Karaoke in the lounge at Shay's Restaurant on Aurora Ave. has been a Shoreline tradition on Thursday and Saturday nights for over 20 years. I was there for the first time last week and couldn't believe it when their esteemed host Louie told me he had been running the show there for that long. It made me bitter to think that my friends and I weren't aware of this place back in the '90s. We wasted so much time at the old Peking Palace in Broadview badgering their KJ to wedge us into those endless Saturday night rotations to no avail that it would have been great to know there was this other option just one mile away.
Gilbert O'Sullivan has a doll of himself, naturally.
Highway 99 is home to the most classic karaoke dives around. It doesn't matter whether it's Seattle, Everett or Federal Way, or if you're in a sports bar, Chinese restaurant, or Irish pub: Singing anywhere along this seedy strip has its own common and unique feel about it. Granted, the equipment is usually archaic, audience members aren't exactly spring chickens, and occasionally you may get that feeling things could get hairy, but these places represent the origins of American karaoke. Shay's lounge is an excellent example of this.
The set-up doesn't look as though it's changed at all since they first began. They're still working off laser and CD-G discs that are organized neatly in shelves mounted on the wall above the KJ's station. The lyrics monitor is a big 50-inch rear projection TV that sits adjacent to their elevated stage. The compact room can hold about 40 patrons comfortably but their longtime bartender, Johnny "Roo" Ellis, says the karaoke packs folks in well beyond that capacity every week.
There were around 25 people when I walked in at 8:30 p.m., and the median age of everyone was about 55. I took a seat at the far end of the bar and had a great angle at the entire room. Louie was already setting things up. Saturdays are usually his off night but he was covering for their main host, Mister Bill. Louie looked in his late 50s, but unlike a lot of old school hosts from his generation he was very cheerful and easy to deal with. Just before 9 p.m. he handed out songbooks to everybody, and that's when I realized just how serious these regulars were about singing.
Three old-timers seated at tables throughout the floor got right to work, diligently filling out request slips. Two of them brought along their own karaoke discs, which is as hardcore as it gets. One of those guys, Cliff, opened the night with Dave Mason's "We Just Disagree" and delivered it in tune and with ease. Malcolm, a regular seated at the bar with oxygen tubes that fed through his nose, took things to another level with a beautiful rendition of Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Alone Again (Naturally)." He was followed by Gary, a gray-haired man with a sweet soft voice who sang the Dean Martin ballad "Return to Me." It was at that point I wished I'd brought my dad along to experience this with me.
A younger crowd slowly started making their way in around ten. A guy named Biker Bill sang Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me," and a dude who went by Nick at Night did John Cougar's "Hurts So Good." I ended up singing "Southern Cross" by Crosby, Stills & Nash. By 11 p.m., most of the old folks had gone and the place was taken over by a large group in their 30s.
SHAY'S, 15744 Aurora Ave. N, 363-8877, SHORELINE