Friday, October 20, 2006

Karaoke Review: Echo Karaoke Box

October 13th, 2006

After realizing my karaoke box section was sorely lacking I decided to try out a place that I often passed on my way to see clients. The Echo karaoke box is located on the 2nd floor of the mall at Spadina and Bloor on the Southwest corner. You can't miss the flashy sign that says "ECHO". I invited a Chinese speaking to come along with me just in case as many places in this area have questionable English and my Chinese is almost non-existent. You never know, right?

The Good: The pricing was unusual for me at least in North America. This place is membership based. The price per hour is by far the best thing going for this place as well as location. The pricing is as follows:

Monday - Thursday 3 PM - 8:45 PM $7 per person
Friday 3 PM - 8:45 PM $9 per person

9 PM - 3 AM Weekdays: Small room (1-5) people : $35 - $50
Medium room (5-8) people: $60 - $100
Large Room(10-15) people: $120
Party Room(20+) people : $120 - $180

9 PM - 3 AM Weekends: Small room (1-5) people : $55 - $90
Medium room (5-8) people: $120 - $180
Large Room(10-15) people: $200
Party Room(20+) people : $240 - $320

These are flat rates for the entire evening you are there between the times
posted. It has the potential to be very cheap per hour. Best time is probably Friday
nights before 9 PM. After that I calculate the pricing to be average. There are a few
thing you need to know about the pricing they don't tell you but I'll come to that in the next section

The Bad: Now we come to the fun part. While I indicated the pricing is good for Weekdays and average on Weekends there are a few hidden details. First, its subscription based. Its $20 per year for 1 year membership. If on one in your group has one its an additional $5 per person. (Why is it that people from outside Canada see fit to leave out these details in writing?) They have food there but the quality was mediocre at best and the prices on this food were almost double what I would pay at XO. Beef Chow Mein was $12 for a serving fit for one person while at XO I get 2-3 times the amount and better quality food for $10. Oh they also charged a $3 service fee as well which XO doesn't do. I guess this is why a Chinese bunch leaving at the same time I arrived and went for dinner elsewhere. The equipment doesn't get any better. The system is pure cheap midi controlled by a computer (not even MPEG). There were no books, which made selection awkward and the selection of English songs was barely passable at 3200. My Chinese friend told me they had a decent amount of Chinese songs but I didn't get a count. Around double the English songs (which is still pretty small) The speakers were of very low grade, the microphones even lower (have to work to sound decent) and there is no transposition at all. Small rooms are VERY cramped. As for as communication with the staff my fears were justified. The staff there including the manager there could barely speak English. They didn't even understand the word "pitch" when I asked about whether I could transpose the music or not (my Chinese friend eventually translated to Mandarin for me) and there are no written instructions anywhere (not even in Chinese) except the screens and they were minimal at best. Watch out if you decide to get membership here because they ask you for ID and may "offer" to hold on to it while you are in the room. My first thought of course was "potential identity theft" so I made to process the membership card in my presence and took my idea when done. They could have easily asked me to fill out a from. I could be wrong but something felt shady about the whole thing as no one should require Government ID unless its part of government regulation, let alone keep for a few hours at any karaoke place. This was the most unprofessional and suspect karaoke box I have ever been to and I felt I'd better watch my credit card and bank activity for the next few months.

The mixed: The rooms were clean in and in good order but rooms looked small compared to other boxes I've been to.

Summary: If you are looking for a place near Chinatown and you want to sing cheap come here on a Friday but be warned. If you don't have a friend who has membership (which I do now) and you want to come more than once, insist that you give them membership information on paper or on a form and DO NOT give them ANY ID with private information like Social Insurance, Driver's License or Bank information. If they refuse to accept this, go somewhere else. Identity Theft is on the rise and these people should know better, especially for what amounts to a low grade karaoke box. Keeping one's government ID for long period is simply unacceptable. Period. If you can get past all I've said and want cheap fees on weekdays with limited selection and no transposition and cheap equipment the location is convenient enough and the price is right. Otherwise there are MANY other places out there which I will be reviewing shortly.

Summary Scores:
Facilities: 7.0 (Small rooms are really small but rooms are in good order)
Equipment: 6.0 (cheap speakers, poor initial levels, cheap mikes and no transposition)
Location: 8.0 (parking may be a little out of the way but easy access by streetcar)
Food Prices: 5.0 (Prices on food here are highway robbery, better off eating elsewhere)
Service: 5.0 (Poor English, inadequate instructions and questionable ID collection practices)
Selection:6.0 (Barely passable with 3200 English song, Chinese I'm told selection is better)
Wait Times: 8.0 (For a computer system this system was somewhat slow)
Room Prices: 8.0 (see matrix above, best to come weekday evenings or prices are average)

Final Grade: C- (These guys got me to bump up XO original C- grade to a C but they have also have been fixing up furniture) For a new business these guys have a lot of work to do. I feel like their motto was "how cheap can you go?" along with "how much can we get for food". There was just an unprofessional feel to the staff and membership practices they current have there. I would advise against joining their membership list unless they change the way they collect your information for your own protection.

