For my final column of 2010, I will try to answer the question I'm most commonly asked whenever someone learns I'm the KK: "Where is the best place to karaoke in Seattle?" This is never an easy one to answer because, first, I need to take it from the top and explain how there's a difference between the 7-night-a-week spots and everywhere else. Some of the best scenes in town are bars that hire a KJ to draw in a party once or twice a week, but the true karaoke bar is a place that has it every single night. Some of these spots don't have the biggest song selection or most state of the art equipment, but there are millions out there that either despise, or are scared of karaoke, and I have to give it up for any place that's willing to alienate themselves from those people 365 days a year.
The ID's Bush Garden: a total comedian KJ and a crazy cast of regulars.
That said it's very difficult for me to declare one top 7-night-a-week spot. Seattle has excellent coverage in all areas of town. If you lived in the south end I'd tell you to go to the Bush Garden in the International District. Christopher, the main KJ, is a total comedian and there's a crazy cast of regulars there that deliver great random pop hits from the early 80's.
In Queen Anne there's Hula Hula. I used to tell people this was the best place in town, but it's gotten so popular on the weekends that I can't, in good conscience, recommend a spot that's too busy to allow singers the opportunity to get up at least twice. Capitol Hill has the Crescent and I'm ashamed to say I still have never been there, but will be getting it taken care of in early 2011.
Up in my end of town there are three spots (all in Greenwood), The Rickshaw, Yen Wor Garden, and Mandarin Gate. The Rickshaw still gets all the attention, but for my money, the best north end karaoke bar is Mandarin Gate. I have a soft spot in my heart for the Rickshaw. Patty and Joel are wonderful hosts, but the song selection and sound equipment are a C- at best. I've been going there for years and they've barely done anything to improve their operation. Mandarin Gate has big catalog all stored on computer and the sound is way better. The Yen Wor Garden is under the same ownership as Yen Wor Village in West Seattle. It, too, has a better overall production than the Rickshaw, but the main KJ is a prick.
As far as bars that offer karaoke a few nights the week I like to break it down by places I, personally, like to hit on a given night. Most of them are on the north side of town. Sunday is a night I'm rarely out and not too many bars chose this to be their night to offer it, but I remember Ohana in Belltown being fun enough for me to want to cut loose and not give a shit about starting off my working week hung over.
Monday is a big karaoke night in town. If you put a gun to my head and asked where my favorite place to sing was, my gut-jerk answer would be The Little Red Hen. Their song selection and sound are superb and there's just something about that country scene that inspires me to want to perform at my best. They also do it Wednesdays, but that night gets as jam packed with singers as any k-bar I've ever seen. Another great Monday night spot is The Atlantic Crossing on Roosevelt which also has a top notch sound, an enormous choice of songs and a great young night crowd. Dante's in the U District is run by the same guys that do Atlantic Crossing. Things start slow so anyone that gets there when it starts can sing to their hearts delight that first hour. Dubliner karaoke in Fremont is fun, but the KJ likes to play things fair. Singers sing only when their name is up, he plays no favorites and takes no bribes.
There are two spots on Tuesdays I really like to hit. When I'm feeling mellow and just sing a bunch, I like this Greek restaurant on the Ave called Fournos. It's a great spot that never gets too busy and can easily be taken over by a big group. The times I want to show my stuff I go Scarlet Tree all the way. My buddy Josh runs that night and he brings in a ton of singers. Citrus is one of the best venues to sing because has great views of Lake Union & Queen Anne at night and I'd like to pour concrete into every waitress that works there.
Goofy's on Crown Hill is my favorite place to sing on a Wednesday because when it's dead, the host, Fehrone, puts himself in the mix and he has the best voice of any KJ in town. I've said it before, but he is so good, I'd pay to watch him sing. In the outskirts of the U District Kate's Pub brings in all the college hotties. There's a bit of a chump factor, but the girls make up for it.
Thursday nights I always wind up at Molly Maguire's in Ballard. They have kind of an old school set-up, but Steve, the KJ, puts on a good show and that place is filled with awesome performers. Also in Ballard, Wingmasters is always a drunk fest. In the Northgate area, the Scorecard Bar & Grill is down and dirty, but a blast none the less. The Roosevelt Ale House is an up and comer, has an awesome selection, but is not as busy as it should be. It's place just waiting to get discovered.
Most bars that offer karaoke on weekends do it both, Friday and Saturday nights. I always got an itch on Fridays to head south and hit up the Beacon Pub, but now that place is no more. The owners closed the current location down and are moving to the bottom of the hill. They will resume their weekend karaoke schedule when they reopen, but it just won't be the same. Signature in Queen Anne doesn't have the best selection, but they get a lot of spill over from Hula Hula, so it's a super fun scene. You can't go wrong Hamburger Harry's, the Waterwheel, or Tarasco on a Saturday night in Ballard--and if you live in Magnolia there is no reason to cross the bridge, because that Boxcar is also as fun as it gets.