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Red Hook art galleries

Brooklyn Waterfront Artists' Coalition, 499 Van Brunt St., 718-596-2507

Diesel Gallery, 242 Van Brunt St., 917-251-4070

Jalopy, 315 Columbia St.

Kentler International Drawing Space (pictured), 353 Van Brunt St., 718-875-2098

Public Officials

Community Board 6

Police Precinct 76

Council Member Sara Gonzalez

Assembly Member Felix Ortiz

U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer

U.S. Sen Hillary Rodham Clinton

Borough President Marty Markowitz

Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr.

Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum

Mayor Michael Bloomberg

Governor George Pataki

Red Hook Organizations

Added Value, Red Hook Farmers Market

Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition


Hook Productions

Kentler International Drawing Space

PortSide NewYork

Red Hook Health Initiative

Red Hook Rise

Waterfront Matters

The Waterfront Museum Barge


423 Smith

A Brooklyn Life

Amy Langfield's New York Notebook

Big Cities Big Boxes

Brooklyn Ramblings




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Dope on the Slope

Gowanus Lounge

Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn

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sea level :: new york

News and Politics

BBC News

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B61 Productions is an independent news site dedicated to covering Red Hook, Brooklyn. Email news tips to Editor Steve McFarland.


On board the dredging of Buttermilk Channel

A unique oceangoing hopper dredge is currently operating off Red Hook's shore. Dredge McFarland stretches over 300 feet and has been enlisted to remove 100,000 cubic yards of material from the bottom of Buttermilk Channel. View the slide show. (All photos by B61)

Originally posted July 20, 2005

Acknowledgements: Coordination between PortSide NewYork and the United States Army Corps of Engineers, Philadelphia District made this report possible.

BUTTERMILK CHANNEL--Amid the bustle of New York Harbor, the United States Army Corps of Engineers is quietly going about their business of maintaining the waterways for whatever developers and the City decide to throw at Brooklyn's waterfront--cruise ships, cargo, breweries, whatever.

On board the 319-foot Dredge McFarland, Senior Captain Karl Van Florcke tries to explain the current project as it's laid out on survey maps. "The 30s need to go down to 35, and the 37s go to 40." To the untrained observer the intricate charts might as well be Magic Eye posters, except they remain blurry even after your eyes cross. The bottom line is that the Buttermilk Channel must be deepened from 31 feet to 40 feet to remain a safe waterway for large vessels. It's routine maintenance that takes place about every five years.

For twelve minutes at a time, the dredge collects 1,000 cubic yards of mud. Quartermaster Tom Trader steers the vessel with 2nd Mate Jim Davidson to his right and 3rd Mate Bob Mason to his left. Davidson and Mason monitor traffic on screens that answer who, what and where on each and every vessel in the Harbor. Off to the side a grandfatherly marine biologist studies a laptop computer.

By the end of an afternoon aboard the ship, the survey map begins to look like an oversimplification of Dredge McFarland's task.

Two weeks on

"It's tough to find qualified people," Captain Van Florcke said of the maritime industry's labor market. "So you have to produce your own good guys because every dredge has their own idiosyncrasies."

Along with Captain Thom Evans, Captain Van Florcke oversees 35 men. The entire crew lives and works aboard the ship for two weeks straight, followed by equal time off in their respective Atlantic Coastal towns. The ship operates 24 hours a day. Some of the McFarland's crewmembers have manned their posts in this rotation for 25 years.

"It's a great lifestyle," Capt. Evans said walking past the living quarters of his crew. The rooms are comparable to dormitories, but clean. "There's always a pot of coffee on and someone to talk to. And the food is excellent."

The ship circles as it collects its next load. In the next four hours the McFarland will make a 40-mile round trip to dispose of the load beyond the Verrazano Bridge--barely exceeding 15 mph.

It's a cycle that the Philadelphia-based McFarland and its civilian crew repeat over and over 24 hours a day, in all kinds of weather, from Maine to Texas. Just as they did at the mouth of the Mississippi River before this, and as they will for Trenton, NJ afterwards.

Turtle People

In one year the ship will dredge enough material to fill a football field three-quarters of a mile high. The current project will add 100,000 cubic yards of sand, silt, and anything else New Yorkers throw into the mix. On this day a very pungent, spongy Butterball Turkey was removed before it reached the interior of the ship's hull, called the hopper.

