The new reality-television show Killer Karaoke challenges contestants to sing while enduring physical challenges. As if taking the mic at a karaoke bar isn't a form of torture in itself for many of us. Yet across the country, karaoke is booming.
Some devotees brave public humiliation for the opportunity to blow off steam. "I love karaoke not for the singing but for the performance," says Joe Fairless, a New York City career coach. "It gives me an excuse to scream at the top of my lungs, jump up and down, and laugh at my friends." Others need a little liquid courage to embrace their inner exhibitionist. "You get two shots of whiskey in me and the promise of Kris Kross's 'Jump,' and I'm happy," says Sara Nachlis, a video researcher from Long Beach, CA.
Whatever the motivation, it's easier than ever to find a karaoke bar, whether you prefer to front a live band at rock-n-roll karaoke nights or holler with friends in your own traditional Korean-style room. Our favorite karaoke bars guarantee a memorable night and, for travelers, the chance to sample a local scene while trying out that new song in a place you won't be back any time too soon.
Karaoke ("empty orchestra" in Japanese) dates back to the 1970s, when a Kobe-based drummer merged an eight-track player with a microphone. The first stateside karaoke bar opened in Los Angeles in 1982 and the rise of boy bands and karaoke references in pop culture -- notably Scarlett Johansson's scene in the film Lost in Translation -- helped popularize all-American variations. The Hip Hop Karaoke NYC series hosts occasional rap competitions, and San Jose's Treatbot, a "Karaoke Ice Cream Truck from the Future," rewards any singers with free ice cream.
So ready for your 15 minutes of...something? One of these karaoke bars is surely playing your song.
See More of America's Best Karaoke Bars Directions to Koreatown’s Palm Tree LA suggest a scavenger hunt: “First, enter the decrepit-looking shopping plaza. Then, take the creaky elevator to the fourth floor and walk through the secret entrance….” Once inside, you’ll find yourself caught up in the club-tastic atmosphere as you and up to 30 of your closest friends party in private rooms complete with bottle service and red leather couches. lsyid.com Photo: Palm Tree LA
See more of America's Best Karaoke Bars Monday is punk rock karaoke night, but why belt out one number when you and your friends can butcher an entire album? At CIRCUS, locals—including a lively student contingent from the adjacent Ohio State campus—recently performed Radiohead’s entire OK Computer song list. myspace.com/circuscolumbus Photo: Ian W. Weaver, Audio Engineer
See More of America's Best Karaoke Bars There’s no street-level sign, so keep an eye out for the neon lettering three floors up on the exterior of 28 W. 32nd St. that signals this Koreatown favorite of those in the know. Each of the venue’s traditional private rooms comes with an impressive songbook filled with tunes ranging from Korean pop hits to Willie Nelson jams—plus your very own tambourine. And unlike at other K-Town hangouts, you’re welcome to bring your own wine or beer. gagopakaraoke.com Photo: Danica Jorge
See More of America's Best Karaoke Bars Themed karaoke parties are nothing new, but Good Luck Karaoke in Dallas gets especially creative. Every Thursday night, hosts Josh Hammertimez and Oliver Pecker (nope, not their real names) throw one-of-a-kind singing extravaganzas with downright weird themes based on anything from American folklore (“Carnie-oke”) to Mexican holidays (“Karaoke de los Muertos”). facebook.com/GOODLUCKKARAOKE Photo: Douglas Martin
See More of America's Best Karaoke Bars Tourist-clogged Cat’s Meow in New Orleans’ French Quarter claims to be the best karaoke bar in the world, but Kajun’s Pub in the Big Easy’s Faubourg Marigny neighborhood boasts a bigger song selection (50,000) and a refreshingly diverse crowd. It takes the nightly karaoke so seriously that when the bar lost power during Hurricane Isaac, the show went on. (And on.) kajunpub.com Photo: Stephen Young Photography
See More of America's Best Karaoke Bars Karaoke gets kitschier thanks to this recurring series that encourages participants to sport kooky outfits to complement their vocal stylings. And no need to worry if you arrive without a goofy ensemble in tow—a treasure chest of hats, wigs, and props “to make you look awesome” awaits you.kostumekaraokedc.com Photo: Courtesy of Kostume Karaoke
See More of America's Best Karaoke Bars Karaoke plus Mexican food: what’s not to love? Each weekend, hordes of amateur singers take over the stage at Tarasco’s Mexican Restaurant. There’s a disco ball, a fog machine, and margaritas aplenty—probably a good thing for performers and innocent bystanders alike. karaokekurt.com Photo: Courtesy of Karaoke Kurt
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