Death of a Dive Bar: The Ding Dong Lounge

9 Aug

We are sad to announce that the Ding Dong Lounge will be forced to pour its last drinks at its current location on Thursday July 31.
Like so many other unique New York City businesses, the Ding has lost its lease, despite having the highest sales in its 13 year history and being named the  Best Cheap Manhattan Dive by both the Village Voice and Gothamist

This is not the end of the Ding, as we will be relocating & reopening in the near future (watch this space for details). However, for right now, please come out to show some love and say goodbye to our beloved Ding Dong Lounge during our last days at the Columbus Ave & 106 St. location. 

We love you all!

This was the paragraph posted on The Ding Dong Lounge’s website. The bar shuttered on July 31st after being open since 2001. It was the first bar in New York that I called my own. It is also just another piece of how the real New York: the gritty, graphic, artsy, dive bar NYC is disappearing before our eyes.

I used to live on 107th and Amsterdam Avenue. That was right up the street and an avenue over from The Ding Dong. My friend Matt and I used to frequent the bar often when we wanted a late night chat or to play a round of pool. It was always loud, always just a little dirty, but a place where we felt comfortable, relaxed, at home. It was the kind of bar where you wrote on the walls and had hula hoops hanging from the center beam (the one bartender there was amazing at it) Every time we went to the Ding Dong, a story was born. Here are a few highlight in tribute to a bar I won’t soon forget.

The Pool Sharks

Matt and I were at Ding Dong one night just to play pool. We didn’t really understand the whole put quarters on the table and wait your turn thing or winner plays next round so we found ourselves playing these dudes who had been playing, and winning, all night. Now, Matt and I are not good at pool. We liked to play and chat and never took the game seriously. These dudes did take it seriously. But we figured we had nothing to lose so we played them. And we KICKED THEIR ASS. To this day, neither of us believed this actually happened. We had even informed them we were terrible at pool so they thought we had pool sharked them and faked our lack of skill even though I’m pretty sure it was them that were faking it. We were the kings of the Ding Dong for about 60 seconds until someone came up and said “We’re next.” Our streak ended there.

The Dead Bartender

We do an annual bar crawl of our own creation for St. Patrick’s Day. We start up in Harlem and work our way down to McSorley’s on the lower east side. In one of the first years, if not the first, we stopped at the Ding Dong. Now dive bars during the day are the weirdest experience I have found. They don’t look the same at all. You can see the grime and feel the sweat dripping off the walls, even in March. Certain wall decor and graffiti appears different in daylight than it does in dim late hours. It’s pretty fascinating.

The bar was empty save for a man with his head on his arms at the end of the bar. We announced ourselves to no reaction. The man did not respond to yelling, poking, or clattering glasses and bar stools. We naturally thought he was dead. We made a companion check to make sure he was still breathing.  He was. There were notes surrounding him, jokes people had written. Clearly he had been there a while. Because of our loyalty and respect and mostly the awkward nature of the situation, we stole nothing and we left without a beverage.

Rock Star Boyfriend

I have written briefly of the Rock Star boyfriend I had from my tour that I met in Vegas. Well, he came to New York to visit me and Matt and I took him to the Ding Dong Lounge. I wanted Matt to meet him, of course, and at first I thought they hit it off very well. We played pool and Rock Star seemed very into Matt. Again, I was happy this boy I liked really liked my best friend. Then I started seeing him slapping Matt’s ass which is not exactly what one does in pool (we would know, we are pool sharks). When Rock Star started doing the same to me, I blamed drinking too much and just attempting to be funny. We came back to my apartment and he ate my room mate’s food which I got yelled at for the next day. He also cried and told me he loved me and it was so awkward and uncomfortable and I said it back because WHAT DO YOU SAY?? He also didn’t wear underwear. Ever. I digress. A few weeks later, after Rock Star and I no longer spoke, Matt told me Rock Star had been grabbing his ass all night and he didn’t know how to tell me because he was pretty sure this odd boy I picked up in Vegas was not into my lady parts. Sadly, I think the boy still lives in the closet in Park City, Utah…

The Cat

One night we were standing outside the bar, chatting with some other patrons. I spotted a kitty and was told it belonged to someone at the Ding Dong. Out of no where, as the cat was in the street, a car came barreling down the road and hit the cat. I won’t describe what I saw because I am still scarred by it. We didn’t see where the cat ended up but the owner did. The car drove away, not even stopping to see what it hit. Matt and I stood there, jaws on the ground, scarred for life. This is one of the reasons my cat or any cat I own will be an outdoor cat.

