Sing About It: New York's 10 Best Karaoke Bars

Sing About It: New York's 10 Best Karaoke Bars

Karaoke brings people together like few other activities: You either sequester yourself into a windowless room with a group of friends where you bond over a shared knowledge of Gin Blossoms songs, or you work up the nerve to sing those songs in front of a room of strangers. Either way, it's hard to have a forgettable night of karaoke. With all the karaoke options available in New York, you run the risk of spending all night scrolling through your phone, looking for the *perfect* karaoke bar -- valuable minutes that could be spent singing. We're here to help with this guide to the best karaoke bars in New York, from the Voice's crack team of karaoke enthusiasts.

Sing About It: New York's 10 Best Karaoke Bars
Bar On

Bar On 45 Mott Street Be forewarned: You're probably not welcome at Bar On. The proprietors of this low-profile Chinatown karaoke lounge are not interested in catering to outsiders. In fact, if you walk in off the street and ask if they have karaoke, they might even tell you they don't. That is a bald-faced lie. Not only is there karaoke in the main bar (the one with the white leather banquettes, awash in neon light emanating from the human-sized letters that spell the bar's name out across the back wall), there are also a number of private rooms tucked in back. You'll have to work hard to earn the respect of the salty bartender; she is not shy about snatching the microphone away if you're hogging the queue, taking too long to pick a song, or just bad. Standards, though -- the fact that they have any -- are the thing that sets Bar On apart from any of the other dumps on this list. --Tessa Stuart

Radio Star (radiostarus.com) 3 W. 35th Street Radio Star is a top-shelf karaoke establishment. This place has everything*: antique radios artfully arranged along its walls, fat binders full of every song imaginable, a state-of-the-art A/V setup, even little cloth condoms on the microphones so you don't catch any mouth germs from the Scott Stapp wannabe who used the room before you. It can get pricey, sure, but the longer you're there, the greater your chances are of being comped a platter overflowing with delicious fried finger foods. Five stars, best karaoke bar in the whole city, the end. --Tessa Stuart

Karaoke One 7 (karaoke17.com) 29 W. 17th Street Yes, getting a karaoke room with friends is a lot of fun. But, much like going out to eat with a large group of friends, there's always confusion about the bill afterward and someone ends up getting stiffed. People leave early, come late, some owe more, some owe less. It's madness. So sometimes it's great just to sing alongside the plebs at a place out in the open, and leave the private rooms altogether. When going with this approach, we suggest Karaoke One 7. It's a tiny little walk from Union Square, songs cost a buck apiece, and you pay for your drinks as you go. No messiness with the bill. And the shared space at One 7 is hardly ever crowded -- and even when it is, you get to talk to a couple strangers and watch people bomb or shine, each its own different kind of thrill. --Brian McManus

32 Karaoke (32karaoke.com) 32 W. 32nd Street Sometimes it's all right to let aesthetics guide your choice in karaoke locations. Luckily, 32 Karaoke is not only a great backdrop for the blurry photos taken of you while you deliver a stirring rendition of "Total Eclipse of the Heart" -- it also has a stellar collection of songs to choose from, one that's as up to date as it can be. Both the hallways and the rooms are covered in red, white, and blue geometric wallpaper, twinkly lights, and inexplicable posters for random pop stars ranging from a signed One Direction picture to the Bob Marley print on every frat boy's dorm wall (you know the one) to a Warholian print of baby Justin Bieber's face. Buy cheap bottles of wine and beer in the front, and don't be afraid to have a pizza delivered at some point during your five-hour lock-in. Tambourines are definitely included. --Brittany Spanos

 

A trio of Sean Paul fans at Karaoke Boho on the Lower East Side
A trio of Sean Paul fans at Karaoke Boho on the Lower East Side

Karaoke Boho (karaokeboho.com/orchard) 196 Orchard Street What could possibly be better than a karaoke spot located near some of the city's best dining and nightlife? Karaoke Boho is located just below Houston Street in the LES and is surrounded by incredible bars and delicious restaurants (including several amazing taco stands), so karaoke can either be the pregame for a big night out or the final destination where you and your friends can release some end-of-night musical tension. Rooms are cozy and sparkly and the entire venue is much roomier than a karaoke place located where it is has any right to be. The front bar is especially excellent if you're looking to only pop in for a song or two, and definitely spacious enough for your entire crew. --Brittany Spanos

Up Stairs

59 Canal Street Up Stairs bar is a confusing place that you can't help but be charmed into loving. All the songs are old and after a while none of them has an artist name listed for clarification. There's a point where you just have to guess and hope that you chose the right version of "Love Song" to serenade the open-room karaoke spot with. But the plus side is that drinks run incredibly cheap and you can even order some dumplings while awaiting your turn at the mic as several patrons croon Chinese ballads. It definitely takes a few rounds of beers, dumplings, and unlabeled songs to get into the vibe of the place, but once you get into it, you'll realize just how worth the wait it was.

