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Hitting High Note at Karaoke Hot Spot


Whatever you do at Presidente, do not mention El Torito, the other karaoke joint in town, unless you're ready for a fight.

"This is the hottest spot for karaoke in this area," boasts Rudy Ortiz, the supervisor at Presidente, a Mexican restaurant in Northridge that features karaoke every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in a club-like atmosphere. "You know, El Torito closes before we do, and all their people come here."

THE SCENE: The lights dim at 8:45 p.m. as songbooks are passed around by the personable host, Donnie Sorapuru. A big-screen TV behind the karaoke machine has ESPN on for now, but it will soon be illuminated with those hokey videos that accompany the lyrics to songs chosen by participants. The dinner crowd gradually gives way to raucous twentysomethings who settle in for drinks and the impending amusement of watching their friends embarrass themselves.

THE CROWD: Once the dinner patrons leave, suddenly Presidente becomes a quasi-meat market. Women and men come in groups of four or more, dressed to impress in the casual club attire of tight T-shirts and jeans. Students from nearby Cal State Northridge seem to dominate the room, flirting and socializing. The atmosphere has to do with the patrons' chumminess, not the karaoke singer.

THE KARAOKE: The songbook offers an extensive selection of Top 40, R & B, gospel and Spanish-language songs, yet karaoke participants seem to favor crooning such old standards as "My Way" and "Cat's in the Cradle"--to a lukewarm response. Then, as if the food-mart scene from the movie "Reality Bites" has come to life, someone chooses "My Sharona" by the Knack, and conversations stop and yelps of encouragement are heard. This sudden burst of energy lasts the rest of the night.

THE GOOD: Sorapuru brings a lot of enthusiasm to his karaoke, working the room to encourage participation. He's not too shabby a singer either, filling the gaps with his renditions of Marvin Gaye and Barry White classics.

THE BAD: There are several regulars who would be stunned if they were told they couldn't sing. People have to endure these eager beavers. But then, it is karaoke.

THE WORD: "Who just said El Torito?" a patron asks, suddenly raising her head and searching the room.

Presidente, 18441 Devonshire St., Northridge. Karaoke from 9 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday, live music from 9 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Information: (818) 368-3658.

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