I've sung in all sorts of places: dive bars, sports bars, Tiki bars, Irish Pubs, Mexican cantinas, coffee shops, bowling alleys, brothels--you name it. But my favorite setting to croon has always been Chinese restaurant lounges, specifically the ones that do karaoke seven nights a week. It's where karaoke in the United States was born, and there is a timeless quality about singing in these dingy bars with the outdated technology and the horrible singers that the glitzy one-night-a-week spots with the hired-gun KJs can't match.
Living in Greenwood, I'm lucky to have three classic Chinese karaoke lounges within walking distance of my home: Mandarin Gate, Rickshaw, and Yen Wor Garden). But there's a huge drop-off after that. The only other places like this in Seattle are Bush Garden (which is technically a Japanese restaurant, but it's in the heart of Chinatown and arguably the best k-bar around--so it more than counts) and the Yen Wor Village in West Seattle (sister lounge to the Greenwood establishment which shares its name).
To the north, one has to travel all the way to Taster's Wok on Highway 99 in Lynnwood to get to the next great seven-night-a-week spot. I stopped in the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and ended up closing the place down.
I arrived at 11 p.m. to a pretty busy scene. The bar stretched along the entire length of the room, and the stage and KJ podium were set up in the back corner on the opposite wall. Oversized posters of pop and rock stars decorated the walls.and while Bud Light Seahawks streamers strung from the ceilings provided a divey illusion, the place was clean and had very nice furniture. What's more, the bartender was gorgeous and friendly.
It was Twofer Tuesday, where everyone sang back-to-back songs. Their laminated song binder had a great selection of oldies and Classic Rock. The first performer I caught was a grey-haired lady in a red, bedazzled cowboy hat singing the standard, "In the Still of the Night. "She sounded just like Roseanne Barr did when she sang the national anthem. Two giggly guys sitting against the sidewall were making basic observations between each verse. They were off in their own little world, and I was thoroughly entertained by their goofiness. It was like watching Beavis and Butthead in real life.
A scrawny, mustachioed guy wearing a Seahawks hat first delivered some obscure Al Stewart song, followed by "Train in Vain" by The Clash. His buddy, also sporting a Hawk lid, gasped his way through Rupert Holmes' "Escape (The Pina Colata Song)" and Jimmy Buffett's "Volcano." This guy wasn't tone deaf--he just sounded like a deaf person singing.
The first decent performer was a guy in his late fifties who delivered a solid renditions of Tom Petty's "Breakdown" and Neil Diamond's "Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show." I found a Petty song, "Learning to Fly," I'd never tried before, and it worked out really nice. I followed it with a Beatles track, and the KJ gave me props for a solid set.
At around 12:30, the bar was taken over by a bunch of kids in their twenties. The place was suddenly packed, and some really good singers took the stage. This one gal sang an awesome Carole King double-shot of "It's Too Late" and "I Feel The Earth Move" Then everyone started calling out for a guy named Oliver to sing. He was a skinny dude in a tight suit who sang a very flamboyant rendition of "How's It Gonna' Be" by Third Eye Blind. Things kept going from there, and the last singer wasn't called until 1:58 a.m. You're not going to find many other places that go that late.
Taster's Wok, 15128 Highway 99, (425) 787-6789, LYNNWOOD