Tag Archive: karaoke

The best karaoke bars in Toronto


(A current list of all the karaoke nights currently running in the city.)

Karaoke’s always been a bit of a niche scene, with the larger Asian segment dominating like a Pacman-shaped portion of the graph while a slice of more western nights comprise a small (but loyal) contingent of singers spread throughout the city.

The most common reaction I get when I confess to enjoying karaoke is a surprised “Really?” tinged with (I think) a bit of disdain. The common thought seems to be that it’s all about tuneless, drunken sing-alongs and while that might be part of it (and God bless every single one of those martyrs for the cause) booze-soaked renditions of Bohemian Rhapsody are the exception, not the rule.

And therein lies the reason behind this list.

Everyone who gives a shit has an opinion about where to go for the best karaoke, some local spot that’s unreservedly fantastic and I won’t even pretend to be some kind of authority on the subject; my intention with this list is to merely provide a short (but solid) selection of joints that I think stand head and shoulders above the rest.

These places feature (mostly) good singers, eclectic song lists, drink specials and they’re open during the middle of the week; the only decent time to hold a really good karaoke night.

My favorite of the moment has to be Paradise (488 Parliament St.). Located just north of where Carlton begins, it’s definitely a dive but the owners are friendly, especially when they realize that you’re not like the rest of the bums that infest this place.

Karaoke nights are Sundays and Wednesdays and both feature $3.50 pints of Cool ($11 for a pitcher!). However, those in the know point to the Guinness tap from which flows Doublefist Stout. I can’t find anything about this beer and I don’t even know if that’s its actual name; the bartender wasn’t exactly sure himself. What I do know is that it’s smooth and creamy with a bit of coffee and caramel to taste. I like it; especially at $5 a pint.

However, the best thing about Paradise is the song selection! The MC (whose name escapes me at the moment) will proudly tell you that he didn’t pick any crap; just the stuff he likes and it shows. A quick flip through his book reveals the Sex Pistols, Goldfrapp, Depeche Mode, The Clash, Björk, T. Rex, David Bowie, The Velvet Underground, Tom Waits, The Arcade Fire and The Pogues!

I can’t even begin to tell you how happy I am to be able to sing along to the best of Shane MacGowan and Co.! Having spent many a night doing the same thing on the way home from a party, it’s even better to do it pint in hand, backed by the original recording. It’s one of those things you can feel your way through with your eyes closed and if you’re a fan, you have to give it a try.

I even saw Berlin’s Sex (I’m a…) which I count as one of the best duets of all time. If you can sing this, you are my hero. Best of all, you’ll get to perform at least half-a-dozen songs which is unheard of if you’re not renting a private room.

When I’m too tired for Paradise and my coworkers at the hotel come calling, we go across the street to Hoops Sports Bar & Grill (458 Yonge. St). Food-wise, they have amazing daily entrees, including a bacon-wrapped filet for $12.99, and the wings and burgers are decent. The MC Jeremy will get you up there and the song selection is pretty good for a typical karaoke night. The crowd is usually pissed and very supportive and I have a good time. Bonus: Mixed amongst the crappy singers are some real professionals who have real talent so even if you’re not going to get up, you’ll enjoy some of the show.

Karaoke happens every Wednesday and Thursday and even if you don’t arrive until midnight, you’ll probably get a couple of songs in which is more than Peter Styles and the Gladstone Hotel can claim.

One event which I enjoy going to but have never actually taken the stage at is Hip-Hop Karaoke. Held at Revival (783 College St.) it’s the spot for aspiring MCs to show their stuff. Forgoing the usual screens displaying lyrics, here it’s all sheets but since most of the would-be rappers know the songs by heart, trying to read while performing is not recommended. Even if you’re not going to perform, it’s a blast to watch some unknown do Biggie and in many ways, it feels more like an open-mic/concert than a karaoke night proper which is fine by me.

