has lost 50 pounds during the ordeal of rebuilding. But he and Johansen are in great spirits now that they are ready to re-open.

“I’m going to dress up with flowers in my hair and the brightest, reddest lipstick,” she said. She will be singing with her group, the Luna Sisters, as part of the Thursday night festivities. The headliner performer will be renowned guitar player Smokey Hormel.

Johansen gave a shout-out to the Mayor’s office, specifically the Restoration Business Acceleration Team (RBAT) for post-Sandy support and the Street Activity Permit Office (SAPO) for help with party arrangements, which include closing part of Conover Street.

She can’t wait to get the party started – and get herself and four employees back to work.

“There will be happy tears,” she said.  

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