Raise Your Voice

Raise Your VoiceRaise Your VoiceRaise Your VoiceRaise Your VoiceRaise Your Voice

S ing along if you like:

Walking down Crown Street, south of the green,
your ears catch a tune drifted over on a breeze.

The song—pretty epic, thanks to trumpets and trombones—

leads you to a sign with a neon microphone.
Past the mic’s a hallway, long, brick and white,
ending at a phone booth and a room with low light.
Then down a sloped pass, with red phones on the wall,

there’s a place with one rule: “Just give it your all.”

There’s actually more than one rule at Karaoke Heroes, a wonderfully strange and strangely wonderful establishment melding singing, drinking and superhero/comic book theming (hence the phone booth and red phones, among many other touches). But “give it your all” seems to be the biggest, so big that it need not be spoken. In the main room (pictured first)—distinct from the club’s private rooms, where karaoke happens on a more intimate scale (pictured second)—some very normal-looking people go absolutely nuts when it’s their turn at the cordless mic. Singing their hearts out, they often dance—nay, strut, engaging onlookers via displays of showmanship.

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Buon Natale at Knights of Columbus Museum

And the onlookers frequently abide. This is a place where strangers give other strangers a hero’s welcome, and where a well-performed key change, particularly over a held note, is liable to bring the crowd to its feet. That’s what happened two Saturdays ago, when a talented fellow in his late 20s or 30s sang “Good Morning Baltimore,” the opening track from Hairspray.

This past Saturday, a performance of Journey’s ever-popular “Don’t Stop Believin’” also got the job done. What started as a regular performance ended as a wild free-for-all, with at least 25 people on their feet in the middle of the floor, singing along and dancing together. During the solo break at the end, one guy appropriated his friend’s leg and used it for an air guitar. Later, two twentysomethings, jumping up from a cluster of six or seven friends, duetted a spirited rendition of Electric Six’s hilariously frank “Gay Bar,” which they’d choreographed to great amusement.

In my experience, the communal rooms of karaoke bars in New York City—where a Yelp search returns a whopping 154 venues categorized that way, six or seven of which I’ve experienced firsthand—aren’t like this. They can’t match KH’s culture of instant camaraderie and spontaneous abandon.

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Project Storefronts Holiday Mart

So what’s so special about Karaoke Heroes? It’s tempting to point to the fact that the club, as Connecticut’s only dedicated karaoke bar, is the only outlet of its kind for the state’s amateur singing and performance talent, concentrating that mojo all in one place.

It’s also tempting to point to the impressively high standards the place keeps. In the main room, which still looks as good as new, the song selection is virtually limitless, supported by a cloud service that can make even very odd song requests manageable. The audio experience, meanwhile, is brilliant, with highs and lows coming in clean and easy, even at a strong master volume.

And the bar area over yonder is tricked out with gadgets and gizmos, from a touch-sensitive light panel atop the bar to a magnetic beer tap that “pours” beer from the bottom up. The themed cocktail menu is a nice touch, too, featuring drinks named after superpowers. The Telekinesis, pictured third, which general manager Meghan Boudreau says is a crowd favorite, is made from Midori melon liqueur, Three Olives grape vodka and a touch of pineapple juice, which explains why it’s both electric green and tastes like grape soda.

Ultimately, though, credit must go to the showrunners. Founder Andy Lebwohl, who’s been karaoke-ing since grade school, and whose wife, Carly, handles the club’s marketing, adores the format enough to suffuse the whole business with passion. “I just love karaoke, and it was always my deepest fantasy to start a karaoke bar,” he says. As a bankruptcy lawyer in New York from 2007 to 2010, “when the world was falling apart,” he would sometimes work until midnight, then head to a bar to sing some of the stress away. For him, karaoke is much more than an occasional fun night out; it’s a lifestyle, a way of being. He likes how inclusive it is, noting that it’s “the kind of thing you can go and do alone without needing to apologize for it,” offering a genuine chance to “put yourself out there.”

Lebwohl wants to give that gift to as many people as possible, and that’s exactly how it’s worked out. The past two Saturday nights, the crowd was surprisingly varied. “It’s very, very, very diverse,” Boudreau says, attracting people in their 20s and their 60s, “from all walks of life, races, sexual orientations.” Lebwohl notes that people even travel from Rhode Island and western Massachusetts to get that good karaoke fix. “We probably have the most diverse crowd in New Haven,” he says with a hint of pride.

Who would’ve guessed that a comic book-themed karaoke bar would be a pop hit?

Karaoke Heroes
212 Crown Street, New Haven (map)
Tues-Thurs, Sun 7pm-1am, Fri-Sat 7pm-2am
(203) 848-8854
www.karaokeheroes.net

Written and photographed by Dan Mims.

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Dan has worked for a couple of major media companies, but he likes Daily Nutmeg best. As DN’s editor, he writes, photographs, edits and otherwise shepherds ideas into fully realized feature stories, helped in no small part by a small team of dedicated contributors.

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