Rhythm and booze
Every seasoned karaoke fan has a place he favours over all others, a pied-a-terre with his kind of vibe. The 'vibe' is made up by a particular combination of services offered. The pillars of a diverse song list, ample space for gesticulation and emoting, a good selection of booze and timely service can be further supported by privacy options, enticing food menus and local character.
All karaoke bars were not created equal, although in recent years Hong Kong's biggest chain, Neway, has made a bid for a monopoly by edging out its closest competition, Red Box. Recent reports in the financial media claim the karaoke giant now owns up to 90 per cent of the market. It also has an exclusive licensing contract for karaoke videos from artists represented by TVB and Emperor Entertainment Group.
For Canto-pop fans that means, for better or for worse, Neway outlets are the place to go if they want to sing the latest singles by Nicholas Tse Ting-fung, Sammi Cheung Sau-man, Miriam Yeung Chin-wah and other top Hong Kong artists. Other legitimate and, thankfully, non-exclusive Canto-pop KTV (karaoke videos) are managed by K-Net, whose clients include Warner Music Hong Kong, Universal Music, Cinepoly Records and Sony Music Entertainment Hong Kong; and there are plenty of good songs coming from there.
Luckily, there is more to karaoke than mainstream label wars. For those caught in the crossfire, who love music and just want to have a good time, there are some great places to explore. Here are some of Going Out's favourite places to let loose your inner idol.
1/F, Universal House, 230 Gloucester Rd, Wan Chai, Hong Kong. Tel: 2573 9601; fax: 2591 6539; email@example.com
The go-to place for the most up-to-date and extensive selection of English-language songs. Want to Runaway with Kanye West? You got it. Tic Toc like Kesha? No problem. Sing the entire OK Computer album by Radiohead? Done. There is even a Kermit the Frog version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow somewhere in the 14,000 song database, imported from Japan and updated monthly. Japanese-American owner Tom Balogh was formerly a partner at J-Sound 25, a small Japanese Box-K-style establishment catering mainly to a Japanese executive clientele. To open up the Box-K experience to a broader crowd, Balogh created Music Box with private rooms for eight to 16 people at HK$250 an hour; but the real steal is the 30 to 40-person lounge, which can be reserved for exclusive use at HK$500 an hour, excluding drinks. Music Box also serves izakaya food from sister eatery Wai Wai nearby.
Chariot Club Clubhouse
3-4/F, Melbourne Plaza, 33 Queen's Road, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: 2521 6271; fax: 2521 8550; firstname.lastname@example.org
Chariot Club, formerly known as The Macau Trotting Club, is famed for its exquisite Cantonese cuisine. In its current Melbourne Plaza location, one can savour hard-to-find dim sum varieties on the third floor. But upstairs, next to the Western restaurant, is its best-kept secret - a karaoke lounge with a dedicated keyboardist. It's a little tricky to get in, since you need to know someone with a full or corporate membership to do so. But once you get a pass, the experience is old-world and intimate. There are just a handful of tables, at which you'll find old-timers swirling snifters with well-heeled ladies. For the price of your drinks, you can pass your song requests to the small stage in the corner and eventually step up to sing - with live accompaniment.
There, your choices are not limited to the printed song list - the pianist is accomplished at improvising, from jazz and blues standards to Taiwanese hits. He'll even harmonise with you - if you can keep to the pitch, of course.
G/F, 38 King Kwong Street, Happy Valley. Tel: 2838 0533
Alabar stays open late every night of the week. Patrons can often be seen stumbling out at 3am or even 4am on a school night. Alabar is an open lounge with a semi private room in the back. Its single but large screen can be seen from all tables. When your request comes up, one of the bartenders will appear with a mic just in time for you to belt out the first line. The song list can be a little dated, but if your repertoire takes in 80s and 90s English-language hits, you'll feel right at home. When you need a break, head to the bar for a chat, as the bartenders are friendly and knowledgeable about their drinks. Order a custom cocktail or from the extensive whisky collection, kick back and sing your heart out.
Causeway Bay: 8/F, Windsor House, 311 Gloucester Road, Causeway Bay Tsim Sha Tsui: 1-2/F, 25-31 Carnarvon Road Tsim Sha Tsui (next to K-11 Mall). Tel 3125 3125; www.redmr.com
Red MR made international news even before it opened (in Causeway Bay on December 18 and in Tsim Sha Tsui on December 30). And with good reason - it is the first karaoke establishment to partner with Microsoft on Surface, the interactive table-top tablet, five of which have been installed in the Causeway Bay location, with a few dozen more on the way. At present, customers can use it to play digital versions of local lounge games such as Liar's Dice (no more lost dice under the seats). But once all the in-room and network systems are integrated, it will serve as a one-touch console for picking songs, room-to-room gaming, ordering and monitoring the bill.
Making good on its promise as an entertainment complex, Red MR features several theme rooms that can be booked in two slots: 2pm to 7pm and 7pm to 1am. Karaoke, based on the K-Net system and supplemented with selected English, Hokkien, Malay and Putonghua chart-toppers, is a fixture in each.
In the Champagne Room, speed freaks can race to their hearts content on the two driving-simulation consoles while their friends karaoke on the 103-inch plasma television; in the Theatre Room, you can watch movies on the 68-inch 3-D television and there's plenty of room to play games on the Kinect for Xbox 360. The Red MR Room, with a view of Victoria Park, can accommodate up to 60 people, with multiple screens and game consoles.
There are also 17 smaller rooms booked at hourly, per person rates for more a more traditional karaoke experience. The bilingual website makes easy work of online bookings, which can be made up to one week in advance.