Karaoke Review: Sports Centre Café w/ Rick Marcoux, Showtime Karaoke
Okay, back the the world of karaoke reviews. This is another venue recommended by the Toronto Karaoke Meetup Group membership. The neighborhood is trendy enough but would it hold up to what some karaoke hosts have called an unreasonable standard. (remember I've had calls asking for "adjustments" in criteria). I have no intention of changing my criteria so let's see if we have a "home run" or "foul ball". (okay its not Hockey but its too violent/expensive for me :D)
The Good: The space of this place is HUGE although you wouldn't guess it from the entrance. When you initially enter it looks like an average sized bar. Go into the back section and it opens up, dramatically. It's almost like going through the entrance of a cottage and discovering it opens up into a palace. The Sports Bar lives up to its name so if sports (or even TV) is your thing you'll be in love. Nearly every table has an LCD television either right next to you or 3-5 feet away. One large Projector TV is in the back area great for parties and there is a game room that is truly a game room. Pool, mini-hockey, pinball. seriously, this is indeed a sports bar! The Decor lives up to its namesake, sports star photos all over the walls. Kind of mixed with an old Saloon feeling in some parts which is to say its enjoyable. Almost like an old movie in some ways.
The selection of food is very decent with cool sports names for the dishes (nice touch).
The sound of the karaoke system was second to NONE. Even Jason Rolland's equipment which I consider to be of VERY high standard, would have a run for his money here. Its almost impossible to sound bad unless you are tone deaf. Rick, the MC, is constantly monitoring for sound balance and it shows. Without a doubt the best sound balance and quality I've experienced at a karaoke venue so far. His song books are the MOST organized I've ever seen: Different versions with performers MARKED. Bravo! Karaoke hosts, this is the book standard to shoot for. Seriously. Oh, and finally we have an MC that uses an LCD TV as the song monitor. About time we got away from the fragile and energy consuming CRT screens. Kudos for that as well. With a song selection of around 13653, there are plenty of songs to choose from of nearly every variety. (Jason Rolland still holds the record for song selection with over double this number).
The Mixed: While I love this MC's equipment, song books and attention to sound I didn't really see much of HIM. Which is to say, the technical part was outstanding, but I would have liked to see more of his personality. It should be noted that it was an exceptionally busy night and he did take the time to talk with various patrons between song including myself. Still, I felt I'd really like to see more of his personality between songs. Everything else he hit's bull's-eye and perhaps for this reason it sticks out in my mind. It really is the only weakness I can find. which is high praise from me. Funny enough, there is more than enough energy from the participants at this venue that you wouldn't notice. The audience provides the non-musical (and sometime musical) entertainment, much like in the Gladstone, though Peter Styles does get personality as well, but then his sound system isn't as good as this one nor his selection as rich. Perhaps this is intentional and with different audiences he asserts himself more. Still, it would be icing on the cake to see the MC entertaining at this venue.
The stange setup is awkward but I can see the reason: The back area has a stage that would IDEAL for a karaoke setup (almost as good as the stage at Hollywood on the Queensway) but its in the back area so you could eaisly miss it coming in. Often venues like to have their karaoke events at the "front of the line" so no one misses it. But the singing/dancing area is a bit small, and getting to the "stage" in the lefthand corner can be awkward on a crowded evening (like this one). I don't know whose call it was but I'm not sure there is anyone to blame. Although I would put it to the venue owner as to would the karaoke event suffer in attendence if they used the exceptionally stage they have in the back area? With that kind of setup, there are few venues that would be able to match it in terms of ideal configuration. Plus the Projector TV would be a really cool touch. could also be because its used for private parties. But I hope the venue will at least consider it.
The rotation is difficult to fault and Rick really does make an effort to keep it fair. But the crowd this evening was nearly as numerous as the Gladstone. So its impossible to keep the rotation faster than 1 song every two hours. Now that being said, I was told its not always this crowded. Its testomony for a good venue, MC and equipment but popularity has its price as I always say.
The service was quite fast initially but much slower after order my drink. Although forgetting one of the condiments could be a one time fluke, it should be noted.
The Food quality was similar to its service.: Lackluster. It was average as were the food prices ($7.50 - $13). On the plus side, the desserts are exceptionally good. The best burgers I've had at a karaoke venue so far are at The Groundhog Pub and the best food for the price overall is funny enough at the Gladstone since they added a kitchen (although the service was poor last I was there). the burgers here were acceptable but not amazing. The Salad, actually had one or two decaying leaves in it so note to the chief, lack of attention to freshness of food shows in the Salad more than anything else at first glance. So please respect your patrons a little more in the future. Overall, the food here is a little above average (with the exception of desserts).
The Bad: There is nothing that is strictly bad.
Summary: The Sports Centre Café has a lot going for it both as a sports bar (again, truly lives up to its name) and as a karaoke venue. They have exceptional food selection (except pub food), amazing facilities (LCD TVs all round and real game room), great service and an amazing karaoke system with the best sound quality and song book organization I've ever experienced. I'd like to say one of the best karaoke MC's as Rick's attention to detail in equipment, sound and rotation are second to none. I didn't see as much of him as an entertainer as I'd like. But its hard to judge as the energy of the participants was equal to the levels I've seen at the Gladstond as was the crowd. Which lead to equally long rotation times. Its a testimony of an exceptional venue and the vast majority of the patron seemd to know the system so I strongly suspect most of them were repeat customers and I was one of the few first timers there. Its a strong quality venue and you'll love the way you sound and the wide song selection and you'll find everything easily with the quality of the song books. I will have to revisit it see if I can see more of Rick as a entertain as I already know he is a first class Karaoke technician of which I've yet to see an equal. The location is easy to reach at Yonge/St. Clair (go west about 2-3 blocks on the south side of St. Clair). Its a worthwile experience.
Final Grade: B/B+
Facilities: 8.8 (excellent layout overall, would be a 9.5 if karaoke was on stage in the back area)
Equipment: 9.5 (Best sound I've heard, LCD monitor wonderful)
Song Selection: 9.1 (Very little missing, selection 2nd only to Jason Rolland, best song book preparation ever!)
Food Selection: 8.1 (fairly wide selection, cool names)
Food Quality: 7.3 (Portions good, great desserts, Salads:fresher leafs please, fairly good entrees)
Food Service: 7.8 (Its okay but annoyingly slow after initial drink order. Watch the condiments)
Prices: 7.5 (average)
Location: 8.3 (VERY Close to subway, parking paid unless you don't mind walking a bit)
Wait Times: 7.0 (with crowds and wait times similar to the Gladstone, can't fault it but its still a wait)
Host: 8.3 (I didn't really see Rick assert himself on stage but quality of sound, sound balance, exceptional song selection, and getting one-on-one feedback from audiences give him a solid score. Will return to see if I can increase this because my gut tells me with such attention to sound quality and books, there's a first rate showman that hasn't come out to play yet.)
Sports Centre Café
49 St. Clair Avenue West
Toronto, ON M4V 1K9
Rick Marcoux, Chief Entertainment Officer
Email: showtimekaraoke at rogers.com
Phone: (416) 518-9255, (705) 436-5853
Fridays, 10 PM - 2 AM