If you’re ever in the mood to find yourself transported to a forgotten little town in a beautiful setting on the northern coast of Maine but don’t have 8+ hours to drive there, take a train and bus to Red Hook, Brooklyn.
The Sweetie didn’t like Red Hook nearly as much as I did, but to me it was a magical blend of decay, mystery, swashbuckling, and found treasures. I loved seeing the vacant lots reclaimed by nature and all kinds of volunteer perennials pushing out exuberantly from beneath chain-link fences.
I have fantasies of buying one of the little working class houses and watching the neighborhood gentrify–but I suspect I’m already too late and their prices are beyond my means.
Right on the water, Red Hook at the moment is a kind of urban shipwreck with pockets of gentrification in the form of a nice restaurant here and an antique shop or art gallery there. Most of the activity is concentrated along a few blocks of Van Brunt Street.
There’s lots of evidence of boats and fishing, but if you’re hungry and don’t have time to fish, there’s a huge Fairway at the end of the block. (An Ikea is nearby, out of sight, if you suddenly find yourself needing a bookshelf.)
Fairway should be ashamed of the lousy sandwiches they sell (and flimsy white bread too), but they are betting you’ll buy them anyway because you get to eat in an outdoor cafe two steps from the water and within view of Lady Liberty, with lots of boats floating by and creaking, atmospheric piers all around. Take a little walk and see some interesting plantings behind a condo that’s right next door, and you might see a handsome, well dressed fellow walking two pedigreed dogs to his BMW.
There’s also a branch of the Chelsea Garden center on steroids (everything in Red Hook seems huge except for the little houses) in case you find yourself needing a fig tree or Japanese maple, but the real gardener’s dream come true is Liberty Sunset Gardens, whose owner is besotted with tropical plants and has a wonderful indoor garden center right along a pier and an outdoor branch where you can buy all kinds of interesting specimens and inexpensive earthenware containers imported from Colombia for terrific prices.
There’s also a terrific children’s educational garden as part of the complex, and big plans for community activities like outdoor movies.
Indeed, around every corner in Red Hook, there’s something funky or fun to delight the eye or senses. This Betty Boop collection is in the window of a home on Van Brunt Street:
Here’s an evocative shipwreck you’ll pass on the way to Liberty Sunset Gardens:
And a mosaic doorway celebrating life in Red Hook:
I can’t wait to go back and wander along some of the small, rocky beaches. I’ll bet there’s sea glass and all sorts of other finds–maybe even a message in a bottle.