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Club Scene : Hitting the High Notes as Well as the Low

August 26, 1994|CHERIE SAUNDERS

Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays are karaoke nights at El Torito Restaurant and Cantina in Northridge, but you'd think it was a Friday night kegger on fraternity row.

THE SCENE: The bar area fills up quickly Monday nights with what seems like the entire Greek-letter population of nearby Cal State Northridge. "This is the only place in the Valley happening on Mondays," explained Julie Leach, 21, of Chatsworth after belting out Bette Midler's "The Rose." There's no stage, so participants stand by the karaoke machine up front and sing songs chosen from a menu of rock, rap, country, R & B and even Christmas fare as a monitor scrolls the lyrics. The words also scroll on two hanging TV monitors and two large screens on either side of the bar area.

THE CROWD: Some work the room in dance club attire: baby-doll dresses for the women, T-shirts and vests for the guys. But the majority of both sexes are content to just kick back in their Greek T-shirts, tank tops, shorts and sneakers. About 120 people filled every seat by 10:15 p.m., yet a waitress warned, "This is not as crowded as it gets."

THE KARAOKE: The first several songs chosen, among them, "If the Devil Danced in Empty Pockets," "Holding Back the Years" and "Can't Help Falling in Love," could not compete with the loud banter of the crowd and their margaritas. It wasn't until Kevin Tice, 22, of Calabasas sang a vein-popping rendition of Guns N' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle" that the crowd began to loosen up, start to "yee-ha" and sing along from their seats. Then again, the margaritas could've kicked in.

THE GOOD: "Everyone from CSUN comes here," said Todd Brown, 21, of Woodland Hills. "It's local, fun, and there's loud music." Has he ever participated in the karaoke? "Naah, my voice sucks," he said. "I've got my pride."

THE BAD: First-timers are shown no mercy. This crowd howled like ailing dogs during one woman's off-key and off-the-beat rendition of "When Doves Cry," by "the artist formerly known as Prince." In stepped Dianne, the karaoke night host, after two grueling minutes to help her find a key, any key. After the woman went back to her seat in mid-song, the wireless mike was passed to crowd favorite Kevin Tice, who saved it by performing a rousing Axl Rose-esque version, accented with the rocker's famous side-to-side dance. Tice said, "They need to build a stage because people can't see you performing."

THE WORD: "A quiet, shy boy, isn't he?" said Dianne into the mike after one of Tice's eardrum-shattering performances.

El Torito, 8855 Tampa Ave., Northridge, serves food from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, till midnight Fridays, 9 a.m. to midnight Saturdays and 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays. Karaoke begins at 9 p.m. Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays. The bar closes at 1:30 a.m. Information: (818) 349-1607.

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