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The Atrium Bistro is a Filipino restaurant near Northgate that offers karaoke on Friday and Saturday nights. Hanging out there last Friday reminded me why I love karaoke so much: It's because I'm Filipino. We live to sing, and karaoke has been a part of our lives for over 30 years. The Japanese coined the term "karaoke," but it was a Filipino inventor named Roberto del Rosario who developed the first sing-along music system called Minus-One in 1975. It was a self-contained unit with a speaker and mic that played cassettes with instrumentals of popular songs.
In the '80s, my family had a system called The Singing Machine. It used 8 tracks, and in addition to singing along, you could also record yourself onto a cassette tape. Back then there was no screen--we had to read from a lyrics booklet, which sucked if you didn't know the song very well. All of my relatives and parents' close friends (whom Filipino kids also consider their relatives) had one. Somewhere in my dad's garage there exists a recording of a10-year-old me singing Van Halen's "Jump." That's where it all started.
I got to the Atrium at nine. It's a wide restaurant with the bar in the middle that literally has an atrium above. The KJ station and stage are located to the right of the bar. The stage has disco lights above, and it's nice and cozy for the singers because there's a fireplace behind it. What makes this a true Filipino K-bar is they offer San Miguel beer and appetizers known as "Pulutan." My dad tells me it means "food to munch on while drinking." I highly recommend trying all four dishes out, even if you can't tell what some of it is.
It was a busy night, and there was a good mix of young and old Filipinos in the house. I've reached that perfect age where I'm still young enough to appeal to all the girls, but old enough that the elders don't condescend and the kids don't front and try to act tough around me. I could just go in there, be myself, make friends, and hopefully get some good cheers from the crowd.
Their catalog had a great variety of everything. I promised myself last week I'd focus more on delivering songs that would be appealing to the audience, but not here. In a room where the old-timers love the standards and youngsters are strictly R&B, I wanted to make it known I was a rock 'n' roll man.
Right out of the gate, the performers were total pros. An old man who looked like he was pushing 90 sang a very sweet rendition of Lionel Richie's "Hello." He was followed by a guy that did an on-the-money rendition of Neil Diamon's "I Am I Said," and then this younger dude that did an awesome version of "The One" by Elton John. I got up and did "Melissa" by The Allman Brothers. It's one of my safe songs--nice and soulful and right down my vocal wheelhouse. I got a good ovation but wished there were single girls there. It looked like all of the gals there were spoken for that night.
When I got back to my seat, the Filipino guy in his forties wearing a ball-cap and a Guns N' Roses t-shirt sitting next to me told me I did a good job. His name was Toto, and 10 minutes into our conversation he offered to come to my house and tune up my Honda. That is so Filipino; I felt very at home.
By midnight, the bar started filling up with a younger, more diverse crowd from the neighborhood. The KJ popped on "The Electric Slide," and half the crowd got up to dance. I never learned it and used to think it was the cheesiest thing ever, but in the past few years I've come to appreciate the Slide. When done properly by hot chicks, it can be a thing of beauty.
The song rotation got very long, and I was only able to get in three songs in four hours, but that's what you'd expect when every person in the place has a slip up. The Atrium has a great atmosphere and staff really knows how to treat their customers. The food and beers are cheap, but there's no hard liquor. Filipino or not, karaoke fan or not, you should come check it out. GO PACQUIAO!!!