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All quiet—and hopping—at Ken's Karaoke

All quiet—and hopping—at Ken's Karaoke

This summer, it seems to rain just about every Wednesday. Movies in the Park suffered from regular downpours, and when it rained both the first and second weeks of the Uptown Mix outdoor concert series, the weather pattern began to seem downright uncanny. Still, sprinkles, showers or rain delays haven't kept people away from the parking lot at 20th and Division, which is always packed with crowds ready to dance, sing along and party.

When the concert is over, or if the rain starts to really pour, people can conveniently dash over to Chu, South Street, The Red Door, Patrick's, Virago or any number of other bars and restaurants. When trying to decide where to go after an Uptown Mix show a few weeks ago, I stopped in front of one of the less likely options—Ken's Karaoke Box. I've passed by this place a million times, but it always seemed so quiet that I never went in. It was just past 11 on a Wednesday evening, and Ken's was as inaudible as ever. Inside, the place looked empty, except for owner Kenji Ohno (a.k.a. Ken, also the owner of Ken's Japanese, just down the street).

"Um, do you guys have karaoke?" I asked, looking around.

"Of course!" Ken said buoyantly, his eyes sparkling. "Are you ready to do karaoke right now?" It must have been clear that my soon-to-be-husband and I weren't quite ready to rock the mic. "Maybe you want to use a private room upstairs?" the proprietor offered. Ken's Karaoke Box is situated in a two-story house, and its previous incarnation was a notorious gentlemen's spot called Private Dancer, so it makes sense that there'd be "private rooms" somewhere.

We followed Ken up the stairs and into two surprisingly plush, private karaoke rooms—each complete with pleather couches, expansive coffee tables, extra seating and big-screen TVs. Another room was occupied by a bunch of longhaired rockers in the standard issue of jeans, black boots and metal-band tees, while a fourth room was still under construction. One of the rocker guys was obviously singing his heart out, but the glass door was closed; thanks to the deluxe soundproofing, it was stone-cold quiet in the hallway.

You think your TV/DVD/TIVO remote is complicated? The hefty Karaoke Box remotes are all in Japanese. Ken adequately explained how to use the system, but we still had to sit through five hilarious minutes of a Japanese Spy Kids-meets-Murder, She Wrote set to music before we got the hang of it. Then we couldn't stop laughing at the incidental imagery that accompanies each song. Black-and-white war footage played behind our Guns N' Roses track, and colorful sailboats in Caribbean-blue water accompanied the angry words of the Sex Pistols. The English language song list isn't as expansive as at other local karaoke bars, and country songs are few and far between.

Still, an hour-and-a-half and several Asahis later, we were singing ourselves silly when there came a knock at our door. In came three confused, clean-cut guys and allayed their fears that Ken's was indeed "legit."

"Well," said one guy, "it is kinda weird. We come in, it's totally empty, and then this guy says, 'Oh, you want to do karaoke? I'll show you to a room upstairs.' We thought that 'karaoke' might be code for something else." True, the place had seemed mildly creepy at first, but the excellent soundproofing keeps Ken's in a constant state of hush.

Recently, we decided to book the poshest room for a Saturday get-together. Thank goodness we made a reservation. There were two other large parties that night, which was evident more from th number of people milling about than the noise. Occasionally, the glass doors of a private room would open, allowing the sound of laughter, drunken crooning and a tambourine to spill out. As one of my girlfriends stretched out on a couch, her eyes trailed up the wall and stopped at a very small video camera—a vestige of the Private Dancer days. "This place is still one step up from shady," she laughed, meaning it in the best possible way.

Correction

I made a mistake in last week's column when I wrote that the Ideaprov troupe acted out a skit called "The Chinese Man of Hurricanes." The skit was in fact called "The Chicken Man of Hurricanes" and in no way meant to reflect any ethnic slurs.

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