When we last checked in on Sunny's, the inimitable Red Hook bar that doubles as a magical portal into another dimension of pure kindness and joviality, proprietor Tone Balzano Johansen was racing against the clock to raise money for a downpayment in order to buy the building (and its neighboring property) so the bar could stay open. In a bit of good news, while Sunny's set out to raise $65,000, they had raised $68,000 at last count. The fundraising is still going on, however, and with the looming six month deadline from the State Supreme Court to raise the money for the downpayment and close on the property, Johansen is throwing a fundraising party and concert at Littlefield.
The Sunny's Forever Celebration will go down at Littlefield on June 21st, the night of the summer solstice, a date that Johansen said she picked to mirror the bar's annual winter solstice party, and to act as a kind of "rebirth" for the bar. The show will feature music from bluegrass, jazz, blues and country-tinged artists, including an opening set from Johansen herself.
Johansen also said she saw parallels between what's happening with Sunny's and the short journey Littlefield is taking to become Parkfield. "It's kind of cool because Littlefield is closing, and I like it when things feel right, it's like both places are going on a new journey," she told us.
As for the fundraising effort, Johansen sounded grateful, but also tired from the effort of trying to keep Sunny's open. "I've taken like one night off, it's 24/7 days and nights rolling into each other," she told us. But she also made sure to thank everyone for helping out, telling us "one thing I really loved was that this whole thing has been very grassroots. It's all been small donations that have come in."
"The whole process is a little step out into the darkness and trusting," she told us about the race against the deadline. "You really feel like you're doing one of those bungee jumps, butterflies don't even cut it."
Of course, beyond the closing costs on the building, Johansen said that there'll be legal fees between $30,000 and $40,000 to cover. "There are five lawyers working on this, it's no small thing," she told us. There's also work underway to get the bar's boiler room up to code, which also costs money.
At the moment though, Johansen's main focus is closing on the property, which is owned by numerous relatives of the late, great Sunny Balzano, a legendary Red Hook character who turned the old family-owned saloon into a popular speakeasy in the late '90s. "This has been a nerve-racking process, it's really race for me, and I can't relax until I've closed," Johansen said.
On the other hand, Johansen has deemed the Monday night jazz night experiment to be "really nice and really enjoyable," so the bar will continue to be open on Mondays even after the fundraising. The process has also given Johansen time to think about what it means for Sunny's to operate over the past 80 years, and what it'll take to keep it going for even longer.
"I've thought a lot about this, when you run something continuous like this, that's been here for a long time, on the one hand you keep tradition. But there also is something that has to be new and fresh. That's one of the secrets why this place is still kicking ass at this time and at this age. It has to do with the feeling you get. It doesn't mean the furniture changes, it's an art, what you keep and what you fix and what you renew. A place like this cannot survive like this without renewal. You have to survive in the present, not the past, and keep your eye on the horizon."