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NY Press 2006
Columbia Spectator
NY Press 2004
Paper Magazine
Village Voice - Best of 2002
NY Times
NY Post
NY Press Best of 2001
Shout Magazine
New York Magazine Online
City Search
Shecky's Bar Guide

NY Press 2006

Back to the Future: Cuckoo Clocks and Clientele at the Ding Dong Lounge

Step outside the dark and cozy confines of the Ding Dong Lounge after you've had a few three-dollar happy hour pints, and you might be surprised you're in Morning-side Heights. And it's no longer 1981.

Blame the decorating scheme for making you think the lounge was a Bowery dive dated back before Manhattan became a theme park. The exposed brick walls of the well-worn establishment are hung with posters from punk shows you never saw and bands your older brother had to turn you on to: The Bad Brains, UK Subs, Black Flag and The Gun Club are all rep'ed on the walls, if not on the sound system. But still. Punk as fuck! 

The rest of the interior matches the musical aesthetic, all conspicuously secondhand and comfortably broken-in. A flock of old cuckoo clocks adorns the area behind the bar, and guitar necks serve as beer taps. If you don't feel like joining the crowd around the bar, there's plenty of space on the long benches that line the walls—just watch out for the occasional roach skittering above your head. Or pull up a few of the creaky, mismatched chairs and sit around an old converted Ms. Pac-Man machine or a sturdy wood slab of a table that suggests drinking is serious work.

So much dive bar authenticity can be hazardous though. A few hours into my visit on a recent weekday evening, I witnessed one particularly studious drinker, who had been huddled over reading until that point, suddenly and spectacularly toppled over backwards when the leg of his chair cracked off. “This must be my initiation,” he mumbled as he picked up his book. Sort of punk!

Earlier that afternoon, I had strolled north along Columbus Avenue to enjoy the sun and explore the neighborhood. Slowly sloping hills rolled by bodegas, check cashing counters and the massive Frederick Douglass housing projects. The bar was only a short walk north, with a sign out front that read, “You've been a lot less fun since you stopped drinking. You need to get off the wagon already.”

Judging by the crowd I saw once I ducked into the cool subterranean darkness, most people probably came from the opposite direction, walking south down from Columbia. A few grimy regulars at the bar did their best to keep things from feeling too gentrified, but they couldn't counteract the preppiness of the well-heeled grad students sitting near the window. Backpacks, bike helmets and books were numerous, giving the place the feel of a college bar, but even with its grad student clientele, it doesn't seem like a Morningside Heights establishment. It's more like a hideout or shelter for strays who wandered up from the LES. Consider it Columbia's hipster oasis, a place where comp lit majors can read Debord under a Buzzcocks poster.

As I approached the bar for one last round, I overheard a young patron in a beaten denim jacket slurring to the bartender, “Hey, what train do I take to Williamsburg from here?”

So far, yet so close.

Columbia Spectator

This bar is definitely hipper than you. A throwback to the British New Wave/punk scene of the 1980s, it boasts an impressive collection of concert posters (as well as a hula hoop) festooning the exposed brick walls, an overturned Pac Man machine serving as a table, and an extremely uncomfortable leather couch.

Depending on the night, you'll also find Brit pop, drum 'n' bass, and even bluegrass being spun. A bit of a hike, but this lounge, newly-expanded, is worth the trip.

NY Press 2004

A dead and nippy Sunday night seemed like the perfect time to check out Manhattan Valley, the area of the Upper Upper West Side, so LisSsa and I set out to the Ding Dong Lounge, a reportedly punk bar on Columbus between 105th and 106th Sts. Nobody was out in what used to be a rough neighborhood, according to Bill, the owner of the Ding Dong and a former partner of Motor City. Now, he tells me, Columbia is buying up a lot of buildings and renovating them, and some students are staying in the neighborhood, which is still somewhat affordable. About 10 years ago, when they repaved the street, things got a lot quieter and the gunshots died down, according to one local.

