sunny's bar
Photo via Sunny’s Bar / Facebook

We understand that you can’t make it to Churchill Downs this Saturday to watch the 143rd Kentucky Derby.

We have a better idea, and it involves heading to one of the most beloved local bars in all of New York City.

Sunny’s Bar in Red Hook will be holding their Kentucky Derby Party this Saturday, May 6 starting at 3pm — and they promise that the mint juleps will be flowing.

Now, while we love a good mint julep, a celebratory trip to Sunny’s is far more important than a bunch of fast horses.

Over the recent past, Sunny’s has been challenged by massive damage caused by Superstorm Sandy, last year’s death of owner Sunny Balzano, and a family heir property dispute that could have sold off this illustrious dive bar, music and performance venue, art gallery, and gathering spot for both Red Hook denizens and the dedicated followers from around the globe.

But now, Tone Balzano Johansen, Sunny’s widow, and a slew of the bar regulars and long-time supporters are focused on the goal of purchasing the building outright. And the goal is to fundraise $65,000 toward their down payment.

The campaign is named Sunny’s Forever.

sunny's bar

“I think folks should come out and support saving Sunny’s forever because we are one of the oldest and best kinds of churches around,” says Danie Hutchison, Sunny’s bar manager and long-time friend of the Balzano family. “The way people come together here on a Saturday night, one of the busiest nights in New York City, to witness our Bluegrass Jam is a peaceful hope and renewal for what a community really is.”

Long-time regular Rob Wall is one of many who have been working tirelessly on the campaign. “For myself, and any regulars like me, there’s no question as to whether you’d participate in efforts to preserve the bar,” he says. “I have artist friends who were quick to donate art to the art auction fundraiser that just happened, and we’ve all been quick to jump on any other fundraiser events.”

People throughout Brooklyn are personally invested in Sunny’s. Sid Azmi owns the sex-positive shop Please (557 5th Avenue at 15th Street) in South Slope. “I absolutely adore Sunny’s,” she says. “It’s being in a place that is carved in a time that is filled with goodness and warmth – it feels like the perfect neighborhood escape for Brooklynites like me.”

sunny balzano
Owner Sunny Balzano died in March 2016. (Photo via Sunny’s Bar / Facebook)

“Sunny’s, and places like it, are a disappearing commodity that the city needs.  It exists outside of the profit-hungry business model that so sourly affects many a business and exists instead as a cultural institution and community gathering place,” says Wall. “The story of the place that closed or ‘what the city used to be’ has been told a million times, but Sunny’s is in a unique position of actually being able to secure a long-term future, rather than making it through one more rent cycle.  I’d encourage anyone to go to sunnys-forever.com and make a donation to keep the place going.  But while you’re giving money, why not also have a really great Kentucky Derby?”

If you want to place a bet with good odds, you best bet on Sunny’s. But folks, you need to pony up to make sure they get the win.


Sunny’s Forever Kentucky Derby Party Fundraiser
Sunny’s Bar
Where: 253 Conover Street, Red Hook (between Beard and Reed streets)
When: Saturday, May 6, 3pm-7pm followed by a Saturday night bluegrass jam.
How much: $80 for the entire event, which includes an open bar, food, pies, prizes, raffles, games, contests, and the derby on t.v.

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