The job of cleaning the filter falls to biologist Brad Davis. "I'm the guy who deals with everything you New Yorkers put in your river," he says. Even the dirty work aboard a dredge doesn't compare to what Davis experienced in his previous job. As a police officer in Austin, he investigated crimes committed against youth.

"That takes a toll," he alluded to things he encountered in a 10-year law enforcement career. Things he would clearly rather forget. "You can't do it for very long. So now I'm out here trying to help critters."

While the rest of the crew is busy with the mechanics and logistics of moving 4,000-5,000 cubic yards of mud a day, Davis and his mentor Ned Clement (the man at the laptop) are the eyes and ears that allow the brute force of the dredge to coexist with sea turtles and whales. Endangered species inspectors, such as Davis and Clement, are independent contractors who are legally required to monitor all dredging operations. They are not always on the same page with the rest of a dredge's crew.

"A while back one of the turtle people--that's what we call them--was worried that she was contributing to nuclear war. Because we were dredging down at Cape Canaveral and they have a submarine base there," Capt. Van Florcke recalled. "But I told her, if you don't do it, a turtle might get killed."

Fewer turtles have been killed thanks to a device that was developed on the McFarland. The "turtle excluder" funnels turtles (or once-frozen turkeys) away from the hopper where they would meet certain death. The device is now required on all dredges.

"It's cool to be on the ship where that technology was developed," Davis said. "I've never been on a dredge where the crew was as cooperative and diligent about protecting the environment as they are on the McFarland."

The Flying Bridge

The far off sound of a ship's horn is a soothing aspect of life near a major waterway. It's not soothing, however, when you're standing five feet away from it on the top deck, known as the "flying bridge."

"Hey," Capt. Van Florcke yelled down to the bridge through a tube. "I feel like I was just at a Who concert!"

On the flying bridge, satellite antennae sprout up every few feet like slalom flags facilitating the flow of information to and from the 38-year-old ship. They feed the Captains' Blackberry PDAs, maritime-specific weather programs and the laptop that receives Clement's undivided attention directly below.

At sixty feet above the water, the deck offers a rare perspective on New York Harbor. From right to left, Red Hook comes into view. The McFarland has been here before. One of the visits was to the graving dock in the Erie Basin, which is slated to become IKEA's 1,400 car parking lot.

"That's too bad. There aren't enough of them. Especially around here," Capt. Van Florcke said. The McFarland goes into drydock every other year.

The Captains each raised an eyebrow at the suggestion that dredging is free of the politics that grip landside waterfronts.

"Dredging doesn't have politics?" Capt. Evans asked rhetorically.

Among the government agencies that take an active interest in the McFarland's activities are the Environmental Protection Agency; Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife; Department of Commerce; National Marine Fisheries; Coast Guard and Department of Environmental Conservation.

Indeed, dredging has its own politics. In 1978 the U.S. Congress passed legislation that prevented the Army Corps from competing with private industry for some dredging projects. The result has been mothballing of some Army Corps dredges to benefit private industry.

One private project underway is an effort to deepen New York and New Jersey's waterways to 50 feet. The improvement project is to prepare the Port for the rollout of Post-Panamax vessels. These new cargo ships are so big they can't fit through the Panama Canal. Their behemoth size is a manifestation of the shipping industry's effort to keep pace with ever-increasing amounts of imported products coming into the United States.

Key decisions are yet to be made about the best use of Red Hook's waterfront. Cruise ships will port at pier 12 with an eye towards 11. American Stevedoring Inc.'s lease for piers 7-10 expires in 2007. And the Brooklyn Brewery has expressed interest in moving from Williamsburg to pier 7. So this section of the Harbor will be dealt with in phase two of the 50-foot project. The entire undertaking is scheduled to be complete in 2014 at a cost of $1.6 billion.

The return trip

The Captains huddled around Clement and his laptop. The computer tracked the ship's movement as it approached the dump site. Clement clicked his computer's mouse and the hopper very precisely emptied into a predetermined 100 by 200 foot area 10 miles off shore in the Atlantic Ocean.

Another segment of the survey map was deepened and a couple cigars were lit as the two-hour return trip began.

"That's my old man," Capt. Van Florcke, a Patchogue, Long Island native, pointed to a black and white military headshot on the wall of his living quarters. Both father and son graduated from the United States Merchant Marine Academy at Kingspoint College. He reached into the top shelf of his closet and presented labeled Ziplock baggies of soil samples. "I keep these. I don't know why." The Buttermilk Channel's sample was drying in a pan on the desk.