Venue Information:
Echo Karaoke Box
280 Spadina Avenue
Toronto, ON
Phone: (416) 596-6800

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Karaoke Review: Jimmy's Pub w/ Neil Harris & "The Nightowl"

October 10th, 2006

At long last I'm starting to get outside of the downtown core and headed out west. This place was recommended to me by a Toronto Karaoke Meetup member and I was looking for more "fresh blood". With new territory often comes new styles and approaches to karaoke and Neil was no exception. He is what I call one of the "crooner"s of karaoke MC world. If anyone is interested in cool kats in Karaoke, read on.

The Good: The selection is one of the most extensive I've had in a pub. Very wide. Many traditional British pub dishes, sandwiches, Mexican entrees, Steaks, Ribs, Chicken dishes, salads, pizzas and appetizers. (even escargot). Pastas, Greek food and Stir Fries are also available with less variety and an All day breakfast. Nothing like a Bacon & Eggs for dinner, eh? Prices for food are very reasonable. On another topic, the wings I had were exceptional so Tuesday night are a great time go where they are half price. Service was the best I've ever had in any restaurant. Very fast, very attentive and actually quite friendly. (They even gave me an ETA on the food). Neil as an MC makes you feel right at home. His style reminds of a bit of Frank Sinatra: Voice and performance as smooth as silk, very relaxed and mellow. He's not an MC that gives snappy comic remarks that many MCs downtown often use. but his commentary between songs is pleasant and he adds a few funny lines here and there. Neil could add a few more but not much as it could break something that works well. Like other MCs he wants people to participate but he eases you into it gradually. I could almost picture myself at the Cafe from the well know movie "Casablanca". He adds a little incentive with small prizes given out to random participants but people will be drawn more to the relaxed commentary and no pressure invitations. Its different approach than any other MC I've seen to date and it takes a really cool customer to pull it off. Neil is the PERFECT MC for groups with people new to karaoke who may be a little shy about trying it out or for people more mellow and laid back. His selection is significantly above average: Around 8800 songs and he's adding on regularly and takes requests for future venues from his participants. There is a good mix of new hits and old with minor gaps on both ends. No Supertramp but large selection of others and one of the new MCs who actually has A-Ha. Whatever your preference you won't feel left out with what's available. Neil is also a real stickler on sound quality for his shows and does his own audio editing for each song. Its a labor of love for him and it shows. His Equipment is in top shape and I saw what appeared to be new mikes. Although the music levels initially slightly overpowered the singer this only happened when he was singing himself so I can only assume this was just an initial sound check because afterwards the levels were excellent. The quality of the sound on his music tracks is significantly above the norm. In an age where more and more people are settling for cheap MIDI sound its nice to find someone who understands that poor quality music track really does detract from the experience. Wait times were very reasonable. Neil does something unusual in his rotations: He has people do 2 songs each turn. This is technique could work well in crowded room but could also backfire if someone selects a particularly long song and could slow wait times. I may be inclined to go back later to see what the results of this are in a packed room.

The bad: The only thing that could qualify as "bad" is the orientation of the stage: it faces the entrance so the singer cannot see the audience at all. Only people going in and out. The audience can only see you from the side view. Even though I sat fairly close, I didn't have a clear side view. As a stage it was wide enough and you could dance on it if you so desired but the orientation is a distraction to what could be a really great experience.

The mixed: The main course I had was quite good but the salad was average. The biggest mix in this bag was the atmosphere: The lighting nice which adds to Neil's charm but because of the stage I've put the atmosphere in the mixed category. I can't say its a bad stage setup but facing the entrance while singing is extremely awkward especially if you are new to singing on stage. Jimmy's is not ideally setup for a Karaoke show but from what I could see it was difficult to do much better with the pub's configuration.

Summary: Neil Harris is an MC in a class all his own. His calm smooth approach could relax the most nervous participant and he makes an effort to warm up to people which his audience appreciates. His attention to the quality of his music tracks stands out and the extra effort to do his own mixes really adds to the experience. While Neil is not a comic, he is a true entertainer in the karaoke business and pays careful attention to his participants he and he listens to feedback which perhaps is the most important thing a karaoke MC can do. Jimmy's is an exceptional pub with great select, good food and amazing service but its configuration is not ideal for karaoke stages. Even with the uneasy stage orientation you will have fun at with Jimmy's with Neil's unique easy going style combined with exceptional music tracks, excellent equipment & selection plus a smoothness unmatched anywhere. Its not for the party animals, but if you want a place you can relax and feel right at home with karaoke (as opposed to a more aggressive approach) Neil's a great choice. One thing that did stick out at me was the song books are not in exact order because of his additions. Consequently you have regular selections, new additions and more new additions (literally) in order by artist or song title. Makes it harder to find things within the 3 sections so if they could be consolidated that would be a BIG help.

Summary Scores:
Facilities: 7.3 (Nice ambiance which is at one with Neil's style. The Stage is the only negative aspect. Unfortunately facing the entrance rather than the audience is a significant distraction)

Equipment: 8.5 (normally I'd give an 8 but the music tracks are part of it and Neil's are exceptionally good in terms of sound quality. You'll feel like your in a recording studio with most of his tracks. Good balance and new mikes also add to this as well.

