A friend of mine once said, "Nobody wins at karaoke." The people singing are either so nervous or liquored up they can hardly stay in tune. Or they're regulars and end up overdoing it, American-Idol style and forcing the audience to commend their reeking insecurity.
Or they're just really, really bad. My friend's theory was that and because of this neither the audience nor the performers get any joy from it in the end.
I beg to differ. The point of karaoke isn't skill, getting the words right or even winning a contest. The point of karaoke is that it's free, fun and a chance to face your fears or embarrass your friends.
In my book there's almost no other nightlife activity that encompasses entertainment, hilarity and long-lasting memories in quite the same way. It's not high culture, it's de rigueur. Karaoke has created a culture of its own.
This is a general roundup of the best and worst karaoke places in Anchorage and beyond. There's one important fact you have to remember -- it's all about location. It's about the person behind the curtain, handing you the mike and moving your song ticket up the line or tossing it into the trash.
Also some more pertinent rules that have nothing to do with your penchant for Heart or Vanilla Ice. True purists will remind you that the pronunciation is actually "karah-oh-kay." Most of us don't care. If you see bills or a tip jar near the music master's station, you should tip them when you hand in your ticket if you want to sing.
Tipping ensures they remember you, and will possibly even hold your song back if you take a bathroom break or move it up if someone else does. It also lets them know you aren't so intoxicated you're more likely to hurl on their shoes than remember the words to "Baby One More Time."
Also while you may want a few vodka tonics to combat stage fright, be wary. Alcohol relaxes the muscles but it also tends to dry out your vocal chords -- which work better when wet.
• Visit Jessica Bowman's Lush Life blog at play.adn.com/lushlife.
Karaoke hot spots
Al's Alaskan Inn
Location: 7830 Old Seward Highway
Phone: 344-6223 Karaoke
Hours: Every night from 8 p.m. to close
Pros: There are two bars literally perpendicular to the stage, the song list is the most extensive I've seen, and the setup is less intimidating than most for first-timers.
Cons: It's Al's, and sometimes it's a little crazy. On the weekends there can be so many singers that you'll end up fighting your way through the crowd to get on stage, waiting an hour or more for your turn, or inevitably singing the same song someone else sang 15 minutes ago.
Price: If there's a band, the cover is $5. If not, it's free to watch and sing.
Location: 7828 Old Seward Highway
Phone: 349-1125 Karaoke
Hours: Every night from 9 p.m. to close.
Pros: Chinese food is very, very good after a few cocktails, and you can order it right from the bar. During the week there is nearly no wait between songs if you want to prep your pipes, and vixen bartender Heather treats every customer like they're an old friend. If you're a smoker, the shed behind the bar is a veritable oasis, complete with chaise lounges and sweet fake plants.
Cons: Sometimes the crowd is a little thin, so if you're looking for fans head down on the weekends.
Price: It's free to watch and free to sing.
Location: 535 W. Third Ave.
Karaoke hours: Every night from 8 p.m. to close
Pros: The Shed is the ultimate karaoke spot. The entire upstairs bar is around the stage, which can also be a con, because it's tough to get away
Cons: There are always a few regulars in the mix waiting to show you up by singing five to 15 of their Top 40 favorites, which can get annoying. There was a shooting near the Hilton in November, but operations manager Rob Lecrone said security is on top of things at the downtown haunt, and revelers needn't be wary of letting loose. The dance floor downstairs was reopened, a pool table is coming into the back room, and a new improvisational troupe ("Off the Cuff") is gearing up for monthly shows.
Price: The Shed has dropped it's weekend cover charge. Now, it's all free.
Other Anchorage spots to rock
Location: 2435 Spenard Road
Phone: 272-1010 Karaoke
Hours: From 10 p.m. to close, Thursday-Saturday in the Beach Bungalow (next to the Birdhouse)
Location: 530 E. Fifth Ave.
Phone: 276-9762 Karaoke
Hours: 8 p.m. to close Tuesdays and Thursdays, and hosted by Paige from 10 p.m. to close on Saturdays.
Location: 3717 Minnesota Drive 562-2695 Karaoke
Hours: From 9:30 p.m. to close on Wednesdays (sing a song and get a free game!). VFW Post 9981
Location: 9191 Old Seward Highway
Phone: 349-1671 Karaoke
Hours: Recently I made a friend who said that his VFW had karaoke available Thursday through Saturday and Mondays after 9 p.m. Usually guests have to be signed in, but Don assured me that it wouldn't be a problem. Especially if it's a group of women looking for some free singing (sorry, guys).
If you're traveling to the Matanuska Valley, don't despair. There are cheesy '80s songs and pop ballads to be sung outside the Anchorage city limits as well.
Tailgaters Sports Bar & Grill
Location: 161 W. Parks Highway, Wasilla
Phone: 376-1314 Karaoke
Hours: Every day of the week from 8:30 p.m. to close.
Location: 1850 E. Bogard Road, Wasilla
Phone: 376-3228 Karaoke
Hours: Thursdays from 8 p.m. to close.
A culture of its own