Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Karaoke Review: Good Tymez Pub w/ Robert Chorney

Reviewed: 2007-05-19

The Toronto Karaoke Meetup Group is slowly getting attention in the Toronto Area. Enough that I'm actually getting more information from the owners themselves which is good for all. The owner of Good Timez Cafe approached me with a possible place to bring the group. Approaching me in someone else's venue at a group meeting wasn't necessarily the best place and for future reference venue owners, I tend to frown on that for many reasons. Better to send me an e-mail. In future interruptions of a meeting at someone else's venue will be reported to them as its really uncool and disruptive. Email is the best way to get in touch. Referrals are even better. Nevertheless in good karaoke spirit I went to check the place out as the owner claimed his system was better than the traditional "PA" systems, implying that all other venues were not really good for karaoke. I have some skepticism on this but still one never knows. I invited the group out to evaluate the place as the owner was hoping to make his venue the "home" of the Toronto Karaoke Meetup Group.

The Good: When I checked out the system it was certainly superior to most systems I had seen in terms of sound quality. I have seen the equivalent but not often. Its hard to sound better on any system out there. First rate Fajitas were also reported on the food selection.

The Mixed:
Food prices weren't bad but weren't great either. Drink prices were above average

The Bad: There is an unusual twist to the selection here. Its Internet based. This is in my view a cheap way to get karaoke venue started in North America. Now the Japanese use a similar setup in their karaoke boxes but its a system designed for karaoke boxes and I believe it has a central server cache. The internet vendor here was "Eat Sleep Karaoke". The owner claimed 250k songs. Problem was some of the most seasoned veterans of my Karaoke group out found nothing in as many as 7 songs in a row, mostly alternative rock. The search system was flawed:By title didn't work properly at all (serious bug). There were no song books either (again cut costs on initial setup) and this increased confusion and many people watched found songs available at nearly every karaoke venue I'd been to unavailable in this system. It left the claim of 250k songs in serious doubt. The wait times were extraordinarily long given the small crowd. This is because the owner was acting as MC and he didn't really know how to search songs properly. The bugs and flaws on this Internet based system didn't help either. I felt this was more for home use than a profssional venue. The place is really just a bar ad can't hold more than 40 people tops and you won't be able to sit if you have more than 25. There is rumored to be a second floor available, but when it will be available and for whom is in question. To make matters worse, getting food in this place (if you want any) is a bit of a challenge. You'll probably have to go up to the bar to get any service in a reasonable amount of time because this is primarily a bar. To be more accurate a bar that serves as an Internet Cafe during the afternoon, and tries to be a karaoke bar on Friday and Saturday nights. It can't appear to decide what it want's to be so, it does the karaoke part awkwardly at best. Oh, no stage either. You are in the corner of the bar where few could see you. Given the configuration of the place its the best they could probably do. But its extremely awkward. You face the wall, not the audience when you sing as well.

Summary: Karaoke venue owners and wannabes, if you want to show a venue make sure you are ready. This is the second venue where the owner or manager didn't do their homework. If you want to be an MC make sure you are rehearsed and prepared. This venue is not what I would call a karaoke bar. I would call it a bar. And not a well decorated one at that. This place screamed seedy American bar which are typically an eyesore. What I saw here was an attempt to bring more business to a bar with limited attendance using its Internet Cafe facilities to try to be a karaoke venue. My group was unimpressed with the selection, the wait times or the configuration. The quality of the sound equipment was first rate but to quote one of the group members "is it worth it?". I'd have to say a big "no". 5-10 minute wait between songs is not acceptable. The internet based karaoke system is okay for the home, but not for a venue. When I say 5-10 minutes I mean 5-10 minutes of no singing at all. One customer was complaining loudly about this. Most of my group didn't want to stay after the first hour. The owner clearly didn't do his research into karaoke at all and thought a good sound processor and a sales spin would be a substitute for a quality MC, and quality song selection which is to say, purchase the songs and have them on site. Its a large investment to be a professionally acceptable karaoke venue. Short cuts like this internet based karaoke system don't cut it and an expensive sound system (cheap when compared to the prices of song royalties) isn't a substitute. If I had to choose between the claimed 250k songs here and the 600 songs at the Butterfly, I'd take the Butterfly for the simple reasons that at least I KNOW what they have, wait times are short, and there is a proper karaoke stage setup. There is a lot more to a good karaoke bar than a sound system: You need a system that guarantees fast song queueing and way of showing your audience what songs you ACTUALLY have. There is little more irritating than a selection guessing game. Karaoke Venue potentials need to do their research before they go public. A first impression is a lasting one. If its bad, it lasts even longer.