Loretta, a 65-year-old black woman who’d been drinking all day, seemed right at home, perched on the edge of the bar with her skinny little yappy dog. After she confirmed that we weren’t from the CIA–just a routine precaution–LisSsa asked her for the strangest thing she’d ever seen in the bar. To which she promptly replied, "No smoking!" She and LisSsa were warming up to each other, knocking ’em back and pretty soon she was working blue: "I’m acrobatic, I can get my head down there and lick my own pussy!" She was crowing in no time at all, a drunk with a repertoire, and I was glad she’d found a home at the Ding Dong. Khalil DJd some Fun Boy Three and a little Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Rachel, our barmaid, had the beautifully sad look of the New York Girl. She told me that the neighborhood, so far, has resisted your Starbucks and the like; businesses are still individually or family owned, including Los Mellizos, a bodega/restaurant with a superior pressed sandwich at 108th and Manhattan Ave. Of course, it was too late to check it out, about 1am, because we had to stop for pizza, batteries and a hairbrush before we really got going on the 1 train. LisSsa and Loretta traded numbers as they left, with Loretta promising to make it down to Otto’s Shrunken Head one night, though I’d personally be disappointed if she ever made it off the block.

DJ Khalil doesn’t like the Night Café, and nobody liked Soha, which they believe is trying to be something it is not, so I hurried off to check out the rival bars. Night Café is on Amsterdam between 106th and 107th, and is manned by Seamus, an Irishman so charming and so tough that the owner begged him to return when he briefly took a day job. The regulars were in the front having an existential brawl about evil. Does it exist? Yes, say most barflies, which is why they are lifers cocooned in these dark and friendly spaces.

The Night Café is owned by former Weather Underground member and Jeopardy champ Brian Flanagan, who brings the world to the bar inhabitants with two APA Pool tournaments on Mondays and Tuesdays, Trivia Sundays and poetry readings from college students on Wednesdays. I read there about 15 years ago and remember hurriedly launching into the anal sex portion of my story, seeing if I could keep the old codger at the end of the bar from fleeing. Most of the poetry was about dads, mythology, like that.

Seamus was so charming, so in love with his bar and so philosophical that I felt like Joseph Mitchell for a minute and wanted to move right in, under the gorgeous tin ceiling. Although we adored Seamus, I actually preferred the regulars at the Ding Dong–which does not impress our Irish darling, but which was more trend-appropriate for me, and I didn’t know if foulmouthed barfly Loretta, probably still talking about how if God made anything better than pussy he kept it to himself, would get much purchase.

One thing Seamus shared with the Ding Dong crowd, however, was a dislike for Soha. "It’s comfortable, but…" was all he could muster up; the sentence need never reach completion.

I ran right over to check the place out.

"Welcome to crazy town!" boomed the barmaid as I entered the infamous Soha, at 109th and Amsterdam, and indeed a lone guy was doing a wobbly little dance all by himself. But crazy? Four guys played pool and one promptly left money at the bar for whatever LisSsa was having. Getting hit on wasn’t worth the free whiskey, so we sat on one of the many cushy couches, reminiscing about Loretta, who at that point was five blocks away. We left immediately. As Seamus said, it’s comfortable, but…

Paper Magazine

Nestled on a strip of Columbus Avenue more known for its bodegas than its nightlife rests this anomalous punk-themed lounge that aims to be nothing more than a fun place to drink in a neighborhood that desperately needs one. Walk in and after your eyes slowly adjust to absurdly dark lighting, you'll find chatty bartenders dutifully pouring pints from taps fabricated from guitar handles while they do double duty on the turntables, bringing their ska, reggae, punk and garage vinyl from home to provide a sonic atmosphere to match the exposed brick walls outfitted with vintage punk posters. It's the kind of place that you feel so relaxed that 4 a.m. will hit you upside the head and you'll want to keep going until 5.