Late Night Bonding

The Ding Dong was the prime spot Matt and I would come to talk late into the night. The bar was always open til 4am and even if it was at 11pm, I would still put on real pants and go meet Matt. We had some of the best talks in that loud location. We talked about boyfriends and careers and usually got nostalgic for college. The bar was special to a lot of people. I went without Matt, he went without me. We would go with different size groups for St. Patrick’s Day or just a night cap after dinner somewhere. One of my favorite conversations was with Matt, myself, and our friend Scott from college. We told stories and sat and drank beer for hours at this little round table in the middle. It was one of those moments where you realize you are no longer in college, you are an adult, you are free, and these are the people that keep you going. These are the nights you get high from breathing. These are the moments you remember and talk about when you say you lived in New York City in your twenties.

The Last Time

Matt, his boyfriend Alex, myself, and Lincoln had dinner and went to say farewell to the Ding Dong Lounge a few days before it closed. We walked in and it was more packed than I had ever seen on a Sunday night. The bar had become a little more Columbia student populated in recent years which irked me to no end. I wanted the tattooed, punk rock, greasy haired, borderline creepy crowd Matt and I used to blend in with. I had started seeing a lot more ironic t-shirts and colored pants than the usual Sex Pistils attire mixed with black and gray. Regardless, it was still our bar and we had to say goodbye. In it’s usual fashion, the Ding Dong left us with a story to tell.  A mismatched guy got up and attempted to rap in a microphone that didn’t really work. There was body painting happening dead center next to the DJ booth. Topless girls getting hearts painted on their breasts. Next to the painting was a man doing tattoos. In a bar. He was mostly doing “UWS” for Upper West Side but we watched as he did several other tats on various bar guests. Matt and I looked at each other and just said “Yup. This is right.” It was hot as hell in the bar, so we stood under the fan and this boy we named LA because he kept saying he was visiting from LA started chatting with us. Well, with me, being as I was female and that seemed to be his main focus, to talk to all the females there were in the bar. I speak of LA because towards the end of the night, we saw him in line for a tattoo. I couldn’t resist asking what he was getting. “L.A. on my leg,” he responded. No one was surprised.

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The bathrooms used to be co-ed but now they were labeled. I went into the one marked “Dames”. There was no toilet seat. Again, no one was surprised. Matt and I later went into the male bathroom to search for words we had written throughout the years. Among the flyers for punk shows and CD release parties, we couldn’t find the poems and lyrics and quotes we had attributed to the mess plastered to the walls. In a way, that was fitting. They all blended together with the other messages and  various “So and So was here NYC 2012” surrounding us. We took a moment, took some pictures, said our personal goodbyes and walked out of the bathroom together though it was clearly labeled “No More Than One Person In Bathroom” because this was the kind of place where you had to put a sign like that up.

New York is disappearing before our eyes. The city that is for the artists and the riff raff. Like much of Harlem, I am sure the Ding Dong will become a cupcake shop (though I hear everyone is over cupcakes) or some gluten free bakery or dog fashion shop. New York has always had a part of it that beat to the rhythm of wealth and power. The city today is breathing on money. It can’t survive without it when it used to thrive. There are condos being built to block one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world. The lower east side is almost unrecognizable now with all the Chipotles and Starbucks taking over the restaurants that had regulars they called friends and family. This plastic and clean New York is not the New York I grew up wanting to live in and fell in love with when I finally got here. I want to be a regular at a restaurant that exists no where else. I want a bar that is my spot where I write on the walls because that’s just what you do, not because they are made of chalkboard and the bar provides the chalk. I don’t want gimmicks or DJs that play top 40 songs. I want to be a pool shark in a place not run by suits and law students. I miss old New York. I miss the Ding Dong Lounge.

Call it a dive bar if you want to, a neighborhood joint, a place for great music, grungy, hip, cool, sloppy or the most comfortable place you’ve ever hung out. With Manhattan becoming less and less interesting every day and all the rough edges being smoothed over, the Ding lives as an example of why everyone still wants to be in New York City.

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