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.
Inhabiting a former sweet shop, Pete's Candy Store unveils a whimsical seasonal menu of eclectic cocktails and gourmet sandwiches amid free nightly live music and other bustling bar activities. On Sundays, revelers can gobble up a roasted turkey, cheddar, and spicy aioli sandwich ($8) during open-mic (5 p.m.–8 p.m.), and then enjoy the indie-folk sounds of The Go Round (8:30 p.m. in March) while trying to keep the Dragonfly Punch cocktail ($10) from winging around the heads of other bar patrons. On any day of the week, an artichoke heart, brie, and onion-relish ciabatta sandwich ($8) pairs well with a Bleeding Heart cocktail, made with Akvavit, Cherry Heering, and lyrics from Celine Dion ballads ($10).
HAPPY TIME! packs a lot of flavor into a small space, serving popular Asian bites along with beer, wine, and a taste of local culture. Black counters flank the narrow white-walled eatery, where bottles of American microbrews such as Flying Dog and Victory, and imports such as Tsingtao mingle with fried or steamed pork buns and vegetable egg rolls. Aside from lending the space a casual vibe, the minimalist aesthetic has a greater purpose: to draw eyes toward the stunning visual artwork from Reaves Gallery on the walls and ears toward open-mic nights, comedy shows hosted by Derik Boik, and performances by local artists, poets, independent musicians, and bands from space. Patrons can also commandeer HAPPY TIME! for private events ranging from film screenings and "breakup" parties, with custom menus and beverage selections available on request.
The big draw at JT Straw’s Bar & Grill is the wood-fired brick oven, which crisps the edges of pizzas day and night. Housemade meatballs, smoked mozzarella, and sliced rib eye steak all sink into sauce before pies emerge from the oven ready to be gobbled down or used as a bargaining tool in divorce court. Aside from the pizza, JT Straw's also doles out draft brews, burgers, salads, and wings doused in more than 60 sauces, including spicy mexican, mango chipotle barbecue, and garlic sesame.
A testament to the lasting union of food and drink, The Mad Donkey sates appetites with an eclectic menu of munchables and a smorgasbord of brews to match. Dive into a flock of their Monster wings, which, like parade floats and large-print nursery rhymes, are pleasantly over-sized ($8.95). Next, tackle one of their 10 signature sandwiches ($5.95–$13.95) or a customizable burger, a half-pound patty ($10) that arrives with your choice of two toppings ($1 for each additional topping). Bold bar-goers may brave the one-of-a-kind Donkey Mess, a layer of fries bedecked with a 6-ounce cheeseburger, topped with mash potatoes, squashed with a 1/4-pound chili dog, seasoned with the adventurous spirit of Davey Crockett, and garnished with a chicken finger and onion rings ($18). Wash down demonstratively massive meals with their signature Fishbowls, 64 ounces of three different rums, juices, soda, and swedish fish ($20). The bar also offers a rotating selection of beers on draft, recently featuring the Beer Advocate-approved Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA and Ommegang Hennepin ($6 each) to quench hop-happy thirsts.