Clark County karaoke enthusiasts share their favorite locales

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter


photoSean Bowden, 26, K.J. (karaoke jockey) at Vancouver¿s BackAlley came up with the idea of Metal Mondays karaoke. In addition to offering heavy metal songs, he can put a metal twist even on sugary sweet pop songs.


How to overcome the fear of singing karaoke

Adele Glass, 54, of Vancouver enjoys karaoke but only as a spectator sport.

Glass regularly goes to Vancouver’s Out-A-Bounds Sports Bar & Grill and Jay’s Restaurant & Lounge to watch karaoke singers.

“I love to sing, but I’m still a little shy to sing,” Glass said.

Glass’ feelings about karaoke are common, but there are ways to overcome that fear.

First, remember the psychological benefits of karaoke, said Dr. Will Meek, lead psychologist at Counseling and Testing Services at Washington State University Vancouver.

“It can be very therapeutic to go up there and sing with very little judgment and to get applause,” Meek said. “It can help people build confidence.”

Make sure to do karaoke with supportive friends in a supportive atmosphere, Meek said.

“Go with a group of people who are going to be supportive of you, who are not going to be high pressure and are going to have fun,” he said.

Another way to overcome fear is to practice a song before performing it on stage, he said.

“I don’t like to roll in and just pick a song,” said Meek, who likes to do karaoke now and then. “I pick a song two weeks ahead of time. Then, you might see me in my car looking ridiculous practicing the harmony of a certain song. Then, when you’re on stage you don’t have to focus on reading the words (or remembering the tune); you can focus on having a good time and presenting it the way you want to.”

Drinking moderately can help erode inhibitions, but Meek cautioned to keep the drinking moderate and not to associate it with the karaoke.

Singing a duet or having a musical accompaniment can also put new performers at ease.

KJ Hollie Olson at Big Daddy’s OT offers a keyboard accompaniment.

Having someone play alongside you can help you feel that “you’re not alone up there,” Olson said.

— Paris Achen

Dick Hatfield of Washougal sings karaoke seven nights a week, hopscotching between several of Clark County’s karaoke offerings.

Two years ago, the 64-year-old was a karaoke novice. Now, he’s a county expert on where to sing, based on song selection, sound equipment, karaoke jockey and clientele.

Karaoke has become a staple of the American bar scene for young and old in the past 25 years and no less in Clark County. Nowadays, karaoke is as common a find as a pool table at the local bar. But like pool, karaoke isn’t often in the phone directory. Finding a place to sing can entail a hunt involving phone calls to bar and restaurant listings, asking friends or perusing for clues on websites such as There’s still risk of missing a swath of selections.

The Columbian asked readers to call in to tell us their favorite karaoke places and did some research to present readers with a list of most of the county’s karaoke attractions and some of their special offerings, from heavy metal karaoke with a side of mohawk at Vancouver’s BackAlley Bar and Grill to harmonica accompaniments at Cliff’s Tavern.

On a Wednesday night, Hatfield sipped a hot mug of brown tea before taking the stage at Big Daddy’s OT in Orchards, where he goes every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Despite karaoke’s link with bars, singing in front of audiences doesn’t have to involve alcohol consumption, Hatfield said.

“I don’t drink (alcohol),” he said. “I have tea.”

His performance of “Snap Your Fingers” had an unusual twist. Instead of playing a CD track, Big Daddy’s KJ (karaoke jockey) Hollie Olson, a professional musician, played the Ronnie Milsap country song on her keyboard for Hatfield, a service she also offers other karaoke singers. Olson said she can play songs by ear.

“It gives people the feeling of playing with a band,” she said.

At Cliff’s Tavern in Vancouver, where Hatfield goes on some Fridays and Saturdays, singers can opt for a live harmonica accompaniment.

Applause at Big Daddy’s can sometimes be limited. Many customers are too absorbed in conversations, pool matches, video games or their mug of beer to applaud performers.

Karaoke singing contests are offered periodically at Big Daddy’s. Winners have been featured in the bar’s online commercials.

While belting out country songs on Big Daddy’s stage bedecked with American flags, it may be easy to forget that karaoke is a Japanese invention. The word means “empty orchestra” in Japanese, according to Karaoke Scene Magazine Online. It started out as a form of entertainment and stress relief for Kobe business people around a time of economic boom in the 1980s.

Screaming an Iron Maiden song may be a good option for blowing off steam. Among the county’s karaoke offerings is BackAlley Bar and Grill’s Metal Mondays in Vancouver, a night of karaoke that includes a KJ with a mohawk, Sean Bowden, heavy metal songs, heavy metal twists on pop songs and a constellation of green LED lights from a disco ball.

Bowden, a member of Vancouver heavy metal band Simon Says Die, came up with the theme to help bring in new customers and to highlight some local bands. He plays tracks from local heavy metal bands in between karaoke sets. If the audience approves, the bands may be invited to perform at the venue on another night.

“I showed up on the very first Metal Monday (about a year ago) to play pool,” said Metal Monday regular Tyler George, 22, of Vancouver. “I was excited about the concept. Nobody does that.”

Each week, George and Bowden demonstrate how any song, even “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” by the Backstreet Boys, can be transformed into heavy metal.

Mother of three Gayle Tucker, 26, of Washougal said Metal Mondays are a great way to relieve some of the stresses of motherhood.

“Everybody loves attention,” Tucker said. “And I’m a pretty good singer. I have three boys at home. I don’t get to go out often, and when I do, I like to take advantage and live in the moment.”

For those attracted to the novelty of a theme, the Irishtown Public House is another choice. The pub has a selection of all genres of karaoke music but also has Irish songs in its repertoire.

