As anyone remotely experienced in the taking of intoxicating drink will tell you, there comes a magic moment when, in mixed company and out on the town, inhibitions will drop so severely that only one of two scenarios can unfold: (a) prodigious vomiting or (b) the ultimate liberation of both body and soul. No, we’re not talking about death … but rather the uncontrollable urge to sing at the top of one’s lungs. Whether or not the latter is more appealing than the former depends entirely on two things: talent and your proximity to a karaoke bar. And if you’re in Los Angeles, there’s a good chance you’re sitting in such an establishment at this very moment. So whether you’re one to willingly take the mic or just a casual observer, we’ve compiled a handful of great places for both sober and shellacked songbirds to warble away. Still, whether you croon or caterwaul, remember the unspoken etiquette: no gangsta rap, no air guitar, no 10 minute epics, and for God’s sake leave “Hotel California”, “Freebird” and “Sweet Caroline” in the 70’s. – Kevin Byrne
Backstage Bar & Grill
10400 Culver Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
Touted as “the best dive bar in the world,” the real secret drawing power behind this fire-pitted hang is its wild karaoke contests. Located just across from Sony Studios, the Backstage feels sort of like a mountaintop ski resort by way of Boogie Nights and it draws an equally eclectic mix of clientele (from actors and accountants to lawyers and lounge lizards), many of whom are passionate karaoke pros, believe it or not. And there are literally THOUSANDS of tunes to choose from in their overstuffed songbook. So if you want to sing, be sure to get there early and sign up. And if you go on the right night, you just might be surprised to see a bona fide celeb or two take the stage (Billy Bob Thornton, Tim Robbins and Jonah Hill are evidenced among the players). Be sure to try the garlic French fries, too.
8447 Santa Monica Blvd
West Hollywood, CA
Located off the famous Route 66, Barney’s is a bona fide Hollywood landmark with a long and semi-sordid history. A one-time lightning rod of controversy due to a long-standing ban on gay patrons, this cavernous Boys Town dive was a popular hangout for everyone from Clark Gable and Errol Flynn to Janis Joplin and a shy, retiring singer known as “the Lizard King” (that’s Jim Morrison of The Doors, for those of you youngsters living under a rock). Long since renovated to accommodate a slightly more scrubbed and tubbed crew (UCLA grads and co-eds, mainly), the Beanery is anything but straight-laced, thanks to its popular karaoke events. The bar also boasts an amazing roster of suds, including 50 on tap and hundreds in bottles, over 150 different kinds of burgers, 65 kinds of chili, and more. So if you’re one of those sorts with a half-decent set of pipes who gets bold and brazen after a couple beers, you can road test your baritone on “Roadhouse Blues”, should you decide to take the stage. The spirit of Mr. Mojo Risin’ (and the crowd) will definitely approve.
3440 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90010
Equally unassuming and dive-y, this low-ceilinged K-town bar is a crooner’s haunt that often gets so crowded, you can’t help but let your hair down just to blend in with everyone else. The art of the “empty orchestra” is openly practiced on a nightly basis, with the bulk of the singing beginning at 9 pm. From there on, the request roster fills up right fast, as do the seats, so be sure to get there way before 10 pm or you’ll be playing the role of wallflower while others warble the night away. Weeknights are a lot less frenzied, so if you’re serious about getting your song on, you may do best to go then. And a mild reminder to cheapskates: there’s a two-drink minimum, so do your Monkey waitstaff a solid: sip a couple.
10433 National Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90034
Every night is karaoke night at the Boardwalk, which never fails to draw big crowds of “bad singers, good drinkers, and great tippers,” all of whom are willing to lower musical inhibition much to the delight of a maddening crowd. One gander at the big book and you’ll find over 50,000 songs by artists ranging from Michael Jackson and Milli Vanilli to Celine Dion and the Dead Kennedys. And like the Monkey, it’s either 2 cocktails or a $10 cover. Which poison would you pick? Exactly. “Two booze, please.” But be patient when ordering, as the bartenders can (on occasion) be overwhelmed. And again, a friendly neighborhood note to you teetotalers: the 2-drink minimum also applies to you, so be prepared to pay $5 bucks a pop for a Coke or a bottle of Evian, or you’ll be asked to hit the bricks. However, the snacks (each table is stocked with chips, Slim Jims, etc) are free.
Dave’s On Broadway
708 E Broadway
Glendale, CA 91205
Dave’s may be parked behind a bus stop, and its crowd may skew slightly older, but it’s cozy and clean and there’s no cover come karaoke time on Fridays. Plus, super cheap drinks, a digital juke, an extensive roster of songs to choose from, and a gregarious bartender named Pete who is known (from time to time) to take the mic himself. When it comes to no jokey ‘oke, who could ask for anything more? A warm and friendly atmosphere whether you’re there for live jazz on Mondays or end-of-the-week croon-offs, Dave’s is a great place to either stand up and sing, or sit back and enjoy the comradeship. But a warning for those inclined to wear slightly more high-end attire: this isn’t a place for preps and hipsters, so work what’s comfy … a T-shirt and jeans.