When cocktail superstar Claire Sprouse opened the acclaimed restaurant Hunky Dory in Crown Heights in early 2019, nobody anticipated the devastation that the coronavirus pandemic would unleash on the restaurant and bar scene in New York City, or on local business in general. But back in 2019, Hunky Dory immediately made a splash on the local news scene, with rave reviews in Eater and Edible Brooklyn. The lineup was hard to beat. Delicious cocktails from Sprouse, who previously worked at Sunday in Brooklyn and ABV in San Francisco, and sustainably-sourced food by Kirstyn Brewer, who was nominated as a “Young Gun” by Eater. Hunky Dory quickly became a local haunt, with the food and drink level matching the hospitality of Sprouse and her team. With the Untapped New York office down the road on Franklin Avenue at 1000 Dean, we became regulars.
Back in May, Sprouse had the idea to turn Hunky Dory into a shop as as pandemic pivoting measure. In support, Untapped New York donated our stock of New York City books — Secret Brooklyn, which we wrote, and several beautiful hardcover books by New York City photographers, James and Karla Murray. And now, the “Hunky Depot” is finally open just in time for the holidays, located in the former dining room of the restaurant. It’s a wonderfully curated selection of last minute gifts from local purveyors and sustainable producers. “We sell a bunch of stuff that we like. Simple as that” is the tagline for the Hunky Depot. There’s also an extensive wine selection, making the Hunky Depot/Hunky Dory now a combination gift shop, wine shop and restaurant.
In the Hunky Depot, you’ll find an eclectic mix of things like flour mixes and spice rubs by FOOD + People and Breuekelen Rub Spice Co., organic teas from Japan, recycled “Decomposition Notebook, bento boxes, soap dishes, calendars, holiday cards, gift wrapping, little puzzles in the shape of cupcakes and cocktails, collapsible water bottles, bamboo plates, and of course, books. The sales form the books we donated go directly to the Hunky Dory staff’s GoFundMe. The shop is jam packed to the rim and on our most recent visit, Sprouse was unpacking a stock of recycled crayons, joking that she didn’t realize how much she had stocked up for the Hunky Depot over the last seven months.
When the pandemic hit, Sprouse took her time to figure out the next evolution. While other businesses seemed to instantly adapt, punching out to-go windows and pivoting their businesses, Hunky Dory tested. First, to-go cocktails. Then for much of the spring, Hunky Dory was primarily open only on weekends, hosting pop ups from local Brooklyn eateries who needed a home. Sprouse was incredibly active, using her social media presence to support not only local small businesses, but also the social causes taking over the city. She was part of a call with Mayor Bill de Blasio in late spring advocating on behalf of the restaurant industry, when it remained uncertain when New York City would reopen, let alone restaurants and bars. She rallied her followers and informed them on Black Lives Matter demonstrations taking place.
Then, to our great relief, Hunky Dory reopened. But, not for indoor dining even though it was legally possible. Sprouse — foreseeing the shaky future of indoor dining — convinced her landlord to let her use the empty lot next door, a prime corner piece of real estate that has inexplicably remained undeveloped. Suddenly, Franklin Avenue didn’t just have street dining, as the city finally permitted the transformation of parking space into restaurant space. Franklin Avenue had a bona fide outdoor restaurant. Pastel colored signs and fencing welcomed people into the lot, furnished with parasols, wooden tables, and hand sanitizer dispensers. With Sprouse’s touch, even tall weeds found a way to get repurposed into the decor. On one weekend, a sherbet orange classic Volkswagen minibus appeared, offering a way to have cocktails for one small group at a time. Sprouse was working on getting a local artist to paint a mural on the empty wall. She also announced the end of tipping at Hunky Dory, part of a larger commentary Sprouse was making about the sustainability of the restaurant industry and how tipping perpetuates systemic inequality.
While the rest of the world seemed to relish in increasingly staged scenes of New York City as a post-apocalyptic wasteland, Brooklyn was alive — in large part because of small businesses like Hunky Dory who were creatively repurposing empty, unactivated spaces. Business survival while thinking of the greater community proved possible here at Hunky Dory.
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Now for the winter, the outdoor space at Hunky Dory has been converted into a festive, holiday outdoor dining space under a series of hoop tents and space heaters. Stop by for food, drink, company, and last minute gifts. Hunky Dory/Hunky Depot is located at 747 Franklin Avenue, at the corner of Sterling Place in Crown Heights.
Next, check out 10 Hidden Gems of Crown Heights.