I firmly believe that the best karaoke experience can be found in traditional Korean style: a private room. Although some singers may crave the stage and the anonymity-turned-rock-goddess-status that comes from singing in front of strangers in a large, loud bar, the benefits of private rooms outnumber the bored faces of an audience who hates your favorite '80s ballad.
"Noraebang" is the generic term used to describe a Korean karaoke joint. A perfect private noraebang is located in the northwest corner of the shopping plaza on California Avenue just south of Devon. Everything in the plaza is Korean, without English-translated signs, so proceed carefully. Once you've made it inside you can select a room size based on how many singers you've got. This noraebang feels like an odd little motel, with winding hallways and room names such as Lily.
The downside to the intimate singing among friends and the most amusing beach scene and forest romance karaoke videos ever created: the cost. A room comfortable for 5-10 people will run about $45 per hour, while a room for 10-15 is $60 (there are bigger rooms, too), and the hours seem to go fast so your bill is often more than you'd expect. My advice is to plan ahead and round up as many willing singers as possible. The upside: $14 bottles of Soju (a popular distilled Korean liquor) sipped straight up. If you still prefer a more standard Chicago-style karaoke experience, try any of the following on these designated microphone-friendly nights:
After having your ID scanned to verify you're not toting a home-laminated card, continue on into this cash-only establishment that prides itself on four nights of karaoke each week. From the sounds of it, the singers really take advantage of low-priced drinks. In addition to the pronounced slurry-drunk-mumbling-singing style, I noticed a lot of screamers, possibly because no one really pays all that much attention to who's belting one out. Louie's karaoke sessions sort of blend in with the other conversations going on in the rest of the bar, and with no stage of spotlight, it's a great stop for the shy karaoke seeker. Once you've got the microphone in hand, you're free to sit, swagger or stand still among your audience. The song list book is huge, organized by both song title and by artist (a nice touch that you won't find at the Korean places). If the off-key Aerosmith songs start to really get to you, the rear room is secluded and quiet with two pool tables.
What a great wide-open place to sing your heart out. From the doorperson to bartenders to karaoke officials, the friendly vibe is infectious. High ceilings and gargantuan skylights meet with sunken lounge seats and a higher level of booths; it's surprisingly intimate and comfortable considering Piece's multi-level size. Karaoke Thursdays with host Vince Michaels bring in tried-and-true karaoke lovers, singing their all-time favorite tunes by Blondie and Tom Petty. The four-foot-tall stage and fantastic sound system (kept at a respectable volume) showcase the singers and starlets, complemented by the occasional smoke machine outburst and multi-colored laser light show. Keep an eye on drink specials like flavored rums and dark Bier to get your inner singer wound up and ready to rock out. With an advertising slogan that reads "Eat your heart out, American Idol," Piece keeps the singing going with live band karaoke on Saturdays.
After walking through a large door that mimics one end of a barrel, you'll enter a friendly place that's been known to throw the occasional buffet feast for one of the bar family's longtime friends. The open-to-all environment's dark wood and den-like-feel fit best on lazy winter days when the fireplace is lit. Friar Tuck hosts karaoke two nights a week on its small ground-level stage. A favorite for older regulars and younger Lakeviewers, you'll also find $5 mini pitchers of Budweiser on karaoke nights. A large bar loops around the center of the room, with darts and video games on one side and the fire crackling on the other.
This country-western bar prides itself on importing Southern hospitality and a country feel to Andersonville. A mixed crowd of old and young, Southern and local, as well as friendly bartenders who probably put up with a lot of drunks on a regular basis, fill the seats. Thursday karaoke nights fill up fast; make a selection and get your name on the list quickly. It's reasonable to expect honky-tonk, but the mixed crowd tends to sing anything and everything from Alicia Keys to Journey to Dolly Parton to Young MC. The final touch for my belting-out evening, however, was a doorman who doubled as a rude homophobe: My group of friends included a birthday boy, who yes, happens to be gay; he was told several times that "This is a straight bar." When we stood our ground as paying customers and continued to stay, he finally said, "I'll tell you one more time: This is a straight bar." Thankfully no brawls broke out, but we'll take our karaoke elsewhere.
This well-known karaoke destination, nestled among the many Korean karaoke bars and restaurants near Lincoln and Foster Avenues, may be a bit too brightly lit for some wannabe singers. The bright lights are enhanced even more by all the neon beer signage, numerous television screens and four karaoke monitors. A few years ago, the place was darker and a bit more obscure, with the singing platform all the way in the back corner. Now karaoke takes center stage, focused right in the middle of the room facing the long stretch of bar on the opposite wall. Since karaoke sessions break out nightly, this is a good place to go with a large group mid-week so you can take over the stage a bit. Weekends get rowdier and packed with a long list of eager crooners. The Hidden Cove stays open until 4 a.m. nightly, allowing you to keep on singing each and every verse of "American Pie." No one will cut you off, since the Cove is such a polite neighborhood establishment, but at times someone probably should.