Sunny’s Nights: Lost and Found at a Bar on the Edge of the World by Tim Sultan

A vividly portrayed Brooklyn bar serves as vehicle in a young man’s ode to his friend.

sunnys nights

Tim Sultan wandered by accident through the door beneath the sign that read simply “Bar,” in the derelict neighborhood of mid-1990s Red Hook in Brooklyn, N.Y. Charmed by the proprietor, Antonio Raffaele “Sunny” Balzano, Sultan become a bar regular, then a bartender, and eventually left his Manhattan high-rise job to devote himself to the bar–or, more accurately, to Sunny himself. Sunny’s Nights: Lost and Found at a Bar on the Edge of the World is an appreciation of that man.

Sunny’s bar is “on the edge of the world” because Red Hook is both a point on what Sunny calls the Mississippi-Hudson River (because of the Hudson’s role in his youth, which he recalls in parallel to the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn), and an outlier in the consciousness of greater Brooklyn. Sultan explores the history of the neighborhood as well as of Sunny and his bar, a family affair for generations. The result is both memoir and biography, alternating between the protagonists’ years of friendship and their separate pasts: Sultan grew up in West Africa and Germany while Sunny’s childhood was confined to Red Hook. Also an artist in diverse media, Sunny is wildly charismatic, with endless stories that unfailingly hold his audience spellbound; this is the real story of the bar. As Sunny and Sultan share histories, escapades (including a near-drowning in the Mississippi-Hudson) and hospital visits, old Red Hook wise guys (some still bending an elbow at Sunny’s), poets, lovers, musicians and artists make for a colorful, eclectic and winning tale–like Sunny himself.

This review originally ran in the March 1, 2016 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish news.

Rating: 7 Bathtubs.

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