Karaoke nights are like eating drunken pizza: inconsistent, pretty cheesy, but when it's on point, you've struck gold.
These nights are somewhat of an enigma in the nightlife biz. The crowd turnout is usually pretty hit or miss, and it's hard to pinpoint the catalyst for a successful night versus an unsuccessful one.
So how do you define the best? We narrowed down what I thought were the deciding characteristics of a good karaoke bar: entertainment value, the crowd, quality of singers, music selection, sound quality, screen viewability, MC/DJ, props, and instruments
Here are the Valley's best karaoke bars.
Go if: You want to party. Grapevine has been a long standing top-pick for karaoke in the Valley. The two story bar and restaurant offers a large down, and upstairs patio, with a main bar, seating and the location for karaoke inside the downstairs portion of the venue. I went on a Saturday, and the place was packed wall-to-wall. Grapevine seemed to attract an older, rowdy crowd of decent singers who were all pretty into it. The MC/DJ was enthusiastic enough for the high-energy crowd. There were also bongos available for bar patrons to slap on, which is always a plus.
Go if: You like a crowd, but don't want to deal with Old Town. For me, Ernie's and Grapevine came pretty close to being equals. Ernie's karaoke space was much larger and attracted more of a mixed crowd of young and old. Almost everyone who was in the room was there for karaoke, the crowd was into it but not as rowdy as Grapevine. The set-up at Ernie's was pretty professional, with lighting, a large main screen and four smaller screens hanging below each side of the square shaped bar. The sound quality could have been better, and the singers were so-so.
Go if: You like to get a little weird. Karaoke at Rips is the kind of experience where you can do the "Time Warp," buy tamales and homemade bracelets from an old woman, and watch a dog walk in from the patio looking for his owner while the bartender yells "we don't serve your kind here." The eclectic crowd at Rips definitely helps define its charm. Donk's Karaoke hosts the night, which is advertised outside via multiple signs and, to quote Family Guy, a "wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube man." Most of the people at the bar were there for karaoke and the crowd remained pretty engaged. Donk's provided a crate of binders, which is way more than I saw anywhere else, and being that the venue is set-up for hosting shows, the sound quality and overall set-up was the best I encountered.
Go if: You want to sing with a live band. The Zen Lunatics host Rockaoke at Cactus Jack's most Thursday nights. Rockaoke substitutes a DJ for a live cover band, and gives bar patrons a chance to live out their inner rock star fantasy. I had called and was told the music started at 9:30 (their website says 8:30), rolled-up around 11 p.m., and had just missed it because of another show they were doing that night. I chatted with one of the guys from the band, Ken, who said he used to do sound at Yucca Tap Room and Sail Inn. Ken said the band does mostly classic rock and it's usually a pretty good turnout.
Go if: You're looking for something laid back and fun. I showed up to Apollo's around 10 p.m. on a Thursday, and while the crowd was pretty small, everyone was engaged with the karaoke happenings. Karaoke takes over the entire small bar, with four screens broadcasting song lyrics throughout the establishment (with the exception of the patio). The DJ was friendly and enthusiastic, but not overpowering.
Go if: You like to sing in a sports bar setting. Stadium Club sports bar offers karaoke multiple nights each week. I went right when it started, at 9 p.m. on a Sunday. The crowd was pretty small, aside from the full bar stools there were only two other tables waiting for karaoke, but it was a Sunday, and had just started. A host from Elite Karaoke started the night singing an oldie "Sherry," followed by an introduction. The bar itself is pretty big, with pool tables and games in the back, separate from the main karaoke area.
Go if: You're a Zonie. My friends use this term, "Zonie," to describe people from Arizona. They usually have at least one tattoo, some type of skateboarding or motocross logo on their shirt, and are overall, just kind of "Zonie." I would definitely say that karaoke nights at Bridgette's (at least Sunday nights) are Zonie nights. I walked in to a chick with tattoo sleeves and cat ears singing Janis Joplin, later followed by the bartender and hippie-chick host of the night doing a duet together. While there were multiple screens, and the sound quality was decent, there weren't any lights (although there was a disco ball) or anything that made the karaoke set-up stand out as a focal point. That said, this karaoke night has the reputation for being one of the more wild ones out there.
Go if: You love karaoke, but aren't into dives. Kobalt is a small, gay bar tucked away off Central Ave. just south of Osborn. They offer a small, fun and friendly karaoke night, without the typical dive bar setting. The crowd was fairly small when I went, but everyone that was there, was there for karaoke. The singers were all having fun and the DJ would join some of the more outgoing singers periodically - in a friendly way, not an annoying one. There's also free popcorn and condoms at the door, whoop!
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