Each packet shows the variety of soil found along the Eastern seaboard. From the brown silt of Maine to the white sand of the Gulf Shores, Capt. Van Florcke's collection provides an earthen timeline of the McFarland under his 22-year command.

"There have been times, where I thought 'this ship is the only thing between me and some deep [trouble],'" he said reflecting on harsh storms the McFarland has endured in the line of duty. "You get protective. It's like you don't want anybody to say anything bad about her."

It's hard to find a bad word to say about the ship or her buttoned-up crew. For a project of this magnitude, this close to Red Hook's shore, that's saying something. As New York City's decision-makers adhere to obscure charts of their own to remake Brooklyn's waterfront, at least one thing is certain: the Buttermilk Channel is once again a safe 40 feet deep.

Red Hook's rhythm rushes inland

Extraordinary talent was on display in Red Hook this weekend. From break dancing to live theater, a celebration of the neighborhood's relationship with water transformed the peninsula into one large performance space. The range and rapidity of events put a serious strain on the constitution of our Society page staff (B61 Photo).

RED HOOK--The revolutionary war began on it. Dueling community groups now trade insults over it. And outside developers expect to have their way with it. But this weekend residents celebrated a relationship with South Brooklyn's waterfront, setting off a flood of creativity that didn't ebb until Sunday evening.

As an impromptu prelude to the weekend a blues singer/guitarist wandered into Lillie's late on Thursday night. Calling herself only Alicia, she proclaimed, "I'm trying to be professional, but I can't quite manage it yet." The polish that she lacked on stage had nothing to do with her crackly voice or fret work. With a repertoire heavy in Leadbelly and Robert Johnson, Alicia is the type of artist found only on the fringes.

The Red Hook Waterfront Arts Festival emanated from the Beard St. Pier on Saturday. Sponsored by Dance Theatre Etc., the fest attracted streams of visitors throughout the day. BWAC benefited as it drew 1000 people on Saturday alone. The Youth Film Festival was especially eye-opening as teenagers presented near-professional documentaries. One film from Made Ya Blink Productions presented a balanced dialogue and perspective of a changing Red Hook. KR3TS Dance Company, led by two-year-old break-dancer Noah Paul Galagarza, was the highlight performance on the pier.

As the crowd filtered inland, much of it collected in Coffey Park for a performance by Rennie Harris Puremovement presented by Dancing in the Streets.

The biggest surprise of the weekend was "Blow me down! The daring exploits of Spanish John, Pirate" at the new outdoor Coffey Street Playhouse. The backyard spectacle, written by St. John Frizell and directed by David Teague, ended its two-day run on Saturday night in front of a standing-room-only crowd of 130. The smart, quick-witted script and professional production-value made it difficult to classify the five-act romantic pirate comedy as "Community Theater."

Sunday the performances shifted to the end of Conover St. On the east side of the street three authors presented work at this month's Sunny's Reading Series. Todd Hasak-Lowy, aided by friends Matthew Rohrer and Josh Lewis, read "The Interview" from his collection of short stories "The Task of This Translator." The piece was a satire on the initiation into corporate culture.

Novelist Alicia Erian raised the temperature in the already-sweltering bar as she read a provocative piece from her first novel "Towelhead." Any synopsis would violate B61's family-friendly philosophy. But the book has been optioned for film by Alan Ball, creator of the HBO series "Six Feet Under."

Investigative journalist Katherine Eban delved into the black market prescription drug trade in Florida reading from her book, "Dangerous Doses: How Counterfeiters Are Contaminating America's Drug Supply." It's a true story that she described as "Scarface meets Duane Reed."

Across the street, bicycles and strollers lined up outside the Waterfront Museum and Showboat barge for the much-anticipated return of CIRCUSundays. Captain David Sharps will host world-class circus talent for three shows every Sunday in June.

And finally there was Open Studio 2005...which we regretfully missed altogether. But we heard glowing reviews, especially of oil paintings by Michael Prettyman.

In the end, this weekend's festivities did nothing to heal the open wounds related to waterfront development. And next year the impact from those decisions will be more evident. What is apparent, however, is that today's Red Hook shares an incredibly deep pool of creative talent.

