In the past 10 years, karaoke bars have opened up all over New York City. Most of them are located in areas heavily populated by Asians. The history of karaoke is somewhat obscure, but many believe it started in Japan during the 1970’s when the karaoke machine was invented. Being Asian as well as a native New Yorker, I’ve had the opportunity to test out the best and the worst places in NYC. From my experiences, I will give you my review of the best karaoke joints in the in the city.
Unfortunately, all my top choices reside in Manhattan. I’ve been to karaoke joints in other boroughs like Brooklyn and Queens, but I feel that you can’t top the vibe of the city. Let me give you a quick overview of what people should focus on when they go to a karaoke bar. First and foremost, you should always review their song selection because there’s no point to go there unless you have access to a variety of songs in your preferred language. Second, if you’re going to a karaoke bar, you’re going to want a nice alcohol selection and some snacks to go with it. Finally, make sure the place is clean and large enough for your entourage as well.
Sing Sing Karaoke
9 St. Marks Place
New York, NY 10003
One of the oldest and most popular karaoke bars in the city is Sing Sing Karaoke. They have two locations, but I think the better one has to be the one at St. Marks Place. This small stretch of street between 2nd and 3rd avenue downtown can be referred to as the center of Japan Town, because of the many Japanese supermarkets, restaurants, karaoke bars, and other Japanese owned businesses the area. They’re best known for enormous collection of English and Japanese songs.
I always have an enjoyable experience when going there. They’re so popular that sometimes the crowd at the front bar makes it difficult to reach the private karaoke rooms in the back. The last time I was there, Sing Sing had a nice selection of sake and beers to choose from. Unless they updated the place, I remember the equipment in their private rooms to be older and more worn than the newer places I’ve been to. Sing Sing is a great choice for a guaranteed good first time karaoke experience and it has an unmatched library of English songs.
U2 Karaoke Lounge & Suites
6 St. Marks Place
New York, NY 10003
U2 is one of the newest karaoke joints in the area. It has two floors and is at least twice as large as Sing Sing, which is located directly across the street. The primary difference between U2 and other surrounding karaoke bars is that it’s focused towards the Korean clientele. Korean karaoke bars are located primarily near Korea Town located at 32nd St. between 5th Ave. and Broadway.
The décor of the private karaoke room wasn’t the only interesting thing there. Yes, the rooms had laser lights that moved with the music and leather couches, but the most interesting things were the flashing tambourines. I guess the instruments were for the hardcore karaoke fans. They also had a decent complement of Korean songs and snacks on the menu.
Another good thing about U2 is their karaoke bar section. This place has a large open area in front of the bar, where people usually dance. If you did not know, many bars/clubs in the NYC do not have the cabaret license required for a legal dance floor. U2 Karaoke is good for larger crowds who may or may not want private rooms. It’s also great for the hardcore karaoke fan looking for a well-stocked selection of alcohol.
97 Bowery St
New York, NY 10002
K-One has been in business for approximately 2 to 3 years and is further downtown. If you’re a local, you can see how the East Village residents are slowly pushing into Chinatown. This karaoke is growing in popularity because of the changing population and the thriving Chinese economy. This joint has 2 floors of private karaoke rooms and is extremely clean. Each room comes with its own air conditioning unit and the large party rooms have their own private bathrooms.
Sing Sing has the Japanese roots, U2 has its huge Korean song list, but K-One has their huge Chinese song database. If you didn’t catch it, I used the word database because all their karaoke lists are digitized. K-One boasts one of the most advanced karaoke systems in New York with flat screen TV’s, touch screen monitors for song selection, and contemporary décor.
If there’s one thing that differentiates Chinese karaoke bars from the rest, it’s the cups of dice available in each room. Chinese people love to play drinking games while they sing, many games involve dice, but they also enjoy playing simple games like “rock-paper-scissors.” K-One caters to its clientele by carrying high end liquors like Johnny Walker Blue Label and Remy Martin’s Louis XIII.
The great thing about K-One is that you can actually have a full meal there. They have a great menu selection, but if that’s not enough they’ll let you order from the restaurant on the first floor. If you decide to try this place out, you have to remember to make a reservation on weekends. Even with 2 floors of private rooms, their popularity may force you to wait past midnight for a room. K-One in Chinatown is ideal for larger crowds who want the full service karaoke experience.