New York's First Japanese Speakeasy Restaurant is a Hidden Gem
Air Park is sleek and modern, with soft blue lights and bright orange and red seating, and they have a great selection of English and Asian songs accessible by a touch-screen catalog (no yellowing, cocktail-sticky songbooks here). These guys also offer up some requisite liquid courage before your big debut: delicious cocktails, colorful shots, and great happy hour drink specials (including $5 Jameson) that actually go pretty late -- until 9pm during the week, and 8pm on Friday and Saturday. Another plus, it’s BYOF (bring your own food), so you can bring takeout with which to soak up some of that booze. If you enjoy being in the spotlight in front of strangers, hit up the bar area, where you can sing for free, or you can rent rooms sized for your particular karaoke posse. The private rooms have comfy couches and receive great service from the waitstaff who check in regularly... so you’ll never go thirsty.
Duck Butt may be better known for its delectable flavored sojus than its music, but this place is actually a great spot to test out your public karaoke chops. First of all, it’s dark and somewhat dive-y, which can help conceal exactly who is singing into the mic -- a bonus for the bashful. Plus, the crowd is usually loud and not super paying attention to other groups, so you don't have to be ashamed to give high notes a try. Private karaoke rooms are free (make reservations!), but bring cash for $1/song. Come during happy hour, which is daily from 5-8pm -- these guys offer up some seriously good food and drink specials at different price points, like $5 fried mandoo, $7 mochiko chicken, and $9 poke, as well as a wide variety of flavored soju pitchers for just $13 -- priced down from $20. Try the coffee soju, it's like a mocha that's been kicked up a notch (or 10).
Wang Chung’s is seriously one of the only reasons I’ll ever venture into Waikiki. Why? Their great bartenders are friendly, dress really sharp, and they pour one hell of a drink. No hiding in a private room here, but it’s all good -- the crowd isn't the booing type, and will sing along with you. The song selection process is only half digital -- you look up the song list online, but fill out the song number, your name, and the song name on the slip of paper, for $1/song. Wang Chung’s has a super-fun and positive ambiance, and is also a great people-watching destination. Plus, they do some fun theme nights -- from wine & paint nights to Pokémon Go-themed food.
The name says it all -- 9th Avenue Rock House is all about karaoking to rock, so if your go-to is more Joan Jett than Barbra Streisand, welcome home. It’s a small bar, but is super-chill and has a fun and supportive clientele base, that often is comprised of regular patrons. It’s $1/song, so check it out if you wanna rock 'n' roll all night (and party every day).
Hawaii Voice KTV is relatively new to the Honolulu karaoke scene, but it sure sets the bar high. The upscale lounge is dimly lit, yet sophisticated, and feels like a place to see and be seen. This spot has -- hands down -- the most well-designed private rooms on the island. They're squeaky clean, spacious, and are creatively decorated with different fun, surprisingly not-super-kitschy themes for each room. The sound system is on point, songs are easy to find via the touch screen search, and the original music videos are actually shown, which is fun to watch -- and hardly ever an option at most karaoke places. The hourly room rental rates are a little pricey (a medium-sized room's hourly weekend rate is $65, although you can rent it out for from 8pm to 2am for $200) but this spot is well worth it for special occasions, or just when you want to feel oh-so-fancy.
This super-casual karaoke venue also has amazing, reasonably priced food. Seriously, the food here is incredible -- go for "The Works" fried rice, which combines rice with salty lup cheong, bacon, and Portuguese sausage, smoky char siu, and kimchi -- it's delicious, and the portions are huge. Alternatively, go for their famous pan-fried pork chops -- crisp, juicy, salty, and incredible. The benefit of all this great food -- aside from the obvious -- is that people are too distracted to care if you're off-key.
The dress code and decor at Nocturna lend it a swanky vibe, and this place combines video games like Guitar Hero and karaoke, so this place is pretty much the best karaoke date night around. The lounge area has free karaoke until 9pm, and the price ups to $2/song after that. Alternatively, there are several private rooms available to rent which are clean, modern, and roomy, so the general public doesn’t have to bear witness to your secret obsession with the Biebs. If you want snacks, you'll need to bring your own -- Nocturna only serves drinks -- but that's just a great excuse to pack a little romantic karaoke picnic.
Don’t judge a book by its cover: Toma’s may not be as flashy and new as some of the other places on this list, but it's still such a good option for private karaoke room rentals. If you can get past minor issues like a tiny parking lot and get down with the divey ambiance and worn couches, you'll get to enjoy a super-cheap night out -- at Toma, you bring both your own food and drinks. Also, the owners are really nice and provide buckets of ice if you ask. The more you know!