Facilities: 5.7(It looks and feels like a small seedy bar with a room for Internet Terminals seperated from the rest of the bar. No karaoke stage, karaoke equipment against the wall in a corner. One of the worst overall setups I've seen so far)
Equipment: 8.2 (Great sound for vocalists, but that is the beginning and end of this system. No real adjustment of the sound levels)
Selection 6.8 (Internet based, claims 250k but can't find the basics, too many gaps, no books to see what songs you have)
Food Selection: 7.0 (Basic Bar food with some Tex-Mex thrown in)
Food Quality: 7.8 (Fajitas were quite good, rest was average)
Prices: 6.7 (drink prices were above average, food was about average pricing, but most expensive French Onion Soup I've seen anywhere)
Location: 7.5 (5 minutes from Dundas Subway station. Parking around but have been warned you may not want to leave car around this area)
Host: 6.0 (The owner didn't know how to operate the Internet based karaoke system properly. Felt he was entertaining himself more than the group)
Service: 6.5 ( Basic service, food you'll probably have to step up to the bar. The good news is the place is so small you won't have far to go)

Final Grade: D+

Venue Information:
Good Tymez Pub
117 Dundas Street East
Toronto, ON
(416) 916-2156
Friday & Saturdays
10:30 PM - 2 AM

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Karaoke Review: On the Rocks

Reviewed 2007-05-17

I love being the organizer of the Toronto Karaoke Meetup group for two reasons: 1. because you meet so true affectionados. 2. Because people often send you to places they enjoy going themselves. Good, Bad or in between, its info other karaoke lovers can use when selection a venue. Its what my blog is all about. So here is another reviewed on yet another reviewed venue.

The Good: The selection here was surprisingly good. Around 8k songs. The system is MIDI based as this is another family run restaurant/bar. Yes there is food here. The stage is actually a stage albeit a small one. There are 3 mikes here: two on stage and one at the bar so if one wants to stay seated with their drink they don't actually move anywhere to sing a selection. The rotation times were quite fast probably because there are not a lot of people on a Thursday night. Fridays and Saturdays may be another matter. The rotation is strictly round robin. Service on food was very prompt.

The Mixed: The equipment isn't bad not not amazing either. Mikes are passable and sound levels acceptable most of the time but you may need to be aware of them. Food selection is Chinese Schezwan dishes, most of which are a little bit spicy. I've had worse but have certainly had better. Prices are reasonable, although you may get a bit better in Chinatown but then again, one isn't here strictly for dinner. Room here is limited to around 50-60 people, plus the outdoor patio on warm evenings. There was only one book by title so you'll have to basically ask for it when you want to find a selection by song name.

The Bad: There was nothing really bad here. Isn't it nice when this section is short?

On The Rocks is a good place for Karaoke if you live on the east end of Front Street or anywhere near Front & Sherborne. Its not amazing karaoke venue by any means but is has all the basics and a short wait time if you go in on Thursdays. Its more of a neighborhood place than anything else but its a decent one to go to for karaoke with people you know in your neighborhood. There is another place I'll be reviewing shortly, Upfront Bar & Grill, which is almost across the street, but On The Rocks has a larger selection of songs. The only thing it lacks is an MC but the owner is interactive enough with the customers that she could quality with a little effort.

Facilities: 7.7 (its a bar/restaurant but has a real karaoke stage setup. Decor isn't too bad so you'll feel right at home)
Equipment:7.5 (Its got the basics plus a bonus for a 3rd "bar" mike)
Song Selection: 8.0 (Surprisingly good consider this is an "all-in-one" MIDI System, could be the same as the Grasshopper but unable to verify)
Food Service: 8.2 (Service was quick, attentive and friendly)
Food Selection: 7.0 (Basic Schezwan, caution if sensitive to spicy food)
Food Quality: 7.4
Prices: 7.3 (Prices are okay, but seen better for the food you get)
Location: 7.8 (There is a bus that runs along Front Street, some parking both paid and free on side streets)
Host: 6.9 (The Bartender calls your name, but the owner has potential..)
Wait times: 9.0 (Thursday's a slower night but since the restaurant only holds round 60 people, wait times shouldn't be too bad)

Final Grade: C+

Venue Information:
On The Rocks
169 Front Street East
Toronto, ON
(416) 862-2901
Thursdays, Friday & Saturdays
10:00 PM - 2 AM

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Karaoke Review: The Grasshopper

Reviewed: 2007-04-19

After leaving one karaoke venue somewhat early I decided I should try to do one more. I had passed the Grasshopper from time to time and knew that hey karaoke there so decided to bite the bullet and give it a try. With all the grass blades of karaoke venues a hop to one more couldn't hurt and could prove an interesting place to "chirp".

