The epic 2010 Karaoke tour was produced by Andrea Grant. Video production by Andrea and Tyler, with participation by Ashley, Holly, Whitney, Peter, Paul R., Paul K., Julie, Ramsey, Amanda, Georgia, Gloria, Joanna, Steve, Tyler B., Tyler C., Kari, Doug and Claus.
In Japan and other Asian countries, karaoke is a way to bond with co-workers and get to know potential business partners. In Ottawa, karaoke culture remains in its infancy, and few are aware of the true virtues of a rowdy karaoke lounge or a sweaty KTV room.
Shall we bond, Ottawa? To make your karaoke night planning as smooth as Sinatra singing My Way, we at Apt613 have taken it upon ourselves to uncover Ottawa’s best karaoke destinations.
Our quest to systematically assess and compare karaoke joints manifested in a survey of friends and strangers, as well as a two-week k-tour of nearly a dozen downtown locations: bars, restaurants, and, um, internet cafés. See above for the short k-tour video we made along the way. Criteria examined included song selection, sound quality, décor, general atmosphere, availability of tambourines and/or light sabers, and total quantity of fun had.
For those of you unfamiliar with this scene, you should note that there are two categories, the belt-it-out-in-front-of-a-bar-of-strangers style, most popular in North America and Europe, and the rent-a-private-room-with-your-friends style, most popular in Asia. Ottawa has great options for both, and we’ve grouped our list accordingly.
| #1. Stars Palace Karaoke Lounge
161 Montreal Road
Tuesday to Saturday (Friday tends to be the liveliest).Congratulations to Stars Palace, for a fine showing of karaoke dance action, a welcoming K-DJ, friendly patrons, and an unexpectedly large supply of gigantic snacking pickles. This place covered all of the basics – good stage, reasonable song selection, great sound – but what ultimately pushed it to the top was its dance floor. I repeat: Stars Palace is a karaoke dance club. We were there on a Saturday night, and no matter what song was sung – slow or fast, Metallica or Beyoncé – the crowd would beat it under the disco ball.“The best karaoke bars are mild to moderately creepy. This woman is creeping me out,” whispered one of my friends, gazing approvingly at the stage. By the end of the night, the six of us had sang about two songs each and we had racked up stories of fun encounters with chatty regulars. Easily the best stop on the k-tour.
|#2. Shanghai Restaurant
651 Somerset St. W.
Saturday nights onlyAll Ottawa hipsters know and love the scene that is Saturday night karaoke at Shanghai. Its most outstanding feature is China Doll, the lovely and charismatic drag queen K-DJ.Other strengths include a fantastic song selection (e.g. an entire Lady Gaga section), large flat screen monitors, good food, and hip décor (note the glowing cube chair in our k-tour video). Shanghai also makes air-accompaniment easy: anyone can use chopsticks for air- drums, and China Doll lets regulars play air-guitar with her light-sabre.
The only downside to the Shang is its popularity – it can be hard to get a table, and the “rotation” (i.e. waiting time for your turn to sing) can be long.
|#3. Café Caco
77A Montreal Rd.
Friday and SaturdayThis Portugese sportsbar was initially recommended to me on the basis of its cheap beer and mellow vibe (i.e. “it’s a good place to go if you’re shy and don’t want a big crowd watching you”). Subsequently, I scouted it out one afternoon and the bartender promised it was “quiet – a family atmosphere, no fights here!”Our multiple visits have confirmed these assets, and so many more. However I am reluctant to reveal much, because I need you to see this place for yourself. I will nonetheless promise that Café Caco has something good for everyone, including eccentric décor to amuse your non-singing friends and a three-man percussion section (!!!) to delight the singing ones. Just make sure to bring a crew – it is indeed a quiet place on its own.
246B Queen St.
Wednesday, Friday, and SundayRumour has it that Swizzles has a no-pants karaoke night, but our experience was relatively mundane (in spite of the warewolf and giant nipple costumes that were likely due to Halloween). The song selection here was impressive, with credit to Dog and Pony Sound, the company that runs this bar’s k-nights. A real bonus is Swizzles’ stage and old-style mic – great for really getting into the old-timer show tunes.
These venues include a variety of room sizes to accommodate your private party. If you are new to this scene, you should anticipate large screens playing unrelated Korean music videos behind your song lyrics, tambourines, and – if you’re lucky – a computerized non-English rating system that will score your performance out of 100. And don’t forget your tickle-trunk: Ottawa does not yet have a dress-up karaoke venue, so we have no choice but to pack our own wigs and sparkle vests.
|#1 Popcorn Karaoke
1280A Baseline Road (at Merivale)
Open every day after 6 pm
According to Popcorn’s website, “its always been our object [sic] to provide the highest class of karaoke in the most sumptuous surroundings.” Sumptuous, indeed.Popcorn has great small, medium, and large rooms, with comfy couches, bar stools, and big screen TVs. They also have good food, and drinks are served directly to the room. Pricing schemes include minimum rate and hourly rate options, but in our experience, a Friday night for 10 people costs around $300 (or $30 each) including food and drinks.
Note that Popcorn’s website also states that it is a good meeting venue, so be sure to suggest it the next time your boss is looking for a productive working environment off- site.
|#2 Korea Gardens Restaurant
Open every day for lunch and dinner Korea Gardens has one massive private karaoke basement room, which can accommodate a party of 10 to 50 people. Karaoke here is part of a larger Korean dining experience, as the karaoke is available for free but only after all guests have eaten dinner upstairs. Make sure to reserve in advance.
|#3 Net Zone Karaoke
Open 24 hours, seven days a week If it were all up to me, Net Zone would have placed first, not third. It is conveniently located amidst all the fun and energy that is the Byward Market, and I have had some of the biggest laughs of my life squished into their large back room with 15 friends and acquaintances. However, Net Zone is not licensed, and I understand that some of you
prefer to imbibe before singing, so… number three it is.Where are you, my fellow sober karaoke buddies? If you’re reading this, be sure to check out Net Zone anytime. Seriously – it’s open 24/7. Small rooms are $25/hr, and the large room is $35/hr.