Location: 7.5 (Not quite on a subway but if you go to Wilson subway station and take a westbound bus its a 5-10 minute bus ride from the station. Enough free parking for people if you go by car)

Song Selection: 8.3 (Its exceptionally extensive with almost 9k songs and he adds to them regularly. I had to take 0.2 points off because finding songs is a little time consuming due to the fact he has song divided in 3 sections: regular, new additions, and more new additions. Regardless, its an exceptional list so everyone should find something they like)

Wait Time: 8.5 (wait times are quick. The fact that Neil has people do 2 songs at a time is interesting. I'll have to go back and see how this works on an exceptionally crowded night).

Host: 8.2 (Not a lot of comic remarks but enough to keep one smiling. Neil's commentary between songs in general makes you feel relaxed and right at home. He's perfect for nervous newbies or people who want relaxed karaoke. Neil has a Frank Sinatra twist to his style that I've seen nowhere else. Its unique and it works surprisingly well)

Food Prices: 8.2 (prices were very good. You won't go broke here)

Food Selection 9.0: of all the pubs/clubs/ restaurants I've been too this place had the best food selection I've see so far. Bravo!)

Food Quality 7.5:( Great wings, exceptional main entrees, Salads need some work)

Service: 9.3 (Best service I've ever had. Even better than upscale restaurants I've been to). Fast, courteous, attentive and even with a smile. I almost felt I was being served too well)

Final Grade: B+
There were so many good things here I really wanted to give this play an 'A-'. The one really bad item sticks out enough to lower the grade though. If the configuration could be changed in a few small ways (face an audience rather than the door please!) it would be a unique and amazing experience. In many ways it already is. I've know I've said this many times but I'm just so surprised how well Neil makes a laid back approach work and his selections and quality of sound tracks are exceptional. He's worth checking out for these aspects alone. If he can get his books in proper order this excellent song selection can get a few more point percentages. The prizes he gives out to random or new participants add some fun as well. His 2 songs per turn approach will appeal to many people who are worried about wait times. In a crowded it could add time but perhaps he'll adjust when the need arises. I'll certainly be back to find out.

Venue Information:

Jimmy's Pub
1805 Wilson Avenue
North York, ON M9M 1A2

Tuesdays: 10 PM - Closing

MC/KJ Information:
Neil Harris
Neils Karaoke with "The Nightowl"

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Monday, October 09, 2006

Karaoke Reviews: Response to Requests from MC's

Something I thought I should let people know: 2 MC's have asked me to postpone reviews till they were ready. I won't mention names or places and I try to oblige to a degree as I understand everyone has an off day or may be starting out. However bear in mind I won't wait forever as I am obliged to write them eventually and fairly soon.

Upon reflection I also feel that people also have a right to know if someone is starting out (for better or worse). This can actually be an advantage, especially if they do better than a veteran. I've seen 3 examples of this so far. If someone is new I have mentioned it in the past and take that into account when recommending or not recommending a venue. Reviews are a double edged sword for KJ/MC's and Karaoke Boxes but the other thing they must bear in mind is that what I do on this blog is primarily for the benefits of the PARTICIPANTS. One cannot effectively serve two masters although I try to be nice where I can. My official policy now is I'll hold off a review for 2 weeks tops if there are significant initial setup problems at a new venue I feel are significant. To serve the participants properly I need an idea of what a TYPICAL karaoke evening will be like. An exceptionally bad evening is often not typical so a postponement or second review may be in order. After that its open season. One should be ready upon a second visit. Ideally I'd love to write A- to A+ reviews everywhere I go, but I have to feel its an 'A' level event first.

It would be interesting if I could do two reviews of every venue and take an average of overall scores. Peter Styles is due for a 3rd look as I've seen 2 other amazing MC's plus the Gladstone actually has food now and I suspect the kitchen has extended hours (they stopped at 9 PM when I was there last) so I must do this before giving the official MC of the year award . Perhaps one day if I have volunteers or am independently wealthy I'll do this. But for now its too difficult so I will only postpone or write a second review in extreme cases and will limit those exceptions to 2-3 times max in a year. I've had 1 or 2 complaints that my blog was not being updated enough so I really need to "haul butt" to keep this a useful tool to karaoke participants.

Oh, KJ/MC's, Karaoke Box Owners: I often have to look very hard to find your venues as they aren't well advertised so...if you'd like some additional recognition let me know your venue(s). If are confident you have an excellent karaoke service/venue, I'll write it up with pleasure. (Both good and not so good points of course)

Jonah A. Libster

Software Karaoke Research Project

After seeing the pros and cons of the systems I've seen in reviewing MC's with Laptop karaoke I decided that the wait times could be better and so could problems like no video on occasional songs, no transposition in some cases and so on...I mentioned reducing wait times with a proper queuing mechanism. I mentioned I wasn't a karaoke software specialist although could write scripts if it would help. Then I thought, wait a minute...I'm an IT consultant, I write reviews, why not BECOME a qualified karaoke software specialist. This litttle idea of mine will take some time and probably cost me some 'okane' (that's money to you and me) but I figure I should put my 'okane' where my mouth is. The first part of this research will only cost me time so...I'm going to try to see what exists out there.

