If you were to plan the perfect day in New York City, it might include a walk through Central Park, a stop at MoMA, dinner at a classic Manhattan restaurant like Keens or Mogador. Maybe you’d Citibike up the west side highway bike path and eat lunch at the Boat Basin, or grab a roof deck drink somewhere. Maybe you’d hit Russ and Daughters, walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, or hit the Comedy Cellar.
There’s countless things you could add to this hypothetical “Best Day in NYC list,” but there’s really one “must” in my opinion, and that is a trip to Sunny’s Bar in Red Hook for a Smokey Hormel show.
Sunny’s makes it onto a lot of New Yorker’s list of favorite bars for good reason. It’s a unique laid back institution that's held it's ground in a city that's always changing. Now, it's even earned something of an unofficial landmark status, especially after Hurricane Irene. But add in Smokey Hormel, and you’ve got eclipse level greatness happening.
Last week, we accidentally caught Smokey playing with his band and realized immediately we lucked into something fantastic. I’d heard of Smokey before, how there was this guy who played with Johnny Cash and Beck and that he had a few regular gigs around Brooklyn, but it took me a second to connect the dots at Sunny’s.
If you’re not as familiar with Smokey, NPR has an excellent interview with the musician, but here's a quick primer as well:
Smokey was raised out in California in a musical family, did a stint as an actor but eventually returned to his career in Music. When Rick Rubin needed a guitarist to play with Johnny Cash, he called Smokey. Other musicians who have tapped Smokey for recording/writing sessions and tours include Nora Jones, Joe Strummer and Adele, to name a few. Smokey is one of those musicians that every musicians seems to know, but still remains sort under the radar to many of us outside the industry.
Selfishly, that’s a good thing, especially if you live in NYC and are looking to catch a great show in Brooklyn. Smokey has a couple of his own bands that regular play around Brooklyn, and the one we him caught him playing with—Smokey’s Secret Family— featured a trombone, hand drum rhythm section, tuba, and of course, Smokey’s virtuosity lead guitar was fantastic.
Seeing a band play so well, in such an intimate setting (The back room at Sunny’s is no bigger than a large living room) is really something special, even for a bar full of jaded New Yorkers. Smokey’s danceable songs helps you shake off all the stuff that weighs you down during the week.
If I had to describe the style, it would be something like surf music meets brazilian with a dash of classic country swing too. I guess those are the world Smokey plays in. It was phenomenal. Very danceable. Very groovy. And really, the perfect way to spend a New York night.