Roselli draws simplicity from complexity

Mimmo Roselli has left his mark all over the world. His latest work "Drawing Space" is on display at Kentler International Drawing Space through June 25 (Photo courtesy of Florence Neal).

RED HOOK--"The line is the trace humans make passing in this world." That's how artist Mimmo Roselli describes his life's work. He has traced that line across the globe and now it has reached Van Brunt St. at Kentler International Drawing Space.

As three simple lines etched into Kentler's wall, the impact of "Drawing Space" is not from the subtle, monochrome visual itself, but from the broader contexts of environment and the artist's career. Roselli explained his fascination with "borderline communities" to an intimate gathering last Saturday afternoon.

"There's special strength in populations that live on borders," he observed. Sometimes that has meant geographic borders such as a Bolivian village where he worked with schoolchildren just west of Brazil. Other times it has been abstract borders such as a retirement community in his native Italy. In either case, Roselli has chosen to work in communities "where people pass from one place to another." Red Hook now joins that list which includes Chechnya, Venice, Heidelburg and Rio de Janeiro, to name just a few.

His experience in the Bolivian village was especially influential. "I saw how we spend our life consuming. They want to respect nature, never taking from nature over their necessity. They don't know accumulation."

Roselli's appreciation for the simplicity he has observed in his travels is reflected in his minimalist approach to art--triangles symbolize solidarity, white conveys serenity.

Working with the environment, Roselli has created installations where the line, or the "sign" as he refers to it, was represented by cables that made physical connections between earth, trees and buildings. He has also etched his sign into stones displayed in an Italian cathedral.

"Drawing Space" may be imperceptible to anyone in a hurry as it encircles the white walls of Kentler's gallery. True to the conceptual form of art, the installation will potentially mean profoundly different things to every viewer--just as the changes that affect our own "borderline community" will affect everyone differently.

Slow down or you might miss it.

Menchetti dominates hotdog eating contest

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz was the first to congratulate Joe Menchetti for winning the first Stahl-Meyer Hot Dog Eating Contest. Schnack hosted the event on Memorial Day (B61 Photo).

COLUMBIA ST.--The competitive-eating Universe revolved around Schnack this Memorial Day and one star clearly shone brightest. Electricity filled the sidewalk air at 122 Union St. as prominent news outlets UPN and WB trained their lenses on the field of five. The anticipation of fifty eating fans built as the rules were read and came to a crescendo as the eating commenced.

While participants were not professional competitive eaters, each man had proved his worthiness in preliminary rounds. But only one man made history in this first Stahl-Meyer Hot Dog Eating Contest. Joe Menchetti raced to the finish of a 30-inch hotdog (the equivalent of five normal-sized dogs) in a tidy one minute, 30 seconds--a blistering rate of three seconds per inch.

While he washed the food down with a Jever Pilsner, the beverage could not cleanse his palette of victory's sweet aftertaste. Menchetti proved there was just room enough for one at the top. However, he had room for a standard-sized Stahl-Meyer hotdog as everyone else turned their attention to the race for second.

Undeterred, Arnie Chapman ate his way to redemption, finishing second in a very respectable two minutes, 10 seconds. Any other day, perhaps, it would have been Chapman, not Menchetti, who would have his arm raised in triumph by Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. But not today. Today the spotlight rested squarely on the beaming Joe Menchetti.

For the vanquished, there was no solace to be found in Manchetti's considerable shadow. Faced with the uneaten remains of their respective hotdogs, they were left to wonder "What went wrong?" It's an image that is sure stay with the competitors as they train for next year.

Menchetti, meanwhile, was showered with praise and prizes from sponsors Ferris Stahl-Meyer, Jever Pilsner, Caputo Bakery, American Stevedoring and New York Waterways. It wasn't the first time eating has provided the Connecticut man with more than sustenance, and this may not have been his biggest prize. "Friends of friends haven't always had a lot of faith in what I could do," he said of the many bets he has won with his eating prowess. Now all of Brooklyn knows what Joe Menchetti can do.

Rain christens Pier 44 Jetty and Waterfront Garden

Accomplished public garden designer Lynden Miller unveils her newest work at the foot of Conover St. The project was built and financed by Greg O'Connell (Miller's right). Debbie Romano (Miller's left) of Pier 41 Associates emceed the event that hosted several prominent politicians (B61 Photo).

Originally posted May 23, 2005.

