The Venue: Back in '09, when I first reviewed the Kona Kitchen, it was a dead Maple Leaf bar that could barely string together five singers on a weekend night. Last Saturday, I returned to discover a vibrant karaoke scene that rivals any place in town.
The Setup: My friends and I arrived at 8:30pm. The bar and restaurant were filled with people. The stage and KJ station were still situated in a customized nook between the two areas, but on this busy night really stood out as the center of attention for both rooms. There's a monitor on stage and two plasmas in the bar for lyrics.
The KJ: Sean, this hip Polynesian dude, still runs the show. He opened the night with a sound check, but let the singers take over after that. He's a super-friendly guy. Both times I got up he gave me props on my singing and my song choices.
The Book: The catalogs have not been updated since the last time I was there and are pretty beat up at this point, but they have tapped into a limitless selection. Sean introduced me to something I've never seen done anywhere before: If they don't have a song request in his library, he'll search for it on You Tube and (if available) will play it straight from there. It's the coolest innovation I've seen in awhile.
The Rotation: The show started at 9 p.m. and the first round was 23 singers. I was the third singer called up and didn't take the stage again until almost midnight. The third and final rotation didn't begin until almost 1 a.m. They called up singers until just before they closed.
The Audience: Eighty-five percent of the crowd was either Hawaiian or Filipino or Japanese or all of the above. There were three big groups all cheering each other on all night. I didn't expect much of a reception for the obscure Springsteen number I performed, "Tougher Than the Rest," but wound up getting a huge round of applause from everybody.
The Performances: It was a mostly young crowd so a lot of the numbers were a mix of old school R&B and Hip-Hop or current pop hits. We got awesome renditions of Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Posse On Broadway" and "Motown Philly" by Boyz II Men.
The best male performer was this guy named Wally and he fired the entire place up with the Pointer Sisters classic, "I'm So Excited." The best female performer also drew from the 80's, and delivered the finest"Caribbean Queen" I'd ever heard.
After midnight, this table of white dudes in the back corner cracked the entire place up with some dirty numbers, "Me So Horny" by the 2 Live Crew and "Poor Pussy" by David Allen Coe.
Grub: I'm usually too involved with figuring out my next song to think about eating, but they have these spam and rice bricks wrapped in nori called Musubi that were absolutely to die for.
Kona Kitchen, 8501 5th Ave NE, 517-5662, MAPLE LEAF