Oct. 15 2013 06:21 PM

The Lamplighter and Chorus Karaoke & Café battle for best karaoke

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Vanessa Nelson (left) and the aptly named Melody Prince belt out a tune at Chorus Karaoke.
Photo by David Rolland

    I got my singing voice from my mom. When I was young, she used to wake me up by singing New Kids on the Block songs. I'd scream at her to stop her torturous pterodactyl screeching of "Hangin' Tough." So, karaoke isn't really my thing. Well, at least the singing part, but it's hard to watch so many people having fun and always be the guy too embarrassed to sing. 

    The Lamplighter, the dingy but bustling dive in Mission Hills (817 W. Washington St.), remains a go-to karaoke spot. They have it seven days a week, and liquid courage is fairly inexpensive. I went on a crowded Saturday night with a friend, and after a few drinks, we both picked a tune from an extensive tome of choices. The wait to sing was long, so we waited while other patrons belted out entertaining karaoke standards.

    After an hour, my interest was waning, and the emcee announced the next singer as a woman who I knew had signed up after me. After she finished, I approached her and asked how she'd managed to pull that off. She told me she's a friend of the emcee and that she comes often and—I'd heard enough. The emcee announced the next singer. It wasn't me. We left.

    We took a cab to a place in Kearny Mesa that I'd heard cool things about: Chorus Karaoke & Café. Located in a strip mall (4428 Convoy St.), it's not glamorous on the outside, but inside it looks like a posh sports bar and Korean barbecue. Chorus doesn't offer typical karaoke; it rents out private rooms.

    The man seemingly in charge explained that a room wasn't available, but he'd put us on the list. I asked if I could see a sample of what I could rent for $35 an hour ($25 if we ordered drinks and food). We followed him to a dimly lit hallway, where he opened a door. Inside, eight people were in the midst of a grand sing-along. There was a giant contraption that controlled the music and two TVs on opposite walls with lyrics scrolling in front of a bizarre background of kittens. The people waved at us before the door was closed. They never stopped singing.

    We didn't get a room, as there was a two-hour wait. Yeah, I didn't get to sing, but Chorus did leave me wanting a proverbial encore. Before I left, I made a reservation for eight. 

    The winner: I realized that karaoke isn't so much about singing as it is just making a fool of yourself in front of friends and random people. The Lamplighter is a popular karaoke destination precisely for the reason that it's the place to go if you're already a bit of a pro. Most people don't do karaoke regularly and, when they do, don't want to be surrounded by impressive regulars. That's why Chorus works. Karaoke is supposed to be foolish fun, and what's better than belting out an off-key rendition of "Hangin' Tough" while your friends crack up, sing along and are too busy wondering why there are kittens on the TV to notice you sound like a screeching pterodactyl.

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