Sunny Balzano was the beloved owner of a legendary bar, some 90 years old, which became known as Sunny’s. He died March 10, 2016 which prompted an outpouring of grief, tributes, obituaries and one parade.
Born in 1935, Sunny grew up in Red Hook where his father ran the family bar at the foot of Conover St, a stone's throw from the water, and the family lived upstairs. The bar was one of many in the 1930s-60s that catered to longshoremen and other folks working on and along the water.
In our interview, Sunny pointed out that there were no women in the bar then. Sunny remembers a childhood on the Red Hook waterfront and describes why kids drew straws before swimming: the loser had to jump in first and push the flotsam and turds away for the others.
Sunny moved away as a young man, seeking a life in the arts, and came back in the 1990s to run the bar after his uncle died. He ran the bar for years, without a license, as the Red Hook Canoe and Kayak Club. It was only open on Friday, one of its many eccentricities.
In that special era, to track your tab, guests got little cards with maritime drawings on them. You put your name on the back and a tick mark for every drink - they were all $3. At the bar, Sunny emanated the vibe of theatrical poet, shaman, convener of people, not so much a bartender. In fact, he was not good at mixing drinks, but he was a magnet. Sunny died in 2016 less than three weeks after we recorded this interview. The bar continues in operation.- - -
His wife Tone Johansen described him well in her eulogy http://gothamist.com/2016/03/16/sunny_balzano_funeral_photos.php#photo-32
Many obituaries were written about Sunny Balzano; here are two:
Shortly before his death, a book was published about the special Sunny era at the bar Sunny's Nights: Lost and Found at a Bar on the Edge of the World. by Tim Sultan, 2016.
Our research turned up an earlier outsize character in Red Hook Louis Heineman who ran a tavern on this waterfront about a century before Sunny; and we see parallels in the tributes to Heineman and Balzano.
The following audio interview is unedited and presented in several links