Sydney nightlife has suffered many fatal blows in the past few years. First, lockouts claimed many of our favourite venues, and then, just as we were starting to rebuild and re-party, a global pandemic shut the whole country down.
Now, as the lockout laws relax and Covid-19 infection rates fall (and then rise, and then fall again), we’re in a sort of casual or fledgling relationship with going out. We know we like each other but the rules are vague and we don’t fully trust one another. Are we allowed to see other people? How many people? What if we wear protection? Ugh, dating is the worst.
In a year plagued by loss, it’s been hard to maintain any sense of optimism. Never before, at least not in my lifetime, have we needed entertainment – needed joy – more.
And that’s why Monday’s shocking news was so deeply felt: iconic Surry Hills karaoke joint Ding Dong Dang had permanently closed, another casualty in the Universe’s war on fun.
Social media has since been awash with lamentations on the death of this treasured landmark. Plus, everyone wants to know what became of the giant neon sign that hung above the entrance, where a humourless security guard would check all bags for sneaky booze.
“Why was it so good?” many have asked following the outpouring of grief. “Aren’t all karaoke bars basically the same?”
“How dare you!” has been my standard response, followed by a veritable TED talk on ignorance and the intersection of alcohol, poorly captioned lyrics and colourful strobe lighting.
But it’s actually quite difficult to explain what made Ding Dong Dang so great.
For one, I believe it had a better song menu than other karaoke places I’ve been to. But I tend to judge that purely on the amount of Alanis Morrisette songs available, so maybe I’m not the best judge. Plus, I was usually very drunk.
The amazing fake music videos were definitely a big part of its charm. Who doesn’t want to watch hot girls washing convertibles while their friends murder Like a Prayer? Or an out-of-focus, softly lit couple staring at each other on a bridge for the entirety of Smells Like Teen Spirit?
I’ve also offered “They sometimes gave you a hand towel with Ding Dong Dang embroidered on it if it was your birthday” to people as evidence of the place’s superiority, but so far nobody has found that impressive. Fools.
Maybe it’s not possible to capture in words what made Ding Dong Dang Sydney’s pre-eminent karaoke establishment. Or perhaps I’m just really bad at my job, which is literally to capture things in words.
But how do you describe a vibe? Could anyone say what made Studio 54 so great? Oh, wait –yes, yes they could: David Bowie. Andy Warhol. Debbie Harry. Grace Jones. Freddie Mercury. Everyone cool and alive back then.
What I can say is that I always had an amazing time there. Like, a crazy good time. Some of my best memories from the past decade include belting out bangers within its musty, poorly soundproofed walls.
The closure of Ding Dong Dang is the poisoned icing on the Covid-infected cake that is 2020. I was actively looking forward to returning one day and treating my friends to another poignant rendition of Christina Aguilera’s Beautiful.
Let’s hope the rumours of it reopening at a new location are true and that the floors will be as sticky as the beer is pricey once more.
Nadine von Cohen is a Sydney-based writer & refugee advocate.