Neutral has a pretty damn fine karaoke night on Tuesday that has some longevity in an industry where most don’t last longer than a year. Located at the mouth of Kensington Market (349a College St. West at Augusta Ave.) it features a more alternative selection of songs, curated by Steve-O, and while Nick Cave may not be everyone’s cup of tea (and why not?) with over 20,000 songs to choose from, you’d be hard-pressed to sing the same one twice in a month.

It can get busy but when it’s not, everyone gets their fair share of stage-time and the drinks are reasonably-priced, with some kind of special usually featured.

In a nod to the neighborhood’s past, Baby Huey’s on 70 Ossington St. now does karaoke! I haven’t actually tried it out but I have been to Huey’s and I know Richie Rich from his karaoke nights at both of the Foxes and I think it’s safe to say that you’ll find a good time here. He’s a great MC who’s very friendly and tries to get everyone up there. His song selection is also very decent.

The drinks are cheap ($4.50 for a domestic beer, $5.50 for bar rail) with $3.50 Jäger shots being just the thing to give you enough courage to join your friends behind the mic.

Do you have a favorite karaoke joint? Let’s hear about it!

(Image taken from therozblog’s Flickr photostream.)

My favorite bar in Toronto

The list of bars to the right represents places I like to go when I’m in the neighborhood. They vary in concept and crowd but one thing holds true for all of ‘em: they’re beloved by those who know a good drink and those who could care less equally because they’re great bars.

I know that if I happen to stop by because I’m in that neck of the woods, I’ll meet interesting people, ranging from industry types to general enthusiasts and whatever I drink will be solid.

Still, one of my favorite bars isn’t on that list. It has no website and the phone is dodgy at times. If you were to drive by you’d probably pay it no attention to it at all, mostly because it’s located in Chinatown East and looks like a million other little, blue-collar bars that dot the Toronto landscape.

It’s called the Akia (not Ikea although it sounds the same when I say it) Bar & Grill and it’s been around for over a decade. It started out as a bar where the local guys could go for a beer after work and, given it’s proximity to the Don Jail, quickly attracted a clientele of sketchy folks who spent their time selling drugs, fighting over the jukebox and generally terrorizing whomever operated the bar at the time.

Rodney (my roomate) and I started going about five years ago, pretty much as soon as we moved in, because it was right around the corner and the beer was cheap. The jukebox sucked and the crowd was trouble but it was worth it.

As the years passed, we got to know the nonsketchy regulars (there were a few) and even made a few friends. The drinks stayed fairly cheap, only getting raised a quarter now and then, mostly when a new owner took over

After the last handover, I stopped going. The Chinese karaoke, gloriously blaring in MIDI had gotten to be too much for me and the selection of beer was admittedly crappy for the current price. I don’t mind paying two bucks for a Lakeport but ask me for three-fifty and we’ve got a problem. Besides, I was currently enamored with the renaissance of Leslieville and it was much easier to barhop along Queen St. East after finishing work at Joy Bistro.

Soon, I started working downtown again and found myself without a place to go after work. Most of the time, I just drank at home. Rodney had stopped going to but he dropped by every know and then and I began to hear good things about the place once again. He said the karaoke wasn’t going on every night and they’d renovated. I still didn’t go because most renovations don’t do much but raise the prices.

But then, low and behold, another regular and friend of mine started going three or four times a week, holding court as it were, and he invited me. I went and not only did I like the new owners but they carried beer I liked, at reasonable prices.

Knowing I could get a Steamwhistle for four bucks suddenly made the Akia a desirable after-work joint. The owners really made the effort to attract a better crowd and they installed a jukebox full of CDs by Elvis, the Stones and the Kinks; stuff I’d actually listen to.

It was quieter and smelt better. You didn’t have to walk a plank over a flooded basement to get to the bathroom and there were no more dealers offering coke that made you feel like your nose was going to fall off. In short, it was the perfect place for a guy like me, a little older and a lot less impressed by dives, who just wanted a decent beer to drink while he read his book.

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