I hope people reading this will bear in mind I'm applying the profession that pays my bills (IT consulting) which I am basically going to give away for the greater good of Karaoke in Toronto. So....anything people can do to reduce the cost (time/money) to this project would be greatly appreciated. Now if any of you MC's who have would like to help with this (and I have already offered to help find ways to improve queuing times for free) if it would really be cool if I could see exactly what software you are using and how (which while I'd like to tell people ways to improve on a general level but not reveal who is using what as that is private, unless you want me to of course) that would give me a lot of insight. It would also give you ways to improve what you do as you'd be getting consulting services applied to karaoke operations at no cost. (The advantage is you'd be getting well before I published it to this blog giving people who help out an edge over competitors)

I'll be keeping my eyes on this project which is close to my heart:
Its an open source Karaoke Player that supports .kar and mp3+cdg formats. This is actually a big deal and the French are the first to have the foresight to start something like this. I've also seen kTunes and iStar which I'll check out as well but open source means potentially constant improvement by many hundreds of developers which often proves as or more powerful than commercial solutions. (the Apache web Server and OpenOffice are two examples. The Internet I consider one of the first open source projects with the greatest impact obviously).

So those of you who are interested in a free karaoke player can check that out to start. I'm considering adding to the project if I can communicate effectively with these developers (My French Sucks..wonder if they speak Japanese..) More will come later on. Again any help would be great as this will be a major undertaking. Progress will start slow and build up as I get more data.

Also, I hope you are all getting useful info from my reviews. I'm really trying to put more out as fast as I can but it does cost me time and money: About $20-$40 CAD per review for the costs of food/drink or Karaoke Rental fees and about 2-4 hours to attend, jot notes, write and publish to the blog. It all adds up. I'd love ideas to offset/reduce this. Ads are annoying so I try to avoid them. Anyway ideas would be great but I will continue one way or the other. Cheers all.

Jonah A. Libster

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Karaoke Events & Updates 2006

Fellow Karaoke Lovers:
I'm compiling a list of current places for Karaoke Bars and Boxes as well as reviews so we can know where to go for either a private or public session any day of the week. (Yes it IS possible). Also to let people which places have sadly passed on. Without further ado, here is the list of venue places, events and (sob) closings.

Regular Resturant & Bar Events (Confirmed):

Mayday Malone's
1078 Bathurst Street
Toronto, ON
Wednesday Evenings 9 pm - 1 am

MayDay Malone's
965 Bloor St West
Thursday Evenings
10 pm till 2am

The Dufferin Gate
1204 King Street West (King & Dufferin)
Toronto, ON
Phone: 416-534-2238
Thursdays 9:30 - Closing

The Chateau Bar & Grill
1157 St Clair W (Just East of Duffrin)
Toronto, ON
Phone: 416-654-3784
Saturdays, 9:30 PM - Closing

1335 St. Clair West
Toronto, ON
Phone: 416-653-8777
Saturdays, 9:30 PM - Closing

P.M. Toronto
1245 Dupont St.(Rear Entrance to Galleria Mall)
Toronto, ON
Phone: (416) 530-4505
Thursdays 9:30 - Closing

Main Event
2368 Yonge St.(North of Eglington)
Wednesdays 9:30PM - Closing

The Groundhog Pub (See Review)
401 Bloor Street East
Toronto, ON
Phone: (416) 975-1867
Fax : (416) 975 - 9252
Fridays & Saturdays 10 PM - 2 AM

Fox & Fiddle (See Review)
280 Bloor Street West (Bloor St. West @ St. George)
Toronto, ON
(416) 966-4fox (369)
Tuesday & Saturdays 10 PM (11 PM Saturdays) - 2 AM

The Unicorn
(416) 482-0115
175 Eglington East
Toronto, ON
M4P 1J4
Monday Evenings, 10 PM - 2 AM

Saxony Resturant (See Review)
(416) 929-2300
599 Sherbourne Street
8 PM - 2 AM
Friday, Saturday Evenings

Zippers Bar
72 Carlton Street
(Phone Number being confirmed)
8 PM - 12 AM
Thursday Evenings

The Gladstone Hotel (see review)
1214 Queen Street West
(416) 531- 4635
8 PM to 1 AM (Host:Peter Styles,
Thursday, Friday and Saturday

Fiddler's Green Pub (See Review)
27 Wellsley Avenue
(Phone number pending)
(7-9? confirmation of start time pending) - closing time
Friday Evenings (Prizes indicated)

The Fox and Fiddle (see review)
535 Danforth Avenue,
Toronto, Ontario M4K 1P7
Phone: 416-462-9830
Fax: 416-461-3132

Hoops Sports Bar (see review)
458 Yonge Street
(416) 929-3324
9 PM - closing time
Wednesday, Thursday Evenings

Shoeless Joe's Bar (see review)
401 King Street West
(Phone Number pending)
10 PM - 2 AM (Host name pending)
Friday Evenings

Joe Mercury's Big City Sports Bar & Grill
2345 B Dundas St. West
(416) 535-1324
9:30 PM - Closing
Thursday, Friday, Saturday

Peel Pub
276 King St. W. (& Duncan)
(416) 977-0003
Tuesday 10:00pm

On the Rocks Restaurant
169 Front St. E (& Sherbourne)
(416) 862-2901
Thursday, Friday, Saturday
"Marginal selection of out of date songs, but good atmosphere"

Unconfirmed Karaoke Resturants & Bars
(Note because these are as yet unconfirmed, I cannot be certain that
all these venues are still in operation. I will be confirming them in the coming weeks)