RED HOOK--There were no oversized scissors. There wasn't even a ribbon. All pretense was set aside Friday afternoon for the unveiling of the Pier 44 Jetty and Waterfront Garden. The masses huddled in the shadow of Lady Liberty. And the rain dampened the newly-planted bunchgrass along with the aspirations of photographers who sought a picturesque documentation of Red Hook history. It was somehow fitting.

As puddles rippled under a light drizzle, financier and developer Greg O'Connell stood at the entrance and welcomed well-wishers, politicos and the construction workers who built the new public park. The park, designed by the renowned Lynden Miller, sits at the end of Conover St., presenting a panoramic view of the New York Harbor. Miller adds the park to her resume which also includes Central Park Zoo, Bryant Park, the New York Botanical Garden and Wagner Park in Battery Park City.

Addressing the crowd were Miller, O'Connell, Borough President Marty Markowitz, District 12 Congresswoman Nydia Valazquez, Gifford Miller (Mayoral hopeful and son of the designer) and City Planning Chair Amanda Burden.

Gifford Miller cited his mother's distinction for having designed parks in all five boroughs, while Burden and Markowitz talked about Red Hook's status as "the hot spot." Markowitz credited O'Connell for putting "dollar signs" in every developer's eyes when they now look at Red Hook.

Due to inclement weather, David Sharps welcomed the crowd aboard his Waterfront Barge and Showboat Museum, which now calls Pier 44 its homeport. The barge returned to the harbor recently after undergoing work to repair damage caused by wood-eating shipworms. Every Sunday in June, the barge will host CIRCUSundays featuring Billy Bones the Good Pirate, hip-hop baton twirler Anthony Bryant, trapeze artist Lumia and magician Torkova.

The Pier 44 Jetty and Waterfront Garden is one section of the half-mile public walkway that will extend along the shoreline from Pier 41 near Van Dyke St. to the Beard St. Warehouse. Set between the civil-war era buildings, the park stands as a metaphor for Red Hook as a whole. Soon flowers will bloom from ground once thought inhospitable. It will be open to the public from dawn until dusk seven days a week...rain or shine.

Two art galleries and a microphone

"Multi-media" was the theme of Friday the 13th in Red Hook. Two art galleries on Van Brunt St. held previews of work to be raffled off later this week, and The Pharcyde headlined at The Hook. And oh yeah, BWAC barreled on.

RED HOOK--As a neighborhood, Red Hook is bracing itself for seismic shifts. Some new businesses are hoping to just stay afloat until talk turns into actual dollars. Film crews are on constant scouting missions. And every bright idea gives birth to a million heated arguments. Lifelong residents will tell you, Red Hook has been "just about to explode" for the last decade. On Friday night I took a break from asbestos, crime and dry docks to catch a glimpse, not of our "can't-miss" prosperous future, but of our unique and shared present.

No one adapts to change like artists. And The Kentler International Drawing Space is living proof. Founded in 1990 by artists Florence Neal and Scott Pfaffman, the gallery helped pave the way for today's burgeoning creative community. On Friday the gallery held a "Meet the Artists" reception as part of the third annual 100 Works On Paper Benefit. On Thursday, May 19, the gallery will raffle off the 100 works to 100 ticket holders.

Up the street at the Diesel Gallery, Stuart Nicholson held a preview to the "Continuum II" benefit. Southside Speedway and Betty Ford All-Stars provided a mix of country, rock and punk in the backyard. Meanwhile, art enthusiasts and hack internet journalists viewed the selections of art to be raffled off next Saturday, May 21st, 7-10:30 p.m. The Jazz Rats, a collaborative jazz project from DUMBO, will perform throughout that catered event.

As the Betty Ford All-Stars headed over to play a second set at Lillie's, Jeffrey Goldin's night at The Hook was just beginning. It's the general manager's job to worry the night of a show. And delivering a major act to Commerce St. brings with it a high degree of stress. In the end, a couple hundred hip hop fans piled in front of one of the best stages in Brooklyn, if not the entire city.

In this storied neighborhood the phrase "Old School" conjures up images as varied as Al Capone and Sugar Hill. But to the young and attractive crowd that found their way to The Hook on Friday, The Pharcyde's brand of West Coast hip hop defined "Old School." Patrons of the club will be seeing a lot of the opening band, The Chronic Electric Orchestra, according to Goldin, "They were that good."

