RED HOOK, Brooklyn — "It is Sunny's Bar, but I embrace you all with a cheerful and joyful heart. And I wore a hat, which I never do, and I take it off to all of you."
Antonio "Sunny" Balzano was as bright as ever at a book reading in Cobble Hill just a few weeks before his passing.
"God how sweet this is," said Balzano as he stood in front of a crowd packed with friends and family.
The newly released "Sunny's Nights" capturing the song and dance man, and his bar, through the eyes of author Tim Sultan, a former bartender and friend.
For decades, Sunny used kind words and jokes to turn customers into family members at his Red Hook watering-hole.
A beacon along a bumpy road long before Fairway and Ikea, Sunny and his bar were the lure at the end of Red Hook.
"Sunny had a spirit that was like glitter," said his wife Tone Balzano-Johansen. "When Sunny gave you a hug it would just stick with you and make you sparkle."
Sunny took over the bar from his father at a time when most of the customers were longshoremen and locals. The neighborhood filled with drugs and their addicts.
But Sunny had a way to see the potential in everyone.
"And people came to see him," said cousin Amelia Kreuger. "People came to see Sunny."
And so he welcomed people to his bar, like most people welcome you to their home. Maybe that's because he lived right upstairs.
For Sunny, liquor licenses and inspections were an afterthought. The bar was almost shutdown on one occasion. Saved, in part, thanks to an outpouring of support from his customers.
"You know when God made Sunny he put a heart in it that nobody else got," said Balzano-Johansen. "And that touched everybody that came in touch with him."
After years of failing health and fewer trips downstairs, Sunny Balzano died of a brain hemorrhage last week at the age of 81. Ever since, family members say they've been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support.
"He was personable. That's why everyone loved him I guess," said Kreuger.
Sunny said his job as a bartender was to make people feel better than they felt before.
Judging by the tender outpouring, he was an overwhelming success.