Best Karaoke

When singing in the shower no longer satisfies, take the show on the road

Photograph courtesy flickr/tetradtx

In a city teeming with aspiring entertainers, you can’t swing a mic without hitting a karaoke joint. While Koreatown bars have been hubs since the karaoke machine debuted in Japan in 1971, now a steady circuit runs across L.A. County. You can seek out the most public of humiliation for free or pay for a private space (with butler service). Many places have a two-drink minimum, which might be just the right dose of courage needed to face a room full of strangers.

The X Factor
Stage presence is key at Boardwalk 11, where an elevated platform dominates the supper club’s main dining room—and when it’s show time, you’re literally in the spotlight. The song list features more than 50,000 tunes, including some newer favorites from Arcade Fire and Adele, but classic rock rules. If you can nail Ann Wilson’s shrieking in “Crazy on You,” you’ll fit right in; choose to strain your way through REO Speedwagon, and you’ll have to ham it up to win over the crowd. » Sun.-Mon., starting at 9 p.m.; Tue. and Thu., at 6 p.m.; Wed. and Fri.-Sat., at 8 p.m. 10433 National Blvd., Palms, 310-837-5245. 

Girls’ Night Out
Sundays are fairly quiet, but on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights there are more inebriated coeds at the Brass Monkey than in a Girls Gone Wild video. Expect better-than-average people watching and the possibility that you’ll actually sound awesome to the teetering dancers. Play something anthemic from Tom Petty or Journey, and you’ll be a hit. » Mon.-Fri., starting at 4 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., at 8 p.m. 659 S. Mariposa Ave., Koreatown, 213-381-7047.

Newbie Nirvana
It’s so divey, you may feel the need to hold your breath at the Smog Cutter. Don’t. The shy or uninitiated find it less intimidating to try out their lungs here. There is no discernible stage: Singers are relegated to a darkened spot facing the backs of bar patrons, who glance over only occasionally. Song choices are mainly classic rock; one list had more Neil Diamond (43 tunes!) than Madonna (just 3). Tip the KJ (karaoke DJ) and you might move up on the wait list. » Nightly, starting at 9 p.m. 864 N. Virgil Ave., Los Feliz, 323-660-4626. 

Lost In Translation
With its Saturday Night Fever-meets-Blade Runner vibe, Palmtree L.A. offers a near-cinematic experience. Rent one of 20 plush private rooms ($20-$80 per hour), outfitted with video projectors and high-tech sound equipment. If you don’t want the pressure of rounding up unwilling friends, head to Karaoke Bleu for the same futuristic feel, a built-in crowd of bar patrons, and a large selection of Japanese and Korean numbers. Purchase a $6 drink for the chance to sing (if part of a group of three or less). » Palmtree L.A.: Nightly, starting at 5 p.m. 3240 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 401, Korea-town, 213-381-3388. Karaoke Bleu: Nightly, starting at 8 p.m. 2064 Sawtelle Blvd., West L.A., 310-477-4794. 

Be the Band
Nothing makes you feel more like a rock star than sliding up next to the guitarist at a live-band karaoke event. The guys in O FeeL YA will cover for your pitch or timing problems (you read off a lyric sheet instead of getting cues from a monitor). Their set list is Top 40, so plan on audience participation. The group bounces around from Arcadia to Santa Monica and every town and hood in between. » Go to for schedule.




ALSO: Read The New Rules of Singing in Public, Linda Immediato’s guide to the Dos and Don’ts of Karaoke