Billy Bob's
2448 Bloor Street West
Toronto, ON
10 PM - Closing

Blue Lagoon
3180 Lake Shore Boulevard West
Toronto ON
(416) 259-4700
9:30 PM - Closing

Chateau Bar & Grill
1157 St. Clair Avenue West
Toronto ON
(416) 654-3784
9:30 PM - Closing

2364 Yonge Street
Toronto, ON
(905) 855-7584
9 PM - Closing

Chick 'N Deli
744 Mount Pleasant Road
Toronto ON
9 PM - Closing

Crews Toronto
508 Church Street
Toronto, ON
Tuesdays & Thursdays
11 PM - Closing

Fiddler's Dell Bar
781 Annette Street
10 PM - Closing

Canton Karaoke Lounge
4810 Sheppard Av East
(416) 332-0801

Club Epiphany Restaurant & Lounge
11 Arrow Rd
(416) 740-9329

Future Karaoke Restaurant
58 Redlea
(416) 321-5618

Huong Bar & Karaoke
1680 St Clair Avenue West
(416) 654-8889

Manila By Night Karaoke Bar & Restaurant
4949 Bathurst Street
(416) 225-1078

May Karaoke
876 Dundas West
(416) 361-9377

JR's Bar & Grill
3653 Lakeshore Blvd. West
(416) 521-6302

The Fox & Fiddle
4946 Dundas Street West.
(416) 207-9990

Crossroads House
1544 Danforth Ave. (& Coxwell Ave.)
(416) 406-4017

Cubao Bar & Grill
298 College St. (& Spadina Ave.)
(416) 966-9024
a song or two during the band's break

Duke Of York
1225 Queen St. E. (@ Leslie)
(416) 463-5302
Saturday 4:30 to 7:30 P.M. with SD SIKI

Hollingers Restaurant & Tavern
1026 Coxwell Ave (& Danforth)
(416) 425-9877
Fri & Sun

Jekyl & Hyde
2340 Dundas Street West.
(416) 535-0547
10 PM - Closing
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays

Joe Badali's Restaurant (Elbow Room)
156 Front St. (& Simco)
(416) 977-3064
Wednesday 6:30pm to 10:30pm with Walter & Chris Henkel

Mr. Slate Sports Bar & Top Brass Lounge
952 Kingston Rd.
M4E 1S7
(416) 694-9495 Thursdays Fri 10 P.M.

New Karaoke Restaurant
793 Gerrard E
(416) 463-9902

Play It Again Sports Bar
1002 St. Clair Ave. W. (& Oakwood Ave.)
Toronto M6E 1A2
(416) 656-8434
Friday 11:00am- 2:00am

Purple Pig
1 Richmond St. W.
(416) 366-6465

Rio Restaurant
129 Danforth Ave
Toronto, On
(416) 461-2208

Spice Isle Granadian Sports Bar (formerly 'Caffe Del Corso')
1928 Eglinton Ave. W., York
(416) 782-4044
Fridays 9:30pm - 2:00am with Martin Dalcourt & Merike Purje.

Spirits Bar & Grill
642 Church St.
Toronto, ON
M4Y 2G3
(416) 967-0001
Saturday & Sunday

Star City Karaoke
393 Dundas West
(416) 593-9996

Tropical Nights
1311 Danforth Ave
Toronto, On
(416) 693-9000
Mon 10:00 P.M

Winchester Tavern
537 Parliament St. (& Winchester St.)
(416) 929-1875 Wed and Sun

Wise Guys
2301 Danforth Ave.
Toronto, On
karaoke with Dr. Spin

JR's Bar & Grill
3653 Lakeshore Blvd. West
(416) 521-6302
Karaoke Saturday Nights Began Nov. 2, 2002, On-going


The following Venues have closed their doors. We'll miss them:

Mr. GreenJeans
The Eaton (Sears) Centre (Dundas & Yonge), 3rd floor
(416) 979- 1212
10 PM - 2 AM (Host: Jason Rolland,
Wednesday, Thursday Evenings (Saturdays? possible type/bug on site)

Hollywood On the Queensday(See Review)
1184 The Queensway
(416) 251-0288
8 PM - Midnight (Hosted by Karaoke Nights)
Wednesday Evenings

Wolf & Ferkin
43 Elm Street
7:30 PM - 11:30 PM (Starting after the first week September)
Phone: (416) 971-6264
Toronto, ON

Tequila Sunrise
212 Adelaide Street West
(416) 593-6164
10 PM - 2 AM (Host: Jason Rolland,
Monday Evenings

Milwaukee's Good Bites
220 Adelaide Street West
(416) 368-1017
10 PM - 2 AM (Host: Jason Rolland,
Tuesday Evenings

Fuel Station
335 Jarvis St. (& Carlton St.)
(416) 921-1361
Mondays, Pool Tables

The Red Spot
459 Church St
(416) 967-7768
Mondays with Foofer

Lee Garden
1255 Bay St. (& Bloor)
(416) 968-3689
All English Daily 9:30pm Chinese Food Restaurant

Sushi Bistro
204 Queen St. W.
Toronto, On
(416) 971-5315

Cafe Lang Van II Karaoke
70 Ossington
Toronto, On

Charitiy's Karaoke Cause Bar
240 Sherbourne
Toronto, On
(416) 922-4885

Ah So Gardens Japanese Restaurant
614 Jarvis St. (& Bloor)
(416) 920-4333
Featuring songs in English, Chinese, Japanese & Korean.