The Good:
The song selection was actually fair considering that it was a MIDI based system. This one was called DVOK. Its MIDI so obviously the quality of the music isn't the best and is meant for a low budget add-on activity for a bar. But it had a better selection than most. Books available. In addition to the 8068 songs in English there were songs in Vietnamese, Hindi, Spanish and Filipino. There was a real stage which is actually impressive for a place this small in size. Service was quick and quite friendly which is actually fairly common in family run businesses so its something I look for these days. There is no food as this is a bar but the prices for drink were decent. Rotation times were as fair as they could be but this place is a pure FIFO rotation. (First In First Out). so being a new person won't score you points but its fast enough you won't care. The size of the place has something to do with this.

The Mixed:
While the MIDI selection was good obviously MIDI isn't ideal (MPEG would be much better). Its a basic DVD system with Mikes. Speakers were weak for singer and levels needed work but not horrible. The Monitor placement wasn't horrible (I've seen much worse) but 7 feet above the floor is awkward to read. Selection in drinks is not great. Mixes only but they can most likely make you the equivalent of most premixed bottled drinks you may be accustomed to. There is no host here which isn't really bad but if you are a traditionalist you'll notice. Its like taking home karaoke into a bar and that is what this entire setup is meant to me.

The Bad:
The place is really small. Can hold only 30-40 people tops. It keeps the rotation times down but the number of people you can bring is small. Don't bring more than 4 people with you if you expect to site anywhere.

Summary: The Grasshopper is a bar with karaoke added for fun. Its not a place for true karaoke lovers but if you are in the neighborhood and feel the urge to sing its worth going to. Of course there are better places. But there are worse as well and nothing better in this section of Toronto that I've come across. Its also VERY easy to get to: Just take the streetcar on College/Carlton East bound and there is a stop almost right next to it a block south of Parliament and Carlton. For a economic setup this is certainly one of the better ones with 8k songs in English to choose from and the people who come hear enjoy it so if you want to get noticed by a crowd this is not a bad spot to check out.

Final Grade: C

Facilities: 6.8 (Its a bar that is too small to hold many people, but has a real karaoke stage setup. Decorations do little to reduced the seedy bar look of the place however)
Equipment: 6.8 (Equipment works but speakers aren't the best and monitor placement is a bit of a neck strain)
Song Selection 8.0 (Surprisingly good consider this is an "all-in-one" MIDI System)
Food Service: 7.8 (its a bar, you get drink only, but at least the service is attentive and friendly)
Food Selection: NA (no food so don't come before dinner)
Food Quality: NA
Food Prices: 7.5 (Prices for drink aren't bad, you won't break the bank here.)
Location: 8.4 (easy to get to on the College/Carlton Streetcar. Free parking is available in various side streets)
Host: 6.7 (The Bartender calls your name, not a true karaoke bar setup)
Wait times: 9.0 (this place only holds 40 people tops so wait times are generally quick)

Note: I was noticed writing notes here and was asked several time what I was writing about. FYI, I'm not going to tell you. So if you see someone writing, if they are writing a review they'll look badly on you poking into their material. If they are must someone who likes to write, you are being irritating. So if you want to make a good impression, don't be noisy. If the person is an inspector, you'll increase you chances of a formal inspection. So, leave the people taking notes alone if you are truly concern because asking, especially more than once, will not win you any favors. Most likely the opposite.

Venue Information:
The Grasshopper
460 Parliament Street
Toronto, ON M5A3A2
(416) 323-1210
Thursdays & Sundays
9 PM - 1 AM

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Karaoke Review: Butterfly Lounge w/ June Linderfield

Reviews: 2007-04-19

Karaoke Review: Butterfly Lounge with June Lindenfield

Now here is an interesting twist: Karaoke run by an expert...in the Hair Salon industry. Karaoke lovers come from everything and the fact that someone loves it enough to start their own business is fantastic. With a lounge next door to one's business, I guess I'd be tempted as well. Passions for the "sport" is wonderful but can they hold their own against the pros already out there. I was eager to find out.

The Good: The place has really nice decor outside and in. It is a lounge (basically a place for people to hang out, pickup and get picked up I imagine. There is a dance club below which I'll get to shortly. Several open cubicle like sitting areas hold 4-6 people each is a nice touch and for a karaoke setup has potential. The stage area was quite open and truly center stage so for those that like the "performing" feel this place is a good setup for that. The MC, June, knows how to hold a crowd and keep them involved. She's not quite Jeff Zedic (but then who is) but she can hold her own.

