Monkey Pub on Roosevelt Way has been doing Sunday-night karaoke for over eight years. Last week was my introduction to the "Saraoke" show. I walked into this dive at 10 expecting a typical end-of-the-weekend (dead), four-singer rotation, but was greeted by a packed house. There wasn't a single open spot at the bar, nor were any tables available. I had to sit in the back at these church pews set up against the walls in the pool-table area. I was also the only sober person in the bar.
THIS IS IT.
Over half the crowd was UW students, but the scene still maintained a dingy "Ave-Rat" feel. A few birthdays were being celebrated that night. The long table of people that stretched down the middle of the room made it all look like one consolidated party. At my end of that table was a young crew of undergrads celebrating their friend Spencer's 21 run. They didn't look any older than he was. I could totally feel their excitement over finally being able to drink in a bar. It brought me back. The first time I ever took the karaoke stage was here in the U District at the old Plaza de Mexico when I turned 21 (I nailed "Word Up" by Cameo).
The rotation was easily 20 singers deep when I got there. There weren't any catalogs available. I took a tour around the floor. Plenty were around, but all were in use. I had a song in mind, so I brought it up. Sarah was the host, and it was fully apparent she was the reason this night is as popular as it is. She's very easy to look at, has a great style of announcing songs and singers, and keeps the show moving.
It was as sophisticated a karaoke crowd as I've run into in a while. There were no cliché songs performed ("Don't Stop Believing," "Summer Nights," "Sweet Caroline"). People were pulling out some super-random stuff. One of the other parties further up the table was playing some sort of suicide game where they picked songs for each other to sing. One girl performed the 1979 Kenny Loggins' yacht-rock classic "This Is It," and Sarah filled in the Michael McDonald backing vocals. It was sloppy and Sarah's McDonald was more funny than good, but the pick completely fired me up. I've never heard that one done before, and unless I do it, I'll probably never hear it again. Other rarities that night were "Wanted Man" by Kansas, Buddy Holly's "Oh Boy" sung by me, and a great duet of "Somewhere Out There" by Sarah and their Friday-night KJ, Patrick (they also have a Tuesday karaoke night).
An hour into my time there, Spencer (bombarded with shots all night) was hanging on for dear life. He looked dead on his feet when he was called to the stage, but when his song kicked in he came to life and sang a fully energized rendition of Sam & Dave's "Soothe Me." The song choice was brilliant--cool and obscure, that's what you want. He was in key, on tempo, and totally owned it. But when it was done, he disappeared into the restroom for a while and eventually had to be helped out of the bar.