Documentary Explores the Life of Sunny's Bar Owner

By Nikhita Venugopal on March 12, 2014 7:25pm 

 Sunny Balzano, the owner of "Sunny's Bar" in Red Hook, is the subject of a documentary by CUNY professor and filmmaker James Reid.
Sunny Balzano, the owner of "Sunny's Bar" in Red Hook, is the subject of a documentary by CUNY professor and filmmaker James Reid.
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Carlos Castillo

RED HOOK — Red Hook bar owner Sunny Balzano has been held at gunpoint, partied with Andy Warhol and resurrected a legendary bar that was almost closed because of a deadly hurricane.

These stories and more have been detailed in a new documentary, titled “Sunny’s Renaissance: Along the Waterfront” that focuses on Balzano, the owner of Sunny’s Bar in Red Hook.

James Reid, the film’s creator and a professor of hospitality management at the City University of New York, sought to capture the range of Balzano’s stories from childhood days in Brooklyn to parties with New York’s artistic icons at Max’s Kansas City and the Factory, Reid said.

One of Balzano’s most recent trials was caused by Hurricane Sandy, which left his Conover Street bar with extensive damage, Reid said.

“Sunny’s Bar is an institution,” said Reid, 58.

The bar reopened in August 2013 after nearly a year of recovery.

Reid said when Balzano, 78, recalled the hurricane, he remembered the overwhelming community support he received during that time.

“In surviving Hurricane Sandy, it really is a testament, not only to Sunny’s strength, but the strength of the community,” Reid said.

The 38-minute documentary, which won the “Spirit of Red Hook” award at the Red Hook International Film and Video Festival last year, was created after Reid received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and asked Balzano to be his subject.

The film will be screened Thursday afternoon at the City College of Technology campus in Downtown Brooklyn.

Reid also explored Balzano’s mark on the hospitality business as the owner of the popular Conover Street bar, which has been run by Balzano’s family since 1890.

“Raw hospitality,” as Reid calls it, is the ability to unconditionally welcome patrons and meet their needs, whether you’re in a luxury hotel or a waterfront dive bar.

“It’s the heart of what true hospitality is,” said Reid, who has worked in managerial and directorial positions at hotels like the Waldorf Astoria and the Sheraton Manhattan.

Reid hopes his documentary and research into Balzano’s life will portray an “enlightened person” who, after sad and happy times, has reached a place of peace.

Balzano is “living history right in front of us,” Reid said.

A screening and discussion of the documentary "Sunny’s Renaissance: Raw Hospitality Along the Waterfront" will be hosted on March 13 from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Voorhees 315 at 186 Jay St. in Downtown Brooklyn.

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