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Red Hook Restaurants, After Sandy, Thrive In The Face Of Winter Blizzard 'Nemo'

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BLIZZARD RED HOOK
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Visiting New York’s Red Hook neighborhood as the first blanket of snow fell over the Northeast on Friday helped put winter storm “Nemo” in perspective. The sleepy peninsula was one of the Brooklyn neighborhoods hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy in October, so a few inches of snow (or even the foot Nemo eventually dropped there) weren’t likely to faze any of the locals.

Though the snow prompted a state of emergency in six states, shut down businesses across the Northeast and grounded thousands of flights, it couldn't keep New Yorkers, with their subway access and car services, away from restaurants and bars. Most eateries in Manhattan stayed open, even if it meant working with a skeleton crew or a limited menu. No subway line runs through Red Hook, so the few spots on the charming main drag of Van Brunt Street relied mostly on locals for support.

But that by no means meant shutting down. When asked how the storm was going to affect his business, for example, Barry O'Meara, the owner of the Red Hook Bait & Tackle, looked confused. His taxidermy-filled bar is often described as the unofficial “town hall” of Red Hook, and on Friday night, it was as busy as ever. By 7 p.m, the bar itself was full, and happy drinkers were huddled around most of the tables.

“The snow?” he asked, eyeing the undifferentiated whiteness outside his windows. “That’s not a storm. That’s just a normal day. Sandy was a storm. And we were this full on the night of Sandy.”

The day after Sandy inundated Red Hook, a group of regulars cleaned up the bar, and O’Meara was serving bottled beer by 3 p.m. It was business as usual. So it’s not surprising that the regulars were out in full force during Nemo.

“Come back at 2 a.m.,” O'Meara said, “And you'll find the bar full of drunk people dancing.”

The scene was similar a few blocks down Van Brunt at the casual Hope & Anchor restaurant. By 8 p.m., the tables were nearly full of diners. Hope & Anchor bartender Candice Sering said that the restaurant was almost as busy as it is on a typical night -- at least in winter.

"Compared to summer, we're down maybe 15, 25 percent," she said. "But there's no real difference between tonight and any other Friday. Most of the people who come here live here."

Sering added the bar was planning on hosting karaoke later in the night -- as it had the Friday night after Hurricane Sandy.

Not everyone was as cheery, however. Things were dead quiet at Red Hook's most acclaimed high-end restaurant, The Good Fork, which relies more than its neighbors on customers from other parts of the city. The six employees there that night were taking bets on how many covers they would do the night of the blizzard. Owner Ben Schneider said the bets ranged from 27 to 43.

"Maddie here is the one who bet 27," Schneider said, pointing to bartender Maddie Bouchard. "I think she's going to win. We're only at 21, even if we count you."

Maddie bet low because she knew how hard it could be to get people to come to Red Hook in the best of circumstances.

“We’re way out here,” she said, sighing. “Because we’re not on the subway, people drive, people take the bus and people bike ... but all of those are harder to do in the snow.”

Schneider estimated that, if the blizzard had hit on Wednesday instead of Friday, it would have saved him “thousands of dollars.” That's especially painful considering that flooding from Sandy forced him to close The Good Fork for two full months. The restaurant didn’t reopen until Jan. 1.

Still, Schneider was philosophical about the soft night Friday. “You open a business to the public, you have to accept that weather is going to hurt you occasionally,” he said. “You can’t cry about it. Even though I did all day today.”

Later in the evening, even the stalwart B61 bus, the sole vestige of public transit in Red Hook, had stopped running. Other than the black cars roaming the streets searching in vain for desperate customers, the streets were empty. But the sounds of karaoke from Hope & Anchor floated into the frozen darkness, filling Red Hook with the assurance of hope and good cheer in the face of daunting weather. This blizzard was no match for these Brooklynites, who have seen much worse.

Click through the slideshow below for photos of Red Hook bars and restaurants during the blizzard:

Red Hook In The Blizzard
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