Drinks come cheap, fast and often at Ding Dong Lounge, a Manhattan Valley dive spot that’s home to many regulars as well as Columbia University students. A good chunk of the barstools are occupied by in-the-know locals from the Upper West Side and Harlem, while some cheeky drinkers swing through for the obscenely cheap $6 beer-and-a-shot happy hour deal. After more than a decade in the beer-serving business, Ding Dong is still going strong, thanks to its comfortingly dark walls, guitar neck beer taps, heavy metal pinball machines and a pool table. There’s live music on the weekends and a hook near the door that holds a small collection of hula hoops for anyone looking to show off their skills. Otherwise, this is a drinker’s heaven – particularly during happy hour – and one of Manhattan’s truly unspoiled dives.
1 Republik Lounge whisks patrons into a low-lit series of rooms decorated to evoke classic Hollywood, Rat Pack glamour, and the Land of Oz. Nine flavors of tobacco-free hookah add an aromatic complement to meals in the beer garden, where red tables polka-dot the patio like the spots on a zebra's back. NCAA season sends cheers coursing past tables along with Italian-tinged entrees such as shrimp scampi and pub snacks including bruschetta and meatballs. Meanwhile, versatile, outgoing bartenders tap beer, pour wine, and mix cocktails while adding to the conviviality of the dive-inspired lounge whose "hospitality is second to none," according to Shecky's NYC Nightlife.
In 1854, just three years after he landed in New York, Irishman John McSorley opened a blue-collar saloon that served ale along with cheese and crackers. He probably never foresaw the legends who would walk through the swinging front doors, or that his saloon would become a landmark associated with literature, art, music, and even civil rights. In the more than 150-year history of McSorley’s Old Ale House, its sawdust-strewn floors were tread on by figures such as Abraham Lincoln, John Lennon, and Woody Guthrie. e.e. cummings visited and wrote the poem “i was sitting in mcsorley’s”, and artist John French Sloan created several paintings depicting the saloon. Even a play inspired by McSorley’s ran on Broadway for more than 100 performances. Two attorneys led a suit to allow women into the ale house, taking the case all the way to the Supreme Court. And amid this flurry of activity, the saloon survived multiple changes to the brewer of its McSorley’s Cream Stock Ale, including during Prohibition when Bill McSorley had to set up a brewery in the basement. Though ownership has changed three times, each owner has honored the original spirit of McSorley’s. This remains true today as the Maher family continues to run the place as a true ale house. Behind the bar still looms the words of John McSorley embossed on a hardwood cabinet: “Be good or be gone.”
When Arlene’s Grocery opened in 1995, it was in a Lower East Side that was hungry for live music. Fortunately there was no shortage of bands to fill the stage. The venue quickly became rooted in punk, garage rock, and bohemian music, saving their spotlight for then-unknown artists such as Jeff Buckley. Over the years, Arlene’s proved itself a tastemaker, booking regular shows with up-and-comers the Strokes and securing a residency from the Bravery before the band hit it big by swapping their instruments for baseball gloves and becoming the Atlanta Braves. As the neighborhood evolved and the club, an actual former grocery store, sprawled into the butcher shop next door, the owners hired a live rock ‘n’ roll karaoke band. The multi-weekly sessions became wildly popular, even attracting neighbors such as Moby to take the stage for some impromptu singing. Beyond karaoke, the calendar still focuses on indie-alt-rock, with performers that have included Delta Rae and Conner Youngblood.
After a 1989 visit to Texas's National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, Sherry Delamarter decided to open a rip-roaring spot of her own in the West Village, replete with staffers performing rope tricks on Hudson Street's now bygone parking meters. Today, Cowgirl's two daily batches of guacamole accent Texas-style cooking, which draws from Mexican, Cajun, and American culinary traditions. Brunches of huevos rancheros and lunches of fried-catfish salad or corn dogs make way for dinners of mac ‘n’ cheese, chicken-fried steak, and burgers made with free-range turkey. During its nearly quarter-century history, Cowgirl's blue-gingham-dressed tables have served country-music legends such as Dolly Parton and Roger McGuinn, who settled into steel Tolix chairs beneath longhorn skulls, portraits of horses, and decorative pistols.
One of Harlem’s favorite dive bars, Paris Blues Bar combines good music, cheap drinks and simple food inside a predictably rough-around-the-edges interior. The bar occupies the ground floor of a tenement building on the corner of West 121st Street and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard.. Thankfully, the owner Samuel Hargiss Jr., has done much to maintain Paris Blues Bar’s old school, no fuss atmosphere, meaning regulars have the option to get down on a small dance floor or belly up to the long bar. Music pulses from one of the best jukeboxes in New York, pushing out classic blues, jazz and soul riffs; on other nights, the bar hosts live bands.