Fox & Firkin (Open but stopped Karaoke 3 years ago)
51 Eglinton Ave. E. (& Yonge St.)
Phone: (416) 480-0200
Sundays British Pub. Imported beers on tap

Stanley's Entertainment Lounge
129 Danforth Avenue
(416) 462-3373
9:30PM - Close (Host name pending)
Wednesday Evenings

T.J.'s Tap & Grill
2112 Danforth Ave. (E of Woodbine)
(416) 424-4612
Saturday with Mary

Karaoke Box Venues:
This sections I need time to get full details.
See reviews for XO karaoke box for details. More to follow

Karaoke Review: Philthy McNasty's with MC, Tim for Canadian Karaoke

Review on October 4th, 2006

I'd seen this place show Karaoke on Monday nights, but when I tried to go I was told it was changed to Tuesdays. Apparently this was done to get a popular DJ in for one night. Don't know the details, but they finally got a solid commitment to Tuesdays so I went in to check the place out. Passing the place many times on my way to clients it always looked a little seedy from the outside but was hopeful that when I got in things would appear in a different light.

The good:
I generally need things to have a 7.5 or higher to be in the "good" category. Canadian Karaoke is usually able to get an MC or Equipment up to that level. The only thing I could put in here for this evening's performance was the wait time (they are getting better song change times it unfortunately that was it this round. The food selection of the bar was fairly good: Lots of Pastas, Sandwiches, Nachos, Pizzas and even Jambalayas and stir fries. For a sports bar, the food selection was certainly well above average.

The Bad: Some of the things from other Canadian Karaoke reviews still apply but as I said before the wait times were better in terms of changing songs. The guy could do it in 2-3 minutes average and that helps. Unfortunately too many things were going wrong. Aside from a group of < 12 people (you could do a lot songs in obviously) the initial sound levels were not good: Sound was tinny and music was overpowering until around 1.5 hours later when I guess the MC realized the sound problem. A multi-colored globe above the singing area was annoyingly loud creating a real distraction and I suggested several times it be turned off. The monitor was again too low (see previous reviews for Canadian karaoke venues). I strongly suggest getting a portable LCD monitor and a different stand. This has been used with great success and isn't as likely to break if knocked over). The one of the songs I generally do "Give a little bit" I had to do from memory because the video didn't work for that particular song. This was a first for me and I wouldn't have imagined it possible, but there are some issues with these computer based systems and I guess the video files (mpeg's?) can get corrupted. All the other songs were fine but this is extremely embarrassing for a karaoke company. The lighting in the place was a bit harsh and the bar area had a seedy look to it. Too many TV's made the lighting even harsher and often created unwanted distractions. The worst part of all was the food service. Karaoke is held in the bar area and I guess the waitress felt that getting any real food was an inconvenience. I had to go to her for any service (in every other pub/bar I've been to people would come by and ask if I wanted anything). When I did get the menu and placed my order (again had to go to the bar), I was served a chicken sandwich with fries, but no napkin or condiments. This is completely unacceptable in the food service industry. I had to find condiments and napkins from a far off table. Obviously I wasn't giving any tips that evening. To restaurant managers: If you are claiming to serve food, make sure your staff serves it properly, regardless of the setting, or whether they have friends there. (This waitress seemed more interested in talking with her pals rather than looking after her customers). Even if the place looks fairly empty (which it was) that is no reason for leaving even one paying customer without proper service. Highly visible upper bodies don't win points with me, sports bar or otherwise.

The Mixed: Canadian Karaoke is still on the level of ~6000 songs. Prices of the food were a bit on the high side (especially for the service you get). The MC, Tim, appeared to be quite new and getting to know the ropes. He has a great voice for radio (most women would consider him good looking as well), a strong singer and tried to keep the crowd he had involved. While I say it tried he was often unsuccessful or awkward. People like Peter Styles, Pete Rockwell and Jeff Zedic (Big City Music Karaoke) have enough trivia or subject matter they can play part time comedian. Sometime its needed, especially with weak crowds. Also felt he could have interacted with people more at the beginning of the show but he did make attempts with the front table later. Back tables (where were a few people there for awhile) were neglected entirely. They did seem more interested some conversation but I've seen MC's spark interest in seemingly disinterested parties in the past. In know its a lot of work and I'm not sure I have the talent to do what my favorite MC's do with crowds. Hopefully Tim and other Canadian Karaoke MC's can get more tips from their boss Allan, who does this fairly well.

Summary: Philthy McNasty's was a great disappointment to me as a venue. And maybe that brings out the weaker aspects of a Karaoke MC/Company. While I was assured many Tuesday nights had been packed, I had trouble believing it with the quality of service and food prices. The food prices were high but not horribly so. The service I experienced was completely unprofessional and wouldn't quality as service. I've had better service eating at friends where service is not expected from me. Tim as an MC I guess just needs a bit more experience but the fact a song video wasn't working and the MC wasn't aware of it doesn't look good. It may have been a one time thing which hopefully will not reoccur. The atmosphere was seedy with no redeeming qualities I could see and the karaoke area was awkward because of rows of high chairs/tables that made it difficult to see participants. The harsh lighting and excessive TV's didn't help either. I'd prefer to see Tim and Canadian Karaoke in a different venue with better service, better layout, lighting and food prices all around.

