Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood had been badly affected by Hurricane Sandy almost a year ago now. On the map Red Hook is a triangle with both short sides exposed to the water. It is a peninsula and thus an easy victim to a flood. The huge Fairway supermarket in an old warehouse building had been left under 1,5 m of water. The waterfront café behind the supermarket had been pushed to the parking in front of the building. Between the building and the café space three rusty trolley wagons used to stand, forming kind of a Red Hook landmark. I feared for them. Would they have survived?
Red Hook was home to the busiest freight port in the world until the 1960s. When containers came up port activities and industries moved to New Jersey. In the 70s and 80s the neighborhood degenerated. In 1990 is was declared one of the worst neighborhoods in the US and the “crack capital”. When the Gowanus Expressway was built, Red Hook was cut off the rest of Brooklyn and left behind.
Like in so many New York neighborhoods a movement of artists in search of affordable space helped to bring Red Hook back to life and make it an attractive neighborhood. The old warehouse buildings were transformed into workshops and studios. In 2006 Brooklyn Cruise Terminal opened up in Red Hook. Fairway opened up a huge market in the same year. IKEA came in 2008.
Today Red Hook still does not have a subway but just two bus lines. But it has become a pleasant waterfront place with nice little shops, restaurants and cafés.
Red Hook is not far from where I am staying now. When I was on my way to catch a bus down there it started to rain. A rainy day in Red Hook? I hesitated. Should I go shopping for booties instead? But I was dressed for walking, not for shopping. I walked downtown thinking about what to do. The rain stopped, sun was coming out. I took a B61 bus to Red Hook.
I had been there three years ago, so I had an idea where to go and what to see. So I got off on Van Brunt Street, which is kind of the main street and lined by small businesses. Many of them just had recovered and reopened recently.
I walked into Van Dyke Street to get to Pier 41 and Valentino Park from where the Statue of Liberty can be seen as well as Downtown Manhattan.
Steve’s Key Lime Pies used to be in the Liberty Warehouses there. I remember it being a tiny place at a corner with a bench outside. It has moved after Sandy, to a bigger place with more benches outside.
But it was not the time for a Key Lime Pie yet. I needed a lunch at first. So I walked over to Pier 44 where the train had been behind Fairway Market. On my way I found Brooklyn Crab and had a Crab sandwich and a local beer in their deck in the sun from where I could see the water. It felt like vacation.
Following the waterfront I reached Fairways’s outdoor café. I was so happy to find the trolleys still there. Maybe they had gained a bit more of rust, but they have survived the disaster.
After lunch and having made sure the trolleys had survived I was ready for a key lie pie now, which I enjoyed on a bench in Valentino Park.
I decided to walk home on Court Street. To get there I had to cross the eastern part of Red Hook, off the waterfront and still a bit gritty. Red Hook Houses, a housing project, are home to 6000 people. But they do plant vegetables on the grounds what gives it a more pleasant touch.
Lorraine Street, which leads to the Expressway is lined by discount stores like the main streets in other mainly poor neighborhoods. Towards the Expressway it becomes industrial. In the south the ruin of a big industrial building is still to be seen.
Beyond the Expressway on Court Street another world begins. Carroll Gardens is a friendly neighborhood with little cafés, restaurants preparing for dinner time, bakeries, bodegas, boutiques, flower shops and antique stores. I was back in my Brooklyn.
Priya has dinner with one of her best friends every Friday. I was invited to join them and I happily accepted. An Indian, a black and a white woman sit together and chat. It was a get together of cultures. That’s what I really like about New York and it is more likely to find it here in Brooklyn than over in Manhattan. We had good food – cooked by Priya, good wine and interesting conversations about New York and more. Both of them were so excited about my project. They gave me the feeling that I am doing something special. Well, I enjoyed it.