Next week The Hook welcomes Psychic TV. The club will offer a free shuttle bus from Smith and 2nd Streets.

BWAC and Red Hook share big weekend

Nora Jackson, Matt Nudelman and their daughters Miranda and Juliet were four of the 1300 people to take in the BWAC Pier Show on Saturday. (B61 Photo)

Originally posted May 9, 2005

RED HOOK--"It was an excellent opening," John Strohbeen, President of the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition, summed up the first day of his organization's 25th Anniversary Spring Art Show. "We set a record number of art sales with over 50 pieces sold, around 1300 people came in," Strohbeen discussed Saturday just as Sunday began. "And everyone seemed to be having a pretty good time."

Of course, it is Strohbeen's job to put the best face on an event touting itself as the "salvation of the ever burgeoning fine art center that is Brooklyn." But with 360 artists displaying 1500 works inside the historic civil-war era Beard St. warehouse, talking-up the event must be the easy part of his job. As it now seems likely to improve upon the attendance record it set last year, BWAC has also seen recent growth in the neighborhood that it adopted 13 years ago (after developer Greg O'Connell donated use of the 25,000 sq. ft. facility).

Amid Sunday's brunch crowd, Gary Rego co-owner of the Hope & Anchor diner explained the impact BWAC has had on his business, "We plan for it. This is a huge weekend for us. It's really been wonderful. It's grown so much. And we've grown with it." The diner has been open for four BWAC spring shows.

"When we first opened, there was nobody here," Rego remembers. Today a furniture store, bakery, wine boutique, pet store, French restaurant, woman's clothing store and two new bars line the stretch of Van Brunt St. leading to the piers. While development in the neighborhood has moved too slowly for some, and too briskly for others, BWAC's growth shows no sign of slowing down.

CORRECTION: David McKenzie points out that BWAC was not "lured away from Williamsburg" 13 years ago, as previously stated. McKenzie and Anne Rosenthal approached O'Connell when their situation became untenable at 68 Jay St. in DUMBO. Thanks to David for the correction, and we apologize for the error.

Miles Mukamal enjoys a performance by Banjorama! outside LeNell's on Van Brunt St. on Saturday. Meanwhile at Lillie's, Steve Tarpin, of Steve's Authentic Key Lime Pies, provides the entertainment for a birthday party for Bruno and Gaius, two of the many offspring of Steve's dog, Mango--thought to be the most prolific Jack Russell Terrier in Red Hook. (B61 Photos)

Holding down the fort, Lillie's doors swing wide

Armed with a renewed liquor license and optimism, Lillie Haws reopened the doors to her urban saloon two weeks ago. Photo from danconnortown.

By Steve McFarland

RED HOOK--On the otherwise desolate eastern edge of Beard St., Lillie's two-month closure had many country music fans worried that this welcoming Brooklyn venue may be gone for good. With Red Hook's rapidly growing landscape of bars, who would miss it? Tag along with Lillie these days and you quickly find out.

"It is so good to see you back," local activist John McGettrick said as the two bumped into one another at Hope & Anchor last Friday afternoon. As he often does, McGettrick was simply voicing a deeply-felt collective opinion of many in the neighborhood.

It is a familiar refrain as Lillie makes her way up Van Brunt St.--the budding main drag of a small neighborhood that Lillie has helped make even smaller with her warm hostess persona.

"It's like Mayberry," says the Tennessee native. "Everyone knows one another and knows everyone else's business." Those who know her best, know how difficult the last two months have been for Timeout's Bartender of the Year, 2001.

Sitting in the outdoor cubby space halfway to the back of his bar, Sunny Balzano waxed poignantly on one of his closest friends. "Lillie is a soldier. She gets out there and does what she has to do. Not because she wants to run a bar. But because she has to, you see? It's her art."

Practicing her art at 46 Beard St. since March 2001, Lillie is still relatively new to a neighborhood that maintains strong ties to its long, storied, dangerous and colorful past. With that said, Lillie readily shares her extensive knowledge and appreciation for the history of her establishment that was operated by the Savarese family from 1900-1953.

"They came back once. They're in their 80s. We sat in the garden and they drank me out of white wine," she said passing photos of the family across the bar. "She died of a broken heart after the first World War," pointing to a woman in the photo.

