As most crooners are already aware, the old Andy's Diner—the historic spot on Fourth Avenue South in SoDo made up of railroad cars—is now a Chinese restaurant with private karaoke rooms called Orient Express. I've been there a few times to drink after Seahawks games, and had one very boozy karaoke night with the Weekly staff at their holiday party a couple years back. But last Wednesday was my first chance to review the spot with a clear head. Or so I thought.
I brought my buddy Juan because I couldn't imagine anything lamer than singing alone in a private room. We arrived around 6 p.m. The plan was to eat dinner, get loose with a couple drinks, pop into a room for an hour to sing a few songs, and get out of there. That didn't happen. We were there until almost midnight.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a sweeter drinking atmosphere than that of Orient Express. I never got to see the bar when it was Andy's, but the new owners have kept the original dark-wood interior pretty well preserved. And the famous "presidential" car FDR once rode in is still on display. We spent a lot of time bellied up watching summer reruns on channel 4, listening to awesome, random R&B someone had fired up on the jukebox, and chatting with the bartender, Carrie.
We finally got around to renting the karaoke room at about 9 p.m. It's a great deal—just a $15-minimum food or drink order per person. Had we understood that going in, we would have rented the room before having spent $30 each on gin, whiskey, and Hornitos shots. They set us up in the Hong Kong room (all the suites are named after a different international city). It's sleekly furnished with comfortable black high-back couches that wrap around three walls and can easily seat 15 people. On the wall hung a 55-inch LCD for the lyrics, and below that on a table was a small monitor that provided the song menu. The karaoke receiver was straight from China, and contained around 2,200 songs. It took a little time to figure out how to search the selections, but eventually we mastered the remote-control functions.
Half the selections were newer pop hits, and the rest were a mix from every other genre. I wondered if it would be weird with just Juan and me, but we were so fueled-up for singing that it was great not to have to wait longer than one person to get up next. We easily sang a dozen songs each. Juan discovered he could do a pretty mean rendition of the Queen classic "Another One Bites the Dust." And I was happy to learn my voice has finally matured to the point that I can deliver a truly quality performance of "Lady in Red" by Chris DeBurgh.
One thing about this system completely dumbfounded me. All the newest selections from artists like Jay-Z, Lady Gaga, and Katy Perry used their actual music videos. The crazy thing was this button on the remote that added vocals, and I realized it wasn't a reproduction of the song but the actual artists singing. I went to sleep that night tripping out, thinking the Chinese had actually figured out how to eliminate vocals from studio-produced songs, but realized the next morning that was still completely impossible and they probably just had the original mixes without the artist's vocal track. For a moment there I felt what it was like to believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy again.