Tall, lanky and thin as a pencil, Antonio “Sunny” Balzano is the beloved owner of Sunny’s Bar in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Dating back to 1850s, the bar passed from his great grandfather to his grandfather to his father to his uncle and then Sunny. After taking over in 1994, Sunny unintentionally transformed the tiny bar into something trendy.
How? He and his friends — artists, musicians — simply hung out at the bar, drinking and having a grand time.
Grand, is one of Sunny’s favorite phrases.
Gentle and sweet, Sunny speaks with an Irish accent (even though he is Italian). “I love it” sounded like “I lurve it.” He attributes his accent to his early days as an aspiring actor and love for theatricality.
I met Sunny back in early October when I was searching for a Sandy anniversary story.
“Darling,” Sunny asked, “what can I do for you?” He lit a Natural American Spirit cigarette, inhaled deeply.
I replied, “Can you tell me how Sandy affected your business?”
“Okay,” Sunny agreed good naturedly. He offered me tea, smoked and played his guitar. We talked about a lot of things not related to my article. That was, “the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” (Casablanca, 1942).
This semester, I am photographing Sunny for a class. Once a week, I make the hour-long journey, transfer twice on the subway then catch a bus, to Red Hook. In a sense, our friendship is odd on several levels:
(a) I am a reporter
(b) He is almost four times my age. I am in my 20s and he is close to 80.
But I think we will be just fine. Nothing like good conversation and a little Bailey’s.