Throughout its history, the building has served longshoremen, gangsters and artists. But it has never struck much of a chord with hipsters looking for the next "big thing." Lillie quips that the only trucker hats she sees are worn by actual truckers.

Certainly, the boom of attracting such a crowd would temporarily benefit the bottom line of a business that sees no foot traffic on a stretch of street that is still paved in brick. But the lack of a fickle, transient clientele ensures the survival of the down-home vibe that Alex Battles of Whiskey Rebellion remembers fondly from the first time he played Lillie's. The show in May 2001 also happened to be the first show Lillie's ever hosted.

"It's the day of the first show. And your first gig is the most exciting thing possible. Nervous as hell. We rehearsed six hours before the show and then got a call from a guy that worked there at the time," Battles remembered. "And he asks, 'So do you guys have any mike stands?' I didn't have anything but my guitar and my hat. And I had 20 friends driving down to Lillie's."

After a frantic but fruitful equipment search the band played where a stage would be built a year later, and struggled to be heard over the noise of a loud fan above the exit. Today a P.A. system is in place and rich, red velvet curtains swathe the stage. But the friendly vibe remains.

"It's such an open-minded bar. The regulars are willing to say 'hey, we'll give this guy a shot.' I've played a lot of bad shows," Battles readily concedes. "But I have never played a bad show at Lillie's."

So the Brooklyn country music scene has a beloved venue back. But as with almost every story concerning Red Hook these days, IKEA looms large on the horizon. No business will be impacted by the excavation and construction more than Lillie's (except for possibly Red Hook Farm run by Added Value, but that's a story for another time).

"I'm not against development. I just don't know what direction it will go. Are we going to be serving apple martinis to desperate housewives all of a sudden?" she wondered out loud. "I don't see them coming here for a Harvey Wallbanger, then going across the street for a wall unit."

With her come-what-may attitude, Lillie is prepared to soldier on. And judging from the schedule of her upcoming events, she's not alone. "It's so uplifting," she says of the outpouring of support. "It gives me a lot of strength."

Back in Sunny's cubby space, he put Lillie's bar in perspective.

"If you look at Red Hook," he said holding his hands as if they were hovering over a miniature neighborhood set between he and I. "Lillie's is a fortress that protects that corner of Red Hook. You see? Just like this bar is a fortress on this end. If she were to be gone, there would be vulnerability on that corner of the neighborhood. You can imagine that picture," pausing for a moment to allow the image to sink in. "Alright? We need her. It's like that."

Brooklyn authors make debuts at Sunny's

Alison Smith (top left), Jen Banbury (top right) and Christian Hawkey (bottom left) were featured at this month's book reading at Sunny's. (B61 Photos)

RED HOOK--Three distinct styles were on display at the distinguished Sunny's Reading Series on Sunday. Coordinated by Gabriel Cohen and co-sponsored by Book Court bookstore, the latest installment featured memoirist Alison Smith, war correspondent Jen Banbury and landscape poet Christian Hawkey.

Smith read a chapter from her book, Name All the Animals (one of People's ten best books of the year). The selected chapter told of a high school scandal from the author's adolescence, which she spent under the watchful eye of the nuns at Our Lady of Mercy School for Girls. Smith prefaced her reading, "As with many high school scandals, it started with a girl."

Banbury, journalist for Salon, read one of her dispatches from "Boots on the Ground: Stories of American Soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan." Banbury recounted raids on Iraqi homes--often the wrong homes. Her personal narrative expressed sympathy for the confused and angry families without passing judgment on the individual soldiers.

Hawkey, an assistant professor of creative writing at the Pratt Institute, provided a poetic ending to the day on the waterfront for the 40 people in attendance. The author of The Book of Funnels, treated the appreciative crowd to several selections as he unfurled vivid organic imagery and mixed it with a rye, self-aware sense of humor.

With their appearances Sunday, Smith, Banbury and Hawkey added their names to a growing list of notable New York authors that have shared their work in Sunny Balzano's historic bar.

Absurdity in the back

Also this week, the Brooklyn Stage Company has transformed Sunny's backroom into a professional performance space for their run of "Subterranean Homespun Pinter." The absurdist play by Harold Pinter--featuring Tracy Balzano, Lilith Beitchman and Robert Malloch--opened with three performances last weekend and continues with shows this Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. All shows begin at 8 p.m. and are free. Stay tuned for future performances at this exciting, newly-renovated space.