Drew and I have a favorite bar called Sunny’s, which is in Red Hook, a somewhat far-flung Brooklyn neighborhood where the nearest subway stop is about a mile away. If you don’t live in the neighborhood, it’s a trek to get there from anywhere else, and as such, we’ve only been to Sunny’s together maybe six or seven times. The biggest draw of Sunny’s is Sunny himself, who was born next door to the bar over 80 years ago. He’s a Brooklyn legend and anyone who has been lucky enough to meet him loves him. I met him for the first time on the Sunday following Thanksgiving in 2010 when a handful of us showed up at the bar looking for a special time only to find it closed for the day.
Long story short, Sunny came down from his apartment upstairs, opened the bar, and served us drinks and talked with us and gave us sage advice and told us stories all afternoon about his fascinating life. He even invited Drew to come be a bartender (an invitation Drew has considered many times over the years, especially after particularly long days at work). That afternoon at the bar with my friends and Sunny is one of my favorite New York memories, and every time we’ve been back to the bar, we hope to be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the reclusive Sunny and maybe even hear another of his famous stories. (On one visit to Sunny’s a year or two after that first meeting, we saw him and asked if he remembered us, and he said, “You don’t think I open the bar for just anyone, do you?” We like to think that meant yes, but who knows with Sunny; he had a way of making everyone feel important and special).
Sunny died a few days ago, just a couple weeks after this very well-reviewed book about him was published by a long-time patron and writer friend of his. I always thought there would be another magical Sunny encounter in our not-too-distant future, but I’ve been reminded again not to take time or people for granted. You never know when the last time you see someone will be the last time or whether a chance encounter with a stranger might change the course of your life, like it did for the author, or inspire you to look for the good in others and be a kinder person yourself.