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GOING OUT

Sing to me of the hot L.A. karaoke scenes

June 10, 2004|Leslie Gornstein | Special to The Times

The new Tokio restaurant in Hollywood offers everything a 2004 hipster wants: high-end sushi with ingredients like lobster and soft-shell crab; a sleek, loungy atmosphere; the satisfaction that comes with knowing you're hanging out at a place owned by top Hollywood executives; and karaoke.

Yes, karaoke.

No longer banished to the realm of dive bars and strip malls, karaoke caterwauling has blasted beyond the mere mainstream and into the realm of the downright fashionable. Fresh, funky takes on the art of singing pop songs to background music -- all the while sipping brand-name martinis or enjoying pricey European-style bottle service -- are popping up from West Hollywood to Koreatown. The trend, club owners say, comes from karaoke-loving celebrities eager to get a little pampering while they purr into the mikes.

At Tokio, for example, owners Paul Devitt (who runs the Star Shoes bar/retail shop next door) and "American Pie" producer Chris Weitz have made Sundays a "children's karaoke" day. Adult crooners get their own fix on Wednesday nights, when headliner Mayumi Kaneuki dons a traditional geisha costume and invites guests to step up to the karaoke mike. The twentysomething Japanese American chanteuse has an impressive specialty: switching back and forth between two languages during the same song.

"She'll do everything from Burt Bacharach's 'Do You Know the Way to San Jose' to 'Psycho Killer' by Talking Heads, part in English, part in Japanese," Devitt says.

And, of course, she gets others to get up and sing those kinds of songs too -- all while wearing a complicated kimono.

Kaneuki's Wednesday-night gig just started a few weeks ago, but the celebrities are already beginning to drift in. Added bonus: no cover. The hilarity starts at 9 p.m.

Those who choose not to trill with Kaneuki can instead nibble on the entrees, which start at $16, or stare at the celebrities who are sure to start stumbling into the place wearing the new shoes they got next door.

But the ultimate high-end karaoke experience may lie in Koreatown.

The newly refurbished Orchid restaurant has 18 private party rooms on its second floor, each outfitted with thousands of dollars' worth of imported karaoke technology, including multipanel TV displays, wireless remotes that can access more than 18,000 songs with the touch of a finger, microphones dangling from the ceiling -- even a camera that can capture the stylings of divas-in-training and plaster their likenesses on the screens behind them.

All that -- and a full-service alcohol menu, including flights of Crown Royal ($100) and Johnnie Walker Blue ($300).

"On the weekends, every single one of these rooms will be busy," manager Darryl Barrett Ng says. "We'll get 230 people up there."

The reason for all this extravagance? Again, credit -- or blame -- celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, who Barrett Ng says have brought karaoke up from its tacky 1980s roots.

"The reason we decided to do this is that I saw all these celebrities in New York going crazy for karaoke," Barrett Ng recalled. "The other reason we did it this way is that we're not in Hollywood, and celebrities here like that. They can come in here and they think people might not recognize them."

Have the stars come to shine on Orchid? Of course! Mena Suvari, Vince Vaughn and Giovanni Ribisi have all visited the upstairs rooms since the restaurant opened several months ago, Barrett Ng says.

Hmmm. Wonder what Gwyneth sounds like without auto-tune.

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Leslie Gornstein can be reached at weekend@latimes.com.

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Karaoke

Tokio

What: Sunday karaoke for kids and a more sophisticated opportunity for adult wannabes on Wednesday nights.

Where: 1640 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood

Info: (323) 464-2065

Orchid

What: An entire second floor of high-tech, private karaoke rooms.

Where: 3900 W. 6th St., Los Angeles

Info: (213) 251-8886

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