--Brittany Spanos
Sing About It: New York's 10 Best Karaoke Bars
Planet Rose

Planet Rose (planetrosenyc.com) 219 Avenue A The best karaoke is the kind you don't remember. Because you're drunk. Real drunk. Any place with a working microphone and thick songbook will do, so long as the owners aren't gouging you on drinks. The famed Sing Sing on St. Marks Place could occupy this spot. So too could Karaoke One 7, Karaoke St. Marks, or any one of the countless spots you've spent a night wailing Meat Loaf's "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" off-key. (Pro tip: Never sing Meat Loaf's "Paradise by the Dashboard Light.") But, for our money, there's no spot doing it quite like Planet Rose, the casual Alphabet City hang that gets bonus points for being a karaoke bar without the word "karaoke" in its name. Most nights it's packed full of eager-to-sing regulars who make for the best kind of attentive, understanding audience. Some of them can really belt it out, too. --Brian McManus

 

Sing Sing Karaoke (singsingavea.com) 81 Avenue A Recently immortalized in veteran Rolling Stone pop-culture critic Rob Sheffield's latest book, Turn Around Bright Eyes, Alphabet City spot Sing Sing Karaoke is well on its way to becoming a legendary place to practice the art of late-night drunk-singing. Between the open karaoke bar at the front, where shining in front of strangers costs only $2 a song, and the dimly lit private rooms in the back, Sing Sing's hefty and up-to-date catalog allows you to practice your Axl Rose snake-dance or Mariah Carey whistle register any way you'd like, and for a reasonable price (private rooms cost $8 per person per hour after 9 p.m., and $4 before then). Whether you're with a large or small group, Sing Sing will somehow suck you in for hours, and before you know it, it's last call -- a perfect excuse to cap off with a group sing-along of Semisonic's "Closing Time." --Brittany Spanos

The lobby of Gagopa.
The lobby of Gagopa.

Gagopa (gagopakaraoke.com) 28 W. 32nd Street It's very easy to miss Gagopa when you're walking past the bumping clubs on 32nd Street in Manhattan's Koreatown. It's on the third floor, and the street entrance is just as nondescript as many on 32nd, which is to say there's not much in the way of signage. But once you step off the elevator, there's no mistaking this for anything other than a karaoke palace. The lobby is hued with the glow of purple blacklights and there's likely the sound of somebody belting out an Oasis song from behind closed doors down some hallway. Yes, Gagopa is a proper noraebang ("singing room," in Korean) bar, occupying two floors with several private rooms that can fit up to a dozen people. It's an ideal space for those of us who are comfortable with singing in front of friends, but who perhaps are not ready for the intensity that comes with belting out a song in front of strangers. Gagopa's liberal BYOB policy should take care of any remaining nerves. --Nick Lucchesi

Sing About It: New York's 10 Best Karaoke Bars

Trash Bar (thetrashbar.com) 256 Grand Street, Brooklyn Backroom karaoke at the Trash Bar is the stuff of legend. It doesn't heat up until well after midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, but when things get going it makes for the perfect, cathartically hammered end to a night out. The brave and booze-soaked can pass through the dark curtain in the back of the bar to choose from hundreds of alt-rock, punk, metal, and old-school soul tunes -- you won't run into many sorority sisters slurring Rihanna or Ke$ha here. Performers sing on a real stage in front of real strangers (private rooms are for wusses), but the small, dark, and grungy space evokes an intimate experience, and the charismatic MC riles up support from a good-natured (read: wasted) crowd. Perhaps this is why there's so many weekly regulars who, possibly in direct contradiction of the very ethos of karaoke, actually rehearse routines, complete with dance moves and asides for those long instrumental breaks. With a variety of legitimately great performers and the bar's signature $5 "Badass Margarita," it's a great show even just for spectators. We once belted a song by the Smiths in complete Moz falsetto and brought everybody in the house down. Never again. --Heather Baysa

See also: The 10 Best Jukebox Bars in New York City



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