Summary Scores:
Facilities: 6.5 Rows of high tables/chairs, harsh lighting and too many TV's. The whole place looked "McNasty's" as a karaoke area: Seedy bar atmosphere.
Equipment: 7.0 (in good shape, but I had to take off points for low monitor, buggy lyric videos and poor initial balance. The noisy non-spining globe didn't help either.)
Location: 7.5 (plenty of expensive paid parking available in streets and parking garages. Can take subway to St. Andrew and walk 10 minutes or get a streetcar.
Song Selection: 7.0 (6000 songs, little weak in the modern selections but fantastic selection of TV Themes from the 70-80s)
Wait Time: 8.5 (The song change times are getting better. Small crowd didn't hurt either ;-))
Host: 7.2 (A little green, but has a good voice may do better with time)
Food Prices: 6.5 (A bit on the high side)
Food Selection: 8.3 (Fairly extensive selection for a sports bar)
Food Quality: 7.0 (Fairly good, but nothing to "sing" about)
Services: 5.0 (Completely unacceptable level of food service. I consider a 5 a gift. The manager is needs to have a chat with his/her bar staff)

Note: Apparently they have a variation of Karaoke with a live band on Thursdays. I may check it out bearing in mind I may be getting my own silverware if service was anything like I had this evening.

Final Grade: C-

Venue Information:
Philthy McNasty's
275 King Street West (St. Andrew's Subway)
Toronto, ON
M5V 1J2
Phone: (416)979-8060
Tuesdays 10 PM - 2 AM

Canadian Karaoke Company Info:,
(416) POP-TUNE

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Karaoke Review: Fox & Fiddle w/ Pete Rock Radio

** Best Karaoke Video Show 2006 **
** Best Digital Audio Effects 2006 **
Reviewed September 26, 2006

We have a new first at the Toronto Karaoke Blogspot: A karaoke venue tailored to the University student crowd. Since this venue is near the University of Toronto it makes sense. Now MC's like Jason Rolland also try to tailor to similar crowds but this MC has a twist all his own. Some may say its better as Pete has what I like to call "Karaoke with Bite". "Tell me more, tell me more" you say? Absolutely.

The Good: Pete opens up his show with the familiar phrase "This program contains adult subject matter". Well he isn't kidding folks so if you have any problem with rated 'R' material including jokes, sounds and possible still pictures well...discression is advised. This is certainly the first rated 'R' karaoke I've ever witnessed. But he has bar none the best audio effects (Jeff of Big City Music Services had good use of echo in appropriate places but nothing like this): Various voice recording, sounds of funny and sometimes gross nature. He even had a recording of William Shanter reciting "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds". He uses a digital projector on a screen to show the words for songs behind the singer and funny pictures which he does to great effect. Its a riot and a karaoke enhancement I'd never see done in public karaoke before. I would occasionally ask people in private boxes to elect the cheesiest video but the laughs from Pete's video system are second to none. Bravo!! He also uses wireless mikes (hey, people actually do this) and a first rate speaker system that never overloads. You will sound wonderful here and Pete keeps the music & voice levels at reasonable volumes and balance (unless you don't know words in which case he may through in a funny remark or two ). Overall Pete has a good sense of humor and he keeps it fun. Again, a few rated 'R' and X' pictures (1) and comments (many) come up, but for University students, this is tame compared to what you usually find in the frats of my old alma mater. We don't take off points for restricted or adult content here (and Pete does a good job for the expected audience) I must stress (as does Pete at the beginning of every show) the nature of the expected jokes. On to the restaurant itself, the food is quite decent in quality, services is excellent once they see you (it was unusually crowded when I was there). The layout was actually excellent: Tables arranged so you can get to the stage easily. The stage itself had a wooden floor section which is great for dancing and easy view monitors in front and above. The screen behind had both words and humorous pictures from the Digital Projector overhead. You'll feel like a star here. To me this is a great relief since the Hollywood on Queensway stopped their karaoke show. They had the best stage of any venue so its good to be able to suggest another place with a really good stage. The food is also excellent here and prices are bit better than average.