The Mixed: For starters the place is a lounge so there is no food. Drinks are typical for a lounge which is to say they are on the high side. Still its nicer than most bars that have karaoke. While the speaker quality sounded good there were somewhat frequent mike overloads which for many people including me is extraordinarily painful. If that can be kept under proper control you'll sound decent.

The Bad:
I hate to kick a new venue in the groin but in this case I have no choice: When I counted the songs there 600. Yes you read the zeros correctly (2) 600! While June claims this was the top 600 that is open to debate. Songs common to most venues I visit weren't there at all. Mostly country, some Alternative, and lot of older songs. While I like older songs most of the basics from there weren't in her book either. I commented on this to June who said Rome wasn't built in a day. Okay, but at 600 songs in a business where new karaoke MC's start at 5-6k, to quote Samwise from The Lord Of The Rings, in terms of selection, "If this is shelter than 1 wall and no roof makes a house". You can't be taken seriously in the Karaoke business if you have less than 5k songs. Sorry but that's a fact. If you have less than that, wait until you do before starting out. I felt like I was in someone's home rather than a karaoke loung/bar. I know that its not cheap to get the songs but a professional must be prepared to spend $5000 for the Music alone to get started. Its the nature of the business. A couple I know paid $30k to buy a business from someone else. You get the idea.

It gets worse, yes...I need another paragraph for this one. At 10 PM the "real" business of Butterly kicks off and you have to compete with the DJ of the nightclub in the lower level. At 10 PM sharp your karaoke vocals will interact with a very loud beat in conflict with the music you are singing. And it gets louder the longer you stay as their music (not just the intense bass). Any of you who visit nightclubs know how loud the DJ plays his music and how much bass he pumps out. This makes karaoke participation almost impossible for you to enjoy solo, and impossible for anyone else to enjoy if you are any good. This venue just bites for karaoke with the conflicting business below.

Summary: While I liked the idea of karaoke in a lounge and have seen it done successfully before (see review on Neutral) Butterfly is clearly an effort by a passionate karaoke lover new to the business. Butterfly is next door to June's hair salon business which is probably why she choose this venue but its a terrible venue and impossible to have karaoke activities there after 10 PM. Her own hair salon would be better given the nightclub activities of Butterfly. I suppose I could recommend it to people who need to be home by 11 PM but outside of those hours you are much better off else where and will have much better selection if you plan to do Karaoke on Thursday after 10 PM. Its really too bad. To anybody have ambitions of being a karaoke professional a few ground rules: Do your homework.

My reviews can help not only the participants but can be a good benchmark for people starting out. Key changers are a MUST. Some places try to get cheap but I've had complaints about Karaoke MC's and even karaoke boxes who got cheap on this. It doesn't go well especially as the customers most likely to be regulars KNOW Karaoke. Most of us serious karaoke lovers have some education on the subject so bear that in mind. Make sure you know what the minimum song selection you need to start out with is. Again, the minimum any SUCCESSFUL professional is 5000. While this is a bit low given the new numbers coming out (8k, 12k, 30k, 35k) its a minimum if you are short on financing. An engaging MC is of course crucial. While you may get a few die hards like me who are willing to help get energy levels up, you can't count on that. Waiting for a minimum number of people to come in makes an MC look unprofessional and is a waste of people's time who do come in to participate. Karaoke MC's who wait for minimum numbers before starting need to reevaluate their ability as an MC. So those are my comments for all you professional karaoke starting out. Hope it helps.

Final Grade: D

Facilities: 5 (8 from 8 PM to 10 PM)
Equipment: 6.8 (Equipment okay but too many mike overloads, not the greatest equipment)
Song Selection: 3.5 (600 songs, we have a new low. Many get a better selection on their Ipod)
Food Service: 7.0 (you'll get your drinks but nothing to "sing" about)
Food Selection: NA (no food so don't come before dinner)
Food Quality: NA
Prices: 6.5 (Its a lounge)
Location: 8.2 (easy to get to on the Spadina Street Car, parking around all paid)
Host: 8.0 (Probably the best part of this venue)
Wait times: 9.0 (Not a lot of people for karaoke so wait times were fast, but with the selection, you'll get through a lot of the material very quickly)

Venue Information:
Butterfly Lounge with June Linderfield, Karaoke MC
422 Adelaide Street West
Toronto, ON
(416) 366-7399
Thursdays, 8 PM - 1 PM (suggest leaving before 10)

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