For the second straight week I was out singing with my work friends, but this time it was on a Saturday, so we got to rip it up. My buddy Juan had been on me for months to help him rustle up a crew to check out Rock Box on Capitol Hill (on Pine just off of Broadway), and we finally made it happen.
The cleanest place KK's ever been.
Japanese-style private karaoke rooms are not my favorite. I know a lot of people out there love to sing but don't care to do so in public, but I'm a guy who lives to sing in front of as many strangers as possible. The thought of going to a place where my talents are hidden away in some hole with a group of people who have already heard me a hundred times doesn't exactly pump my 'nads. If I wanted to sing with just my friends, I prefer to do it "Filipino style" in the comfort of someone's living room with a Magic Mic, a few cases of Red Horse, and a bucket of deep-fried pig trotters. Having said all that, I've never had a bad experience singing in a private karaoke room--ever.Our reservations were from 6:30-9 p.m., and Juan told Rock Box there would be 12 of us. We did a head count the day before, and found we only had eight committed. I was fine with that number, but my gut told me we should at least try to get a couple more bodies in there. Instead of asking any of my close friends, I decided to turn to the karaoke community, and the first person I thought of was Steven from my Slugger's Sunday the week before. I had no doubt he would jump in because he's the biggest karaoke maniac I know. I hit him up on Facebook Friday night, and at 6:25 p.m. on Saturday, as I was blocks away, he called to let me know he and a friend were there.
I was pleasantly surprised to see Rock Box is located in back of the old AEI building. It was a place I worked for three years, and I loved my time there. As I walked through the entrance across the alley (Nagle Place) from the Cal Anderson Park tennis courts, it felt like coming home. But it was more like the home Marty returned to at the end of Back to the Future. What once was this dingy old space has transformed into the poshest karaoke establishment in Seattle. Private rooms aside, the quality that makes a Japanese-style venue truly authentic is its level of elegance. I've sung in private suites from B.C. to N.Y.C., and most recently the Philippines, and those places have nothing on this joint.
The hostess escorted me to the room, and I got there as our server, Erin, was explaining how things worked. The suite had a warm feel to it and could fit 15 people comfortably. The couch that wrapped around the room was smooth and firm, and there was a long coffee table for our drinks. The plasma was a big 46-incher, but the most impressive part of the set up was the iPad we used to search for and dial up songs. They had a song book available to look through, but having the ability to look for songs directly from the computer and zap it into the rotation was truly revolutionary.
Being the last to arrive, I needed to settle in fast, so I went straight for the Hornitos. Steven mixed in nicely with the group, but his friend Kaeli was the spark that turned the night into something special. She was a cute little 21-year-old in a sequin top, and she had at least a two-hour drinking head start on us. She was hammered, but in a very adorable way. After Steven got the ball rolling, she shocked us all with a professional-sounding rendition of an Evanescence song. Nine times out of ten, when I hear a song sung well, it still sounds like karaoke, but her voice was the real deal. It was a huge bonus, because we already had a ringer in our friend Zoe that night.
Not everyone took the mike, so those of us who did got to sing a ton. The biggest advantage to private karaoke rooms is having many more opportunities to sing and the freedom to sing songs you wouldn't dare try anywhere else. The sound coming off the mikes had some good echo to them, and it helped make everyone's voice sound better. I didn't go too crazy because I wanted to keep up with the level of talent in the room. Seeing Zoe and Kaeli trade off smash hits to perfection was like watching the championship round of American Idol. At first I thought two-and-a-half hours was plenty of time, but it blew by before we knew it.
The service was top-notch. It felt like Erin was there every other song, replenishing drinks and shots. I recommend taking advantage of their happy hour that goes from 4-8 p.m., where the rate is $4 per hour per person. The normal rates are also very reasonable at $7. The bar closes at 2 a.m., but they do stay open past that. In addition to their 11 private rooms, they also have a party room that can hold up to 40 guests.