Untrained Melody: Where to Sing Karaoke in NYC
by Sara Steinfeld, 08/06/2014
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With its Broadway shows, historic concert halls and street performers on nearly every corner, New York City has no shortage of musical entertainment. But when the experience of just watching a performance isn't enough, folks in NYC head out for that beloved pastime and revelatory rite of passage known as karaoke. Crooning one of your favorite tunes in front of an audience can be either exhilarating or embarrassing—in the best kind of way, of course. Whether you're looking for an upscale, private venue or a dive bar where you can sing to a mix of strangers and friends, NYC has a stage to put you in the spotlight. Here's a sampling of places across the City to reveal your inner superstar.
Classic Karaoke Bars
The trappings of a modern karaoke lounge are a far cry from the cheap karaoke machines and echo microphones of your parents' basement. Amid the bright lights and bustle of Times Square, Pulse Karaoke Lounge and Suites is a musical oasis. You can reserve one of the venue's smaller private rooms for a more intimate jam session or stay out in the main lounge with the larger crowds. Either way, a full bar offers up plenty of liquid courage, and the lighting system works in tandem with the song selections—so you’ll experience what it's like to have your own custom stage show. Those looking for less flash can head down to Radio Star Karaoke & Bar in the Garment District. The vintage decor is the epitome of cool, and half-price karaoke during happy hour (Monday through Thursday 3–8pm) gives tune time more than just weekend appeal.
If you want to psych yourself up before singing to the masses but aren't all that interested in imbibing so early, then Karaoke Boho West4 might be the place for you. Get there before 6pm, and you'll find yourself in the Coffee Foundry, an unassuming café with plenty of quiet work space for freelancers and students. Stick around after your caffeine fix as the coffee shop morphs into a karaoke bar—and the patrons into would-be Rihannas and Axl Roses. Karaoke Boho's Lower East Side location has its own draw, a BYOB option for those renting a private room—so you can pour your own belt before belting one out.
SoHo's Baby Grand is sure to cure you of stage fright in the most direct of ways. Patrons will find no private rooms here; all singers are required to use the main stage in the bar—in between perusing songbooks, appetizers and cocktail menus, of course. If you're feeling really daring, try something off the list of "secret songs"; titles for the vocally adept include tracks from Les Misérables and The Book of Mormon; "Mo Money Mo Problems" by Notorious B.I.G.; and "Bein' Green" by Kermit the Frog.
As many as 800 different languages are spoken throughout New York City, so it only makes sense that numerous karaoke spots feature a wide variety of international music. Chinatown's Winnie's is an overall crowd-pleaser, catering to post-workday warblers, cash-strapped college kids and neighborhood regulars who select songs from an oddly awesome combination of 1980s classics and Chinese pop. Japas 38 has private rooms, strong drinks and a variety of English, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Filipino titles, with a reported 1,000 new ones added each month. Similar offerings can be found at MK Karaoke in Koreatown, Karaoke Sing Sing and Karaoke St. Marks in the East Village and Biny Karaoke in SoHo—whose first name is an acronym for "Best in New York."
There are plenty of international karaoke options in the outer boroughs to choose from as well. Head to Astoria for Karaoke Shout, with its private rooms, open bar packages and wide selection of songs in 15 languages, including German, Hawaiian, French and Polish. Over in Brooklyn, the mega-karaoke extravaganza 100 Fun has 32 private rooms—the biggest of which can hold up to 60 people—plus billiards tables in the lounge for those who prefer to stick to shower singing.
Live Band Karaoke
Gone are the days when karaoke was accompanied solely by audio recordings and the occasional animated video. These venues feature live backup bands to make you feel like a pop star.
Mondays on the Lower East Side mean karaoke at Arlene's Grocery, a bodega turned rock club that has served as stomping grounds for well-known bands like The Strokes. Accompaniment on these nights comes from Arlene's World Famous Live R'N'R Karaoke Band. A similar weekly event takes place at Hill Country Barbecue Market, where the Wicked Messengers play rock, country and everything in between on Rock n' Twang Tuesdays. On Saturdays Manchester Pub in Midtown East hosts Rock Star Karaoke. If you're more flexible about the night and venue, check out the Human Karaoke Experience, which makes periodic stops at O'Flanagan's on the Upper East Side and the Schnitzel Haus in Brooklyn's Bay Ridge (the complete schedule is available on the group's website).
Heavy Metal Karaoke
In a city that has inspired so many rock 'n' roll sounds, from the stripped-down ferocity of the The Ramones to the experimental soundscapes of Sonic Youth, it's only fitting that a few karaoke operations devote themselves exclusively to rock and its subgenres. The Kings of Karaoke like to put a head-banging Brooklyn spin on the experience, hosting Heavy Metal Parking Lot at Greenpoint's Bar Matchless every Wednesday and Kill 'Em All Karaoke (a nod to Metallica's debut album) at St. Vitus on Saturdays, with other assorted nights at bars around the borough.
Bars and Restaurants with Karaoke Nights
With weekend karaoke, beer pong tables and multiple high-def TVs showing a variety of sporting events, The Mean Fiddler will bring you back to the good ol' college days. Weekly karaoke nights at Alligator Lounge match up with the venue's Fireball Fridays and daily free pizza, making this Williamsburg spot a go-to for all of your late-night needs. If you're interested in the unusual combination of a sit-down restaurant experience and karaoke, visit the Isla Verde Café in the Bronx for tapas and a show.
And what's karaoke without a good theme every now and again? Every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, the crowd at Greenwich Village's pirate-themed Wicked Willy's is on the hunt for its next karaoke star. Word to the wise before you take your turn: there are no private stages, rum is the drink of choice and you never know if you'll be asked to walk the plank (just kidding; you won't). If a pirate's life doesn't suit your tastes, perhaps the jungle motif of the Drunken Monkey on Staten Island will. The place features outlandish decor, tropical drinks and, most important, karaoke on Monday nights.