No subway line will take you to Red Hook. Taxis will need your directions. Most tourists huddled around the Statue of Liberty have never heard of this place, but in all of New York it is only Red Hook that sees the Mother of Exiles face to face.
Shots fired from Red Hook during the revolutionary war kept George Washington’s rowboats safe from attack. Centuries later, Harlan Ellison ran with Red Hook gangs, On the Waterfront was set on Red Hook’s piers, and a horror novella by H.P. Lovecraft detailed the neighborhood’s “maze of hybrid squalor” with fascinated disgust. In the 90s, LIFE magazine dubbed Red Hook “the crack capital of America.” Today this waterfront has an art scene, alternate side parking, and the best lobster roll in the city. Still haunted by feral cats and a few unsavory characters, it also is home to the opticnerve™ studios.
In an antebellum era stone warehouse at the end of a pier, the men of opticnerve™ skateboard between their second floor studio spaces. Looking down through the windows that line the hall, you will see the ancient trolley cars parked on the warehouse’s first floor. Men and women pass around and through them, carrying parcels and buckets of bright paint.
Abandoned trolleys also sit on the overgrown tracks outside the pier. Trolleys with smashed in windows and rusted sides house small murmurations of starlings that huddle for warmth on the backs of leather seats (a heart is etched on the outside of one of the cars, where Adrian and Lolita have loved each other since 2010 at least).
Inside the warehouse, the dim and echoing corridors are painted a scuffed hospital green. Doors open to glassblowers, mechanics, water taxis– and to opticnerve™ Studio 4B. Here a fire burns perpetually in the large fireplace, over which the head of a buffalo is mounted. The walls are exposed brick and stone. Dogs sleep on deep sofas, strings of Christmas lights hang from the ceilings, and colorful murals decorate the walls. A painted wooden swing is attached by ropes to a ceiling beam. Beside the projection screen, a crowded bookshelf doubles as a DJ booth. The Statue of Liberty looks into every window– something occupants of the steam shower might do well to consider.
The opticnerve™ staff work behind large Apple computers and sip seltzer dispensed from old-fashioned green bottles. At lunch, around an oval table, they tell their stories. The memories of junkies, barfights, loose women and washed up corpses might not be safe for work in the outside world– but for the staff of opticnerve™, it’s a living.