In addition to Big Daddy’s Olson’s karaoke jam talents, the KJ received good reviews for not accepting “bribes” to allow singers to cut in line.

“She puts you right in rotation,” said Amanda Fielding, 25, of Vancouver. “She has thousands of songs. If she doesn’t have it, she’ll get it.”

Charles Trimble of Vancouver gave Jay’s Restaurant & Lounge, QuarterDeck Bar and Legends Food & Fun, all of Vancouver, good reviews for their up-to-date song selection.

“I like the acoustics of the room (at Jay’s) because some songs you don’t need a microphone,” Trimble said.

Adele Glass, 54, of Vancouver likes its “hometown” feel of sitting in a “really big living room.”

Dozens of people called to gush over the karaoke at the Vancouver Elks Lodge, led by KJ Benny Osanoma, better known as “Mr. Grooves.” Osanoma sometimes dresses up in costumes, infuses the show with a dose of humor and promises to “make you a star.”

“I’ve been singing for over 10 years, and he is by far the best karaoke host I’ve ever met or dealt with,” said Elaine Gray of Vancouver.

The Elks Lodge, however, is members only. Membership is $133 per year. Newcomers can try out the place for free if a member invites them.

Customers at Chronis’ Restaurant & Lounge give the longtime downtown Vancouver establishment high marks for friendliness. For those with stage fright who need a supportive atmosphere this one is a great choice, they said.

“It’s like the Cheers of Vancouver, ‘where everyone knows your name,’ and no one cares where you came from,” said Chronis’ regular Kim Ruggiero, 48, of Vancouver. “They welcome you with open arms.”

The nightclub attracts a notable cast of regulars who keep up a lively banter with KJ Birdie. She and her followers encourage newcomers to sing, engage them in conversation and lavish praise when they are brave enough to go on stage.

Social support and applause are part of the reason researchers have found karaoke can boost cardiovascular health, according to 2009 study by Ehime University in Japan. The breathing involved in singing and moderate drinking add to those health benefits.

That may help explain why Hatfield of Washougal said he chooses karaoke places primarily because of the people who go there.

“If I’m not pleased with the people, I don’t go back,” Hatfield said.

Clark County karaoke hot spots

3 Monkeys Pub, 7917 N.E. Highway 99, Vancouver, 9 p.m.-1 a.m. Wednesday and Thursday.

Atrium, 606 Broadway, Vancouver, 9 p.m.-midnight Monday and Wednesday.

BackAlley Bar and Grill, 6503 E. Mill Plain Blvd., Vancouver, 9:45 p.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Thursday, 8:45 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday-Saturday.

Big Daddy’s OT, 10514 N.E. Fourth Plain Blvd., Vancouver, 9 p.m.-12:30 a.m. Tuesday-Thursday.

Big Foot Inn, 105 Pendleton Way, Washougal, 6-11 p.m. Sunday.

Boomers Sports Bar & Grill, 611 Main St., Vancouver, 9 p.m.-midnight Friday, 4-8 p.m. Sunday.

Cascade Springs Restaurant, 516 S.E. Chkalov Drive, Vancouver, 8 p.m.-midnight Sundays.

Caspers Corner Sports Bar, 7225 N.E. Fourth Plain Blvd., Vancouver, 9:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m. Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday.

Chronis’ Restaurant & Lounge, 819 Main St., 9 p.m.-1 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

Cliff’s Tavern, 8614 N.E. St. Johns Road, Vancouver, 9 p.m.-close Friday and Saturday.

Firstenburg Community Center (50 & Better Senior Activities) Loaves and Fishes lunch room, 700 N.E. 136th Ave., Vancouver, 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. every first Thursday.

Husted’s Hazel Dell Lanes, Cedar Room Lounge, 6300 N.E. Highway 99, Vancouver, 8:30-11 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday.

Ice House Bar & Grill, 7804 N.E. Highway 99, Vancouver, 9 p.m.-close Tuesday-Saturday.

Irishtown Public House, 11600 S.E. Mill Plain Blvd., Vancouver, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., 5-8 p.m. Friday.

Jay’s Restaurant & Lounge, 5620 N.E. Gher Road, Vancouver, 8 p.m.-12:30 a.m. Monday-Thursday, 8 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday-Saturday.

Legends Food & Fun, 7005 N.E. Highway 99, Vancouver, 9 p.m.-2 a.m. daily.

Lindo Mexico, 316 S.E. 123rd Ave., Vancouver, 9 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

Malibu, 115 E. Seventh St., Vancouver, 8:30 p.m.-2 a.m. Sunday and Monday.

Out-A-Bounds Sports Bar & Grill, 14415 S.E. Mill Plain Blvd., Vancouver, 9 p.m.-1 a.m. daily.

QuarterDeck Bar, 4300 E. Fourth Plain Blvd., Vancouver, 9 p.m.-1:30 a.m. Wednesday-Sunday.

Silver Star Saloon, 6718 N.E. Fourth Plain Blvd., Vancouver, 5 p.m.-midnight Monday and Tuesday, 9 p.m.-2 a.m. Wednesday-Sunday.

Sportman’s Grill, 174 N. Main., Ridgefield, 9 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

Vancouver Elks Lodge No. 823, 11605 S.E. McGillivray Blvd., Vancouver, 7-11 p.m. Thursday, 8-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, membership required except for members’ guests. Membership is $133 annually.

The Zoo-Vancouver, 9310 N.E. 76th St., Vancouver, 8 p.m.-midnight Sunday-Wednesday, 9 p.m.-1:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

If you know another Clark County karaoke place not on this list, call 360-735-4551 to add it to The Columbian’s online database.

Source: Columbian research and reader feedback

Karaoke in Clark County