The Bad: The one weakness of Pete's system (And I noticed this for employees of Canadian Karaoke as well regardless of MC), is the time it takes between songs. I'm guess they are using some Apple iTunes or similar MP3 Program with video. This is all well and good but it takes longer to setup songs (you can tell this system by the fact they have no real numbering like on older karaoke systems). Being in the IT biz, I understand the flexibility these tools allow and commend Karaoke MC's for taking full advantage of them, but when you have a big crowd these increased wait times get noticed and MC's using this equipment sometimes have to "vamp" comical anecdotes to fill in for time it takes to queue up songs. So as a suggestion (and this is the second company now) find a way to allow these computer apps to store a queue of songs so people don't have to wait too long. We all like commentary (especially good/funny commentary between songs, but ideally one should keep turn around times between 1-3 minutes. These MP3 based "karaoke" systems seems to average 3-5 minutes between songs. Given that this is the second company I've seen with this problem with similar song playing methods, the software is definitely a factor. As an IT consultant (I'm not an MP3 software specialist however, is there such a thing...?) I'm happy to offer suggestions provided I can see what software you are actually using for no charge. Some songs in my opinion also go a bit too long especially with the song change times. I don't agree with Jason Rolland's "banned" list but one thing he does better than anyone else is he keeps singing times reasonable: Anything longer than 5 minutes he fades out. Something Pete here and MC's from Canadian Karaoke can learn from. So basically the wait times between songs are the only real negative side but I fear this will be increasing common with some of these new "numberless" systems coming into play on the Karaoke scene.(at least without proper remedy...drop me a line if you'd like any technical/scripting suggestions, especially mac users: you may not know how much power you have with AppleScript). It would be great if MC's using this Mp3 player computer on their laptops could keep singers within 5 minutes as some songs can go as long as 10 minutes unchecked.

The Mixed: Food selection was a little odd. The place feels like a British pub the selection feels more like from the USA: Large selection of sandwiches, Mexican dishes, salads, but limited British pub food (4 dishes). The song selection is decent: ~6300 (received e-mail indicating ~7000 from Peter) songs and has an excellent choice of recent hits which is not so common with Karaoke companies with this number of songs.(I put it in the mixed section because Jeff of Big City Music Services blew away my score ranks with his 13264 (last count) songs in his collection which I cannot ignore. To Pete's credit his has an excellent number of modern hits: ACDC, Dixie Chicks and Radiohead are only a few examples and most Karaoke Hosts don't have good modern selections unless they have at least 8000 songs so Pete, good choice on balance on available quantity and selection from all major genres for Karaoke music. No one should feel left out by any generation gaps here.

Summary: Pete Rockwell brings a unique edge to the Karaoke world as well as the best (and only) picture comedy show of its kind Toronto Karaoke (so far...) and certainly the best sound effects offered by any MC to date (you may notice unusually loud fart sounds but be puzzled by lack of odor). With top quality sound equipment including wireless mikes, a great dance floor on the stage and excellent food, its a good place for karaoke, especially if you enjoy University Student type of humor. I am officially giving Pete Radio Rock Karaoke the "Humorous Video Show and Sound Effects Award" which I was compelled to create for this new way of adding more fun to the karaoke experience. Its well worth the possible wait times you may have to endure if you go on a crowded night. There is room for improvement but overall an excellent place to enjoy Karaoke. Humor is good although not quite as good as Jeff of Big City Music Services but Pete is the youngest Karaoke MC I've seen so far and has great promise. Given time he may pass Jeff in the humor department, especially with his visual aids.

Summary Scores:
Facilities: 8.5 (Good stage, well planned path to the mike and lots of room in the back for additional participants)
Equipment: 9.8 (Highest score rating, knocking Jason Rolland's score down a few notches. Equipment as good as his PLUS great video! Decided we needed room for someone beat it which I think unlikely, especially on the video side which is something normally seen only in private boxes. Come all challengers!
Location: 8.7 (close to St. George subway station. Lots of street parking available on side streets. Possible free parking on residential streets if you don't mind walking a few minutes)
Song Selection: 7.5 (added points for good selection in modern songs which is rare for MCs with selection in the 6k range)
Wait Time: 7.0 (Average due to queue times of the software, sometimes singer up as long as 9 minutes which should be clipped by MC a little if longer than 5-6 minutes)
Host: 8.8. Pete's video elements are a riot. Good taste and timing for many pictures related to choice of song (and song switching times). Great sound effects as well. Jeff has a little bit of the upper hand in experience with his jokes, musical and political trivia (would do well as a professional comedian) but given Pete's age, time may well make him Jeff's equal or better. You won't be disappointed.
Food Prices: 7.6 (Decent, slightly better than average)
Food Selection: 7.5 (good selection but not quite what you expect in a pub, Sandwiches and Mexican food have more choices than British pub fair)
Food Quality: 7.8 (Quite good)
Service: 8.5 (very attentive, they look after you well)

Final Grade: B+/A- (Very strong finish. Almost beat the Groundhog because of its stage and equipment. This is a VERY solid venue and Host. Reduced wait times, increased selection or more experience to add a greater variety of joke topics (which WILL come in time I have no doubt), would make this place a solid A-. 2 or more of these would make this the first A venue to be reviewed.

Update (2006-11-10): I just received an e-mail from Peter Rockwell who clarified a few things:
1. He has roughly 6480 songs. Upon receiving a few points of clarification I recounted them carefully. (I was given a number of 7000 so I suspect there are new additions not in the books yet)
2. He isn't as young as I thought he was :D...ah well...shows how well I can judge a person's age but I'm pretty certain he hasn't been around as long as Jeff or Peter Styles so I'd say he's still pretty well polished for his experience in comparison to these old veterans.
3. The wait times I mentioned were apparently NOT due to Peter's software (although it is for Canadian Karaoke entering songs using iTunes) but is a conscious decision based on the style of his show)

Venue Information:
Fox & Fiddle
280 Bloor Street West (Bloor St. West @ St. George)
Toronto, ON
(416) 966-4fox (369)
Tuesdays & Saturdays 10 PM - 2 AM

Pete Rock Radio Karaoke
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