Once a year, someone from my work will coordinate a karaoke night somewhere. Obviously, they can always count me in. This time it was my buddy Huot. He's Asian like me, which means he's inclined to know about obscure karaoke venues. He'd been telling me for months about this Korean-owned private-room place in Federal Way called First Avenue Karaoke. It always sounded great to me, but I wondered how he was going to be able to convince our co-workers to rally all the way down there. After weeks of lobbying them individually, he was able to get a dozen of us to meet last Saturday.
After stuffing ourselves at Mika Japanese Buffet down the street, we arrived at the venue 45 minutes before our 9 p.m. reservations. Oddly enough, the place isn't on First Avenue at all. It's actually on Highway 99 and shares a parking lot with Star Bar & Grill, my favorite venue to sing in Federal Way. I was stoked because for the first time ever, I would get to compare the experience of public vs. private karaoke on the same night.
We took over a table at the back end of Star Bar. At that point I had just started drinking, but pretty much everyone in my party had a good two-hour head start on me. I had to play catch-up by shooting this disgusting blue-tinted tequila liqueur called Tarantula. It turned my stomach at first, but five minutes after the second shot, it jacked me up enough to deliver a very solid rendition of "Slide" by the Goo Goo Dolls to open the night.
Then our buddy Fred and my girlfriend Kristin followed with "Our House" by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and we were primed to take the place over. Aside from us, only two other performers were on the list, but the audience was very attentive. The last time I was here was a busy Friday; I arrived as the show was in full swing and had to wait through a full 15-singer rotation. I was so tempted to stick around, but we went through with the original plan and moved to the private room. It ended up being totally the right call.
First Avenue Karaoke is next door on the second floor. Outside the venue are wall-sized studio shots of young, attractive Asians singing. The deck offers a great view of the highway and surrounding strip malls. There is a lobby where you check in. The big rooms rent at $35 per hour. It's a family-owned establishment, and the staff is very nice. They set us up in a suite in a corner of the building. The room was very spacious and luxurious. Its couches were the most comfortable of any private room I had ever been in. It had two big 52-inch LCDs for lyrics, and a very fancy karaoke receiver built into the back wall. Two leather-bound song catalogs were provided, as well as a high-tech remote control to plug in our song requests. The screen displayed the upcoming selections, and a meter showed how many remaining minutes of singing time we had.
It took us a bit of time to find songs as the book was a mix of English and Korean numbers, but as soon as we caught our stride, it was nonstop. I remember looking at the timer showing "115" as servers brought in a half-rack of Hite beer and plates of peanuts and shrimp chips, then blinking my eyes and realizing we were down to 40 minutes. Two hours does not cut it here. There was a time when I didn't see the value in this type of karaoke, but now I really believe this is the only way to go if you're in a group of six or more. It was insanely fun.
Everyone sang at least five times. Their selection was actually very good. The biggest advantage to private rooms is the chance to try numbers you would never do in a public bar. My buddies Bret and Juan serenaded each other with a beautiful duet of "End of the Road" by Boyz II Men. Huot is a karaoke maniac, and his picks were all over the place. He sang everything from the Backstreet Boys to Glenn Frey. The gals went off on the pop and country cuts. Joy sang an awesome "1, 2 Step" by Ciara; Cassie and Erica delivered with "Goodbye Earl" by the Dixie Chicks; and Bret's wife dazzled us all with Jason Derülo's "Ridin' Solo."
When our friend Grady showed up with less than 20 minutes to go, we all cheered—partly because we were excited to see he'd made it, but mostly because it meant we got to re-up another hour.