"Karaoke" translates in Japanese to "empty orchestra." So it's kinda funny that karaoke nights in America are born from the need to bring people into otherwise empty bars on slow nights. Thing is, some spots really excel and end up hosting some of the craziest crowds and, by extension, the most memorable nights.
We trekked through metro Phoenix to find which karaoke nights are truly the best the Valley has to offer. We sat at dozens of bars, listened to dozens of drunken "Sweet Caroline" renditions, and judged them based on crowd size, participation, technology, staff and overall positive feeling. Here's your guide to Phoenix's best karaoke nights.
414 Pub & Pizza
414 South Mill Avenue, #118
Go if: You want to sing, party and make friends.
This bar is all about karaoke, hosting it nightly. And when you're there, there's really no getting away from it. It's in the center of the room, and everyone in the bar gets involved. The host and staff are incredibly friendly, light-hearted, and fun. This pub also attracts some real singers, along with regulars, people celebrating something, and ASU students. We're also pretty big fans of the walls decorated with song-lyrics — and the pretty good pizza that's served until 4 a.m. daily.
4747 East Elliot Road, #2
Go if: You'd rather sing with a band.
Cactus Jack's is a bar and music venue that offers live-band karaoke every Thursday at 8:30 p.m. Other nights of the week, you'll find concerts or line dancing. At Cactus Jack's, the music is the focal-point, and on karaoke night the singers and the band are the entertainment. Unlike your typical karaoke night, there is no visible screen showing the song lyrics. Instead, there's one on stage for the singer to follow. The band takes a few minutes before each song to chat with the singer and get their gear in tune. The downside of singing with a band is of course, song limitation. But the band's mastery of popular songs (especially classic rock) is impressive. Note that things at Cactus Jack's tend to wrap-up fairly early, so plan accordingly.
10443 North Scottsdale Road
Go if: You're in Scottsdale and you don't like Old Town.
Ernie's is a sports dive bar that's been around, and the folks there know what they're doing. Karaoke is nightly at 8 p.m. in the "other" bar area — a.k.a. a separate room that's apart from the main bar. There's one, large TV set up next to the DJ booth for karaoke (the rest of the TVs play sports) opposed to multiple TVs. That creates more of a focal point, makeshift stage/dance floor in front of the DJ booth that basically requires singers to get up out of their seats and perform in front of everyone. (It's even got cool lights.) Though karaoke is quiet most week-nights and attracts mostly regulars, it's great if you really like to sing and prefer a more intimate crowd. Weekends, on the other hand, attract a bigger partying crowd.
4013 North Brown Avenue
Go if: A white dude singing "Ice, Ice Baby" in a collared shirt sounds like your idea of fun.
The Grapevine is a rarity in Old Town in that it has withstood the test of time, serving Scottsdale for more than 45 years. It's also been one of the Valley's go-to karaoke nights for what feels like just as long. Karaoke takes place in a smaller, back-bar area of the Tuscany/Greece themed bar-restaurant. The Grapevine attracts visitors, regulars, and young, lost partiers from the more trendy clubs and bars in the area. Karaoke nights can attract a few serious singers, but also some very theatrical, and happily inebriated spotlight-seekers. The setup is fairly simple, with the DJ in the corner and two TVs. This is one of the few places where the entire room gets into karaoke night, singing along and participating. Even the server sang a few songs.
3110 North Central Avenue, #125
Go if: You don't want to have to go to a dive for good karaoke.
Kobalt is a staple bar in the CenPho LGBTQ community, and it features karaoke on Sunday, Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Thursday night from 6 to 11 p.m. Karaoke definitely takes-over the bar with many TV screens hung up throughout the bar and on the walls. Kobalt gives-off more of a lounge inspired bar vibe: it's clean, has a thought-through design and is dimly lit. Karaoke at Kobalt has a community-feel, with a lot of returning regulars, however the staff and crowd are extremely friendly, the karaoke host is fun and really encourages bar patrons to sing and most importantly have a great time. You can also grab a cup of free popcorn and take a free condom when you leave. And did we mention how friendly the staff is?
Read on for more of metro Phoenix's best karaoke nights.
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Monkey Pants Bar and Grill
3223 South Mill Avenue
Go If: You like to blend a bit of nostalgia with your karaoke night.
From its dusty lighting, wooden interiors, collage of Polaroid pictures, fake plants, and homages to all great things in throwback entertainment, Monkey Pants is a dive bar that's everything you wish your grandma's basement was like. Every Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday night at 8 p.m., the bar hosts karaoke that can be hit or miss, depending on the night of the week.
Karaoke is set up in the bar's play-room, apart from the main bar where there are tables, chairs pool, shuffle board, and darts. Singers perform on a stage that's decorated like a living room with second-hand couches and a digital fire place. Song lyrics play on a handful of TVs hanging from the walls of the bar. Monkey Pants attracts a pretty diverse crowd of music lovers who like to show-off their music prowess with unique song selections. Weekends and late nights can get pretty rowdy, and the bar is known for its free-shots for anyone shirtless at 1 a.m.
Fuller's Bar and Grill
4929 West Ray Road
Go if: You want to shake up all of your stereotypes.
Fuller's is an impeccably clean, hunting themed, Broncos-loving sports bar with a self-proclaimed "Idaho style." Owner Shelley Eich has been named "sexiest bartender" by a gay-friendly publication in the past, and she proudly displays the magazine behind the bar.
The bar has karaoke every night at 9 p.m. (except for Tuesdays) and is led by an incredibly friendly and outgoing host who might help you sing the song. Behind the bar, there's a large flat-screen that displays the song lyrics, making them both visible to wherever you are in the bar and also out of the way. Most of the song choices are classic rock and country leaning, but the crowd is easily one of the most diverse and undefinable you'll come across in the Valley.
4129 North Seventh Avenue
Go if: You want a great cocktail.
There's something about The Rock that makes you just kind of want to say "fuck it" and have a good time. This bar is perhaps best known for its drag shows, with a separate theater attached to the bar for such performances. However, on Monday nights, that area is closed, and the small dive is taken over by karaoke singers.
Now, this isn't really a night for serous singers. Out of all these great spots, The Rock easily earns the "fun one" badge. The sound can get a little testy if you sing too loud and the words on the screen can be a little off. But this karaoke night brings in one of the Valley's most enthusiastic crowds, which is saying something for a Monday night. Also, if there was an award for best ceiling fans, The Rock would win. They also have a great selection of flavored vodkas and a positive LGBTQ vibe.
Brigett's Last Laugh
17222 Cave Creek Road
Go if: You want to feel like a Zonie.
Brigett's is a mother of all dive bars: It's dark, musty, there are napkins under table legs to keep them from wobbling, and time becomes increasingly abstract the longer you're there. Every time you go, expect to meet a type of person you've never met before and leave with a story. Brigett's is also home to one of the longest-running karaoke nights in the Valley. Karaoke is nightly at 9 p.m. and draws a good crowd (by karaoke night standards) almost every night of the week. The setup is nothing fancy, but the sound-quality is decent and the night attracts some legitimate singers.