This long, cold, ice age of New York winter is finally starting to thaw (or so we keep telling ourselves), and not a moment too soon. We've gotten so stir crazy over the past couple of months, you might have caught us lip-syncing "Firework" on the elliptical —nailed it!–and our neighbors are definitely over hearing “Whoaaa we’re halfway there…” whenever we shower. With those rehearsals behind us, it’s time to debut our inner rock star at New York’s hottest karaoke spots. To get our A.I. on, we’ve surveyed venues ranging from private BYOB rooms to stages with live band backing to compile a list that's definitely not one-note. So, quit pulling up the lyrics to Bohemian Rhapsody on your iPhone and let our musical cheat-sheet guide you to the city’s best karaoke destinations—you'll be doing everyone a favor.
Click through for the top city spots to sing your heart out!
Above, U2 Karaoke
What’s the story: The crowds that fill this East Village staple seven nights a week know that singing like a rock star is only half the fun; you’ve got to drink like one too. The place oozes attitude, from its crimson walls and notorious zebra-print couches to a tatted-up bar staff that specializes in heavy pours of cheap liquor and domestic beer. We love that, instead of sending singers up on a stage, wireless mics are passed around for performances from anywhere in the room—after all, everyone sounds better with a bar-full of backup singers. Those with the stamina to hang until last call usually stumble out the front door and up Avenue A for a greasy slice, courtesy of Muzzarella Pizza.
Go here for: A night of sing-your-heart-out karaoke, with all the tacky, sloppy fun that could possibly entail.
Planet Rose, 219 Avenue A (near East 13th Street); 212-353-9500.
What’s the story: At first glance, we were tempted to write off this Upper East Side watering hole as just another divey, post-collegiate hangout. However, Iggy's devoted regulars convinced us to take a second look; Behind the ubiquitous trappings of Irish pub décor, this place is truly committed to providing its patrons with a good time. Good-natured bartenders joke with the admittedly frat-tastic crowd, coaxing performers onto a low platform stage where they rock out to selections from an extensive songbook. Iggy’s even hosts Rockband Contests on Wednesday and Sunday evenings with a $50 bar tab going to the winners. Keg stand anyone?
Go here for: A sure-to-be-fun evening of songs with an unapologetically undergrad-style crowd and a friendly staff dedicated to getting as many partiers as possible up on stage.
Iggy's at 1452 2nd Avenue (near East 76th Street); 212-327-3043.
What’s the story: Sharing its name with a band famous for some of rock-and-roll’s greatest tours and located on one of the city’s most vibrant blocks (come on, head shops and schwag stands can be vibrant), we expected something pretty extreme from U2 Karaoke. We were not disappointed. For guests looking to rock in seclusion, private booths are available complete with deep couches and even deeper songbooks. Songs are selected from a console that looks like something out of 2001 A Space Odyssey with lyrics displayed on individual HDTV screens. And for those who prefer to put their talents on display, the front lounge offers the same massive selection of discography paired with an intense sound system blasting away as your public watches on.
Go here for: A setting as outrageous as your rendition of "Don’t Stop Believing."
U2 Karaoke at 6 St. Marks Place (near 3rd Avenue); 212-228-6250.
Above: A wannabe singer belting it out at Arlene's.
Live Band Karaoke
What's the story: There is definitely something to the traditional karaoke experience. Lyrics scrolling across a screen for the whole crowd to see, the variety of genres and enormous selection of songs— In one night you can go from Axl Rose to Jay-Z. But sometimes, even the sensation of belting one out in front of a bar-full of strangers isn’t enough. If you seriously want to feel like a rock star, you need a real backing band. Next time you get the itch, we recommend you stop by one of these destinations:
Hill Country Barbeque: The Rock ‘N Twang Live Band Karaoke Showdown takes place every Tuesday at this family-style barbeque joint and features backing from the Wicked Messengers, a group of country-fried rockers that get the music going and keep the crowd lively.
Arlene’s Grocery: This classic Lower East Side venue hosts live rock and roll karaoke every Monday at 10PM and Friday at midnight. Cheap drink specials get the crowd primed for your performance and the high-voltage backing band will make sure you are ready to rock.
Go here for: The ultimate realization of your front man fantasies.
Hill Country Barbecue, 30 West 26th Street (near 6th Avenue); 212-255-4544; Arlene's Grocery, 95 Stanton Street (near Orchard Street); 212-358-1633.
What's the story: If you've ever asked about Karaoke joints in the Big Apple, you've most likely been told: “You gotta go to K-Town.” It turns out there's a reason for the K love. With the most concentrated population of noraebang, or karaoke lounges in the city, this neighborhood is the epicenter of New York’s karaoke scene. The options are plentiful, with most offering a similar set of standard English-language songs with affordable prices. We love agopa, with inexpensive private rooms ($7 per person per hour), a legit song book, and BYOB – so cheap and so fun! Also don't miss J’z. A refined karaoke bar? Okay, that may be taking it a bit far. But with microphones passed around a crowd of mostly subdued regulars, J’z is perhaps the nicest house of song we came across. They even host live jazz on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Go here for: The full experience. Take advantage of living in New York and sample "international" nightlife in the shadow of the Empire State Building.
Gagopa , 28 West 32nd Street #3 (between 5thy and 6th avenues); 212-967-5353; J'z , 23 West 32nd Street (between 5thy and 6th avenues); 917-497-9474.
Opening image via Time