Village Voice - Best of 2002  - Best Bar For Outcast Columbia Students

With so many bars so close to campus (the West End, Amsterdam Café, the Heights, 1020, SoHa, Nacho Mama's, etc., etc., etc.), most Columbia students rarely venture very far from the library to do their drinking. Those who make the relatively lengthy trek to DING DONG LOUNGE tend to be the type that would rather beat on a sorority girl with a baseball bat than buy her a beer. A punk-rock dive located in a former crack house (or so they claim), Ding Dong provides brooding comp lit majors and speed-addled pre-meds with pleasant company in the form of jaded thirtysomething singles for whom the Lower East Side just isn't seedy enough anymore.

NY Times

April 7, 2002

Shortly before dusk the other day, a waitress at the Ding Dong Lounge on Columbus Avenue near West 105th Street set out a sidewalk chalkboard bearing the following advice: "Caution. Once you have entered, you might not leave."

She wiped her hands on her cheetah-print pants and ducked back into the dimly lighted bar. Inside were purple walls covered with concert flyers for the Misfits, the Meat Puppets and the Ramones. Overhead, a creaking chandelier held red light bulbs.

Bill Nolan, the bar's owner, chuckled at the chalkboard. "Every day," he said, "we like to write something fun or racy so we can watch the old men look shocked as they walk by."

Perhaps more startling, though, is that the bar, which opened last year, has become a rallying point for Manhattan Valley neighbors, and Mr. Nolan has become their shaggy-haired champion.

Other neighborhoods, like Chelsea and the Upper West Side, have long opposed late-night establishments because of problems with noise, traffic and crime. But Peter Arndtsen, district manager of the Columbus/Amsterdam Business Improvement District, said Mr. Nolan's bar had earned a reputation for discouraging drug traffic and drawing legitimate businesses to this middle-class area.

"You never used to see people hanging out at night around here, because there was nowhere to go," said José Martinez, who runs a bodega across the street from the bar. "They were afraid. But now it is great that this bar is rebuilding the neighborhood."

Mr. Nolan, who was once an owner of the Motor City Bar on the Lower East Side, credits the location. He and his business partner, Steve Nadich, visited Manhattan Valley two years ago and were surprised to find no bars anywhere along Columbus Avenue from 96th to 110th Street. Soon after, they leased two abandoned storefronts that had been crack dens and swept 5,000 crack vials from the basement.

Mr. Nolan also fell in love with the neighborhood. He soon became a regular at community meetings. He started keeping track of empty storefronts and inviting downtown real estate agents up for tours. Last year, he encouraged the restaurateur Marc Solomon to open A, a French-Caribbean bistro that now has hourlong waits on weekends.

Next, Mr. Nolan hopes to lure a supermarket and a tattoo parlor.

"People call it the badlands of Manhattan," he said, "but I think this neighborhood has real potential, especially for entrepreneurs. There aren't many places left in this city where you can be the first of anything. I just need some more adventurers, the kind who want to stay here."

NY Post

February 16, 2002

“Ring-a Ding Dong”

By Libby Callaway& Megan Turner (The “Bar Belles”)

With designer handbags crowding out the spikes and safety pins on the Lower East Side, you have to get your fix of punk-rock drinking uptown, at the wonderfully named Ding Dong Lounge. Bill Nolan, formerly of Ludlow Street’s Detroit Motor City, has recently expanded the “lounge” (the Bar Belles know from lounges, by the way, and this is a far cry) to take over the bodega next door.

Don’t expect to see any frat boys at this Morningside Heights drinkery: It’s a good old-fashioned, dog-friendly, beer-and-shots rock’n’roll bar, featuring local punk bands such as The Raunch Hands.

Who knew the Upper West Side could be so delightfully seedy?

NY Press 2001

Best Punk Rock Bar in Morningside Heights
Ding Dong Lounge

Ding Dong, Punk’s Not Dead. Okay, so it’s the only punk rock bar in Morningside Heights. But it totally fucking rules. Not only do they spin punk rock all day and all night, the drink prices are totally reasonable, the bartenders are really cool and it takes real chutzpah to open a bar in a place where, well, an ex-president of the United States has an office. Run by the folks who owned Motor City, another kickass bar located in another wonderful neighborhood, Ludlow St., the Ding Dong Lounge attracts a big local crowd. On any given weekend night, you’re bound to meet Mr. or Ms. Right-On! So if it’s an uptown Saturday night for you, check out the place. You won’t be sorry, and maybe you’ll get lucky.

