Oh, the feeling of sweaty palms and that thing in your tummy that usually only happens on roller coasters. Yep. That thing. The Rush. It can induce nail biting and heavy drinking, but it also makes me feel alive. It’s one of the main reasons I’m drawn to rooms full of people voluntarily picking up microphones to sing for small crowds of strangers and friends. I suppose it’s why karaoke happens in bars at nighttime and not coffee shops in the morning—we have to work up to these kinds of things.
You could never dream up the things that happen on a karaoke stage. The surprise I love mostly comes from who sings what: An older woman in a homely floral blouse rocks out to Stone Temple Pilots. A young white bartender in a straight-bill cap wails Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” and blows my mind. An older African-American gentleman dressed to the nines sings a classic Patsy Cline tune, inspiring a young couple to get up and slow dance. You can’t make these things up.
The camaraderie that occurs is something that can only happen when strangers do something vulnerable together, like sing for a crowd. Before taking the stage at Oscar’s recently, I shared with two strangers standing nearby that I was nervous because I had never performed the song and the rap parts were really fast (Flobots’ “Handlebars”). Their response? “Do you want us to come up there with you?” And they did! And I loved it.
Where to Wail
Whether you’re ready to rock, working up the nerve or strictly in it for the people-watching, try these local hot spots.
Thunder & Buttons
Bring your A game. The stage is the highest in town, complete with professional lights, so it can be a bit intimidating. The crowd isn’t, though, and the room is a comfortable size.
Wed.-Sat., 9 p.m.-12 a.m., 2415 W. Colorado Ave.
Like a family reunion with all your cool cousins. Sing whatever is in your heart; they’ll cheer for you like you’re one of their own. Know before you go: Smoking is allowed in the back room alongside karaoke.
Thurs. 9 p.m.-1 a.m., 333 S. Tejon St.
Classic sports bar vibe. Classic rock and ’90s hip-hop will win you the most crowd approval. Stage is slightly raised, so it feels like a performance but not a concert.
Nightly, 9 p.m.-1:30 a.m. (unless there’s a UFC fight), 1850 Dominion Way.
Feels like performing in someone’s house. Tucked away at the edge of Woodland Park, this karaoke gem is the perfect place to try out new material—no raised stage, very small room mostly full of out-of-towners that you’ll never see again because, yes, it’s a hotel.
Sat. 7-10 p.m., 723 U.S. Hwy. 24, Woodland Park
How to Bring Down the House
Find your perfect song, and go for a standing O.