When searching for a Halloween costume this year, I found inspiration in Air Guitar Nation, a campy but sweet documentary profiling the strange, fanatical scene at the 2003 International Air Guitar Championships. I felt particular affinity for C-Diddy, the U.S. contestant, an affable, goofy Asian guy who surprisingly bests his instrument-less competitors from around the globe and takes the title, achieving ultimate “airness” while wearing a kimono and a Hello Kitty breastplate. Finally, here was a world in which a quirky wannabe rock star with no discernable musical talent (like me) could pretend to be an axe-wielding virtuoso, if only for a brief, somewhat embarrassing few moments.
So it was wholly appropriate, then, that I'd planned to spend my Halloween with friends at Chorus Karaoke and Café, new karaoke spot in town. My primary fake-guitar-jamming experience has been while playing Guitar Hero so, dressed in a kimono and a pair of tacky platform boots—that I shamefully admit to wearing, in no ironic way, in the '90s— and with an inflatable guitar in tow, I met the gang at the Convoy Street karaoke bar and Korean restaurant.
Chorus Karaoke feels different than most sing-along places, maybe because of its newness and super-clean, spacious interior. The private karaoke rooms, seven in all, flank a restaurant serving credible Korean dishes and a handful of small bites that you can snack on while singing. The bar offers a selection of draft beers by the pint or pitcher, including a couple Korean varieties, plus a line-up of soju, a Korean liquor that ranges from crystal-clear or unfiltered brews to fruit-flavored concoctions like pineapple, cranberry and lemon—think Kool-Aid with a stealth alcohol kick.
There's also a mojito-esque cocktail called a sojito and a popcorn machine that fills complementary snack baskets all night long.
Our group got settled into a karaoke room, a large space dominated by a wide banquette sofa and table. The electronic set-up is impressive, too, with a 50-inch flat-screen TV and snazzy audio system. There's a strange-looking tower in a corner that's both a strobe light and smoke machine to further enhance karaoke performances. Each room's rental cost varies by size and price, but you get 25 percent off your tab if you buy food and drinks, which you order in by pressing a button on the wall.
We started off with a yummy stir-fried pork and rice-cake dish, spicy with bits of kimchi, and a platter of juicy fried chicken wings, their crispy coating made deliciously sticky by a sweet and fiery chili glaze with sesame-dressed coleslaw. An order of matchstick sweet-potato fries was perfect for munching between songs. For those in need of more substantial pre-performance fortification, Chorus' menu also features simmering hot pots, Korean barbecued-beef dishes, tempuras and more exotic treats, like chicken gizzards, seafood jerky and black goat stew.
The thick karaoke songbook is filled with songs in many languages, including a big English section with top-40 hits, classics and obscure stuff from all decades. My guilty-pleasure karaoke tune, “Escape (The Pina Colada Song),” wasn't available, so I made do with a duet on another shameful favorite, “Islands in the Stream.” Our song choices ran the gamut from Michael Jackson to The Beatles to Rage Against the Machine to even, yes, Kelly Clarkson, but the common thread was that they were all sung loudly, gleefully and unabashedly, sometimes with a little air guitar or dance move thrown in.
The karaoke videos that play during each song provided lots of amusement, too—lost-in-translation montages of men and women that had nothing to do with the sentiment or lyrics of any song. The walls there aren't completely soundproof, and hearing the off-key warbling from next door made me feel a little more confident about my singing ability, and the best part about having a private room is that there's no sign-up list to wait though and no drunken hecklers to contend with (unless your friends get rowdy), and you can drink and eat in comfort. Plus, everyone who works there is friendly and open, not even blanching when my friend, dressed as an Amish girl-gone-wild with an unbuttoned blouse revealing a pair of giant rubber boobs.
Voices hoarse from belting out song after song for four hours straight, we capped off the night with an air-guitar classic from Whitesnake. Although the songs are muzak versions of the originals, you're pretty much guaranteed a good time. Just grab a mic and surrender to the cheese.
Chorus Karaoke and Cafe, 4426 Convey St., Kearny Mesa, 858-576-0700.
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