We sang in a bar located in a hotel basement in downtown DC. Tom, a friend since college, had called around to find a place within walking distance that looked promising for a night of karaoke. This one just happens to be considered one of the best dive bars in DC, and it’s smack in the middle of downtown — a weird contrast to the fancy roof top bar featuring a live Casanova band where we had our first drink.
We walked down some stairs and a weird hall. The bar itself was covered in off-white faux rock walls. The basement-tile ceiling was falling apart and full of water stains. The bar offered no cell service or wireless, but I manage to connect to Red Lion business center’s network.
There’s also no Olympics. Instead, the two large screen TVs show an NFL pre-season game and the CFL. That’s the Canadian Football League, folks. This bar is showing the Montreal Allouettes vs. the Edmonton Eskimos over women’s gymnastics and historic swimming moments by Michael Phelps and Simone Manuel. The KJ sits behind the first TV, barely visible to the crowd as he announces both the next singer and who’s on deck. The karaoke started at 7:30, and was well underway by the time we got there a tad after 8.
Within minutes of us getting there, someone gets up to sing Bohemian Rhapsody and invites anyone to join him, so I do; he seems perfectly content to have a stranger join him on the stage. He takes the lead then points to me when he wants me to sing, which is primarily during the high notes. The song is long, and complicated to the point that the singer refers to different parts as “chapters.” Rarely do I ever hear Bohemian Rhapsody sung in karaoke, and if I do it’s at 1am, not just after 8. And usually the crowd is less than enthusiastic to hear it. In fact, one KJ in Toronto I sung with a few years back had it on a list of songs that, in order to sing, you had to pay him $50. Other songs on that list included Paradise by the Dashboard Light and anything by Celine Dion.
My nachos were sub-par, but Dave’s gyro was pretty good – not surprising since the owner, who introduced himself to us as we sat down, is named Cos (I believe short for Cosmo). We get our food and eat in silence. It’s already too loud to talk, but then again we are all pretty hungry.
The KJ first comes out from his cave to sing I Just Called to Say I Love You. Later, he performs I’m Not in Love by 10cc – another song I don’t hear in karaoke probably due to its slow, plodding pace and oveall high cheese factor. The KJ is unapologetic with his choices and does an excellent job, though sadly he never whispers “Big boys don’t cry.”
Everyone here is a singer in spirit whether or not they take the stage. No one is taking things seriously, and many sing along from their chairs. The main focus at Recessions is to entertain and amuse more than to impress. There are some good singers, and some not-so-good, but all are here to have fun and bring others along with them. A tall, hefty white guy sings Gangnam Style in Korean, dancing around the stage the whole time. Then some guy – tall, long hair, 90lbs soaking wet, sings Major Tom and Tom runs up to the second mic to do the countdown. Pure entertainment, this seems like a place where people experiment with songs. Or perhaps the talent is just that mixed. For sure it’s not a serious place. A group of people get up to sing American Pie, the death song of all karaoke. And they don’t know it, except for the chorus. People sing from their chairs, but overall it’s a painful 8:31 (but who’s counting). Another person sings I’m On A Boat completely uncensored.
Our group swells to 10, as some from the rooftop bar join us for one more drink. That drink is a 28 oz beer named King Kong. They arrive just in time for me to sing What’s Up; I chose this song for here because although I knew I wasn’t going to repeat my Otters moment, I knew I could sing it with my complete self. This is a place where I feel safe not to hold back, not to care about what others think. I didn’t feel the need to choose a song to “fit in” with others. People sang along and swayed, just as they did with every other. A good chunk of the bar has left by the time we get up to sing Time Warp, but our group gets into it, sharing mics, distributing parts, and dancing along.
Toward the end of the evening, someone in my group tells the KJ what I’m up to and he calls me over behind the large TV (now just showing pre-season NFL news). He says, like the guy in Virginia, that I’m “Living the dream.” When he learns I’m from Oregon he says it’s an “honor” to meet someone from there, as it’s his dream to visit Eugene because he’s a huge Duck fan. His friend, and Indian guy with horn-rimmed glasses and a King Kong, thinks it’s funny that he loves Oregon so much and heckles him about it “You’re just so straight! Why would you want to go to Oregon?” The KJ doesn’t drink or smoke, so the friend says: “Why go to Oregon if you don’t do those things?” Still, I give the KJ my contact details and tell him to look me up if he ever makes it that far out west. He says he prays he does.
- Location: Recessions Bar and Grill, Washington DC
- Miles traveled: 182
- Songs sung: Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen), Rapture (Blondie), Don’t Go Breaking My Heard (Elton John & Kiki Dee), What’s Up (4 Non-Blondes), Time Warp (Rocky Horror Picture Show), I Touch Myself (The Divinyls)