Shout Magazine
July 2001

“Ex-Cons, Johns and $3 Lagers”

By Jordan Heller

Uptown is not just for yuppies, anymore. Well, when it comes to 106th and Columbus, asmall strip of badlands on the southern edge of Morningside Heights, I guess it’s the other way around.But it ain’t yuppies changing this dilapidated landscape; it’s art stars and punk rockers. What used to be a video store serving as a front for crack and heroin dealing is now a respectable punk rock bar (respectable punk bar – is that an oxymoron?). The Ding-Dong Lounge (929 Columbus Avenue, 212-663-2600) – named for a dive bar in St. Louis whose patrons drink to the sounds of neighboring church bells – offers salvation to victims of the LES Diaspora tired of seeing their neighborhoods overrun by unemployed check-collecting dotcommers (How many food stamps does a cosmopolitan cost?). Aside from various posters from punk shows past cuckoo clocks and a portrait of “The Fonze” adorning its walls, what makes The Ding Dong Lounge truly worth visiting is its bathroom facilities. As if being a punk bar in the middle of a Puerto Rican neighborhood wasn’t enough of an anomaly, a punk bar with a clean and, dare I say, inviting toilet is the anomaly to end all anomalies. Amidst the usual bathroom graffiti, including a drawing of an auto-fellating man, is a pristine, white porcelain john with matching sink fixture, a soap dispenser, filled, and a blow dryer affixed to the wall. Ladies: no need to hover. “I even come up here in the mornings,” admits Steve, one of Ding Dong’s illustrious proprietors, who lives downtown, “just to take a dump.”

New York Magazine Online
Ding Dong Lounge
929 Columbus Ave. (Above 103rd St.)
Between 105th and 106th Sts.

The former owner and manager of Motor City Bar had the brilliant idea to bring downtown way uptown by turning a former video store (allegedly a front for a crack den) into a very cool bar. This is as classy as punk gets: Dimmed chandeliers illuminate maroon brick walls covered with black-and-white flyers from Black Flag and Misfits shows. A nice, if strange, collection of wooden cuckoo clocks decorates the wall behind the bar. In front of it: neighborhood folks and graduate students who remember the '80s and therefore appreciate the diverse range of punk, rock and country tunes spun by the evening's DJ. -- Shana Liebman

City Search New York
Top rated (4 stars)

The Scene
The compact Ding Dong Lounge is dark inside, with brick and blood-red walls surrounding a plain-and-simple atmosphere befitting a true punk rock bar. The walls are decorated with posters of vintage flyers advertising punk gigs from days gone by. While a few college kids have started checking out the bar, the clientele tends to be an even mix of thirsty men and women between 25 to 40.

The Draw
Punk rock from the Stooges to Turbo Negro blasts on the sound system; a DJ mans the turntables almost every night, with live music on a limited schedule. Beer goes for $4 or less, and shots for between $4 and $5. And most surprisingly of all, the bathroom is clean. Take that, CBGB.

Shecky’s Bar Guide 2001
Ding Dong Lounge
929 Columbus Ave.
(105th & 106th Sts.)
Upper West Side

The Ding Dong Lounge is someone’s idea of an early punk rock bar somewhere in East London, complete with androgynous, over-coiffed DJ, insubordinate bathroom graffiti, and dog-eared punk band posters lining the walls. The problem with all of this is that the bar had only been in business for three months and it’s on northern limits of the Upper West Side. Who has been writing on the walls? Despite the misplaced and manufactured atmosphere, the Ding-Dong had quickly become a popular scene of the more gentrified South Harlem set, if only for lack of better – or virtually any – options this side of Broadway. The bartenders are efficient and happy to see you but stay out of your face, and won’t disappoint as long as you don’t order a cocktail with more than two ingredients (not counting ice). It’s always empty enough to find available seating for obscure theoretical debates, but full enough so that those flying solo (which is fairly common here) can quickly find a drinking companion almost as interesting as themselves.