Thursday, February 03, 2011

Karaoke Review Update: Gladstone Hotel w/ Peter Styles


January 29th, 2011

The Gladstone Hotel has a Karaoke Champion in Peter Styles who is probably as much of an enthusiast as I am. Don't get the idea that this automatically makes for a good review. While it may be voted best karaoke place by Now Magazine, well as much as I like Now Magazine, I don't always agree with their reviewers, so I'm writing my own. That said, I'm updating the review as there are a number of details that have changed, some good some not so good.

The Good: The Gladstone Hotel has Peter hosting on Friday-Saturday nights. This as cut back from the original Wednesday-Saturday which pains me and many I suspect. Mr. Styles is STILL as good as rumoured: He's EXCELLENT at working the crowd, and being a professional singer himself when he does his vocal intro, people perk their ears. And the energy feels genuine. He's probably the greatest asset of this venue. Song selection is now second ONLY to Jason Rolland!! There are over 30k Songs in his collection. A few duplicates being sorted out, but make no mistake. Peter has upped the ante! Drink prices are quite reasonable and there is no cover charge. The location is fairly convenient: You can get there by Streetcar quite easily and there is street side parking available.

They've added food and the food is first rate! All produce home grown in Ontario. The selection is not as large as many other restaurants but there is enough for most people and specials that change enough keep you coming back. Food quality is second to none, save perhaps on the Sweet Potato fries which are a touch dry for me taste.

The monitors (there are now 3) are in a good a position as I could think of given the layout. The LCD monitor for the singer is mounted above your head (it had been knocked down a number of times), and the LCD Project er makes it easy to see your lyrics while appearing to look into the crowd. Which is actually quite cool.

The Bad: Service unfortunately needs a little work. Its been from fair to poor. Larger tables will get preferences and sometime smaller tables go entirely unnoticed.

The mixed: The facilities are fairly large but the configuration makes it difficult to balance sound. If you sit in the front, be prepared for LOUD volume. At times it was actually hurting my ears (the volume gets louder the later the evening goes) so I suggest the mid section. At the back its much harder to hear because speakers can't be positioned there. On the plus side, if you tell Peter its too loud he'll take the volume down a notch.

Peter has a sound engineer at the back who for some reasons isn't paying attention to balance levels much of the time. Peter has commented several times on this. Too frequently the sound engineer let balances go entirely to the point you couldn't hear the singer. Sometimes he's got the balance, but sometimes its as if he lets sounds levels go on automatic pilot.

In all fairness Peter tries his best to give everyone in a very large crowd a chance, but sometimes a new person coming at the last hour would come in front someone who waited for 1.5 hours.

While the selection is the best or 2nd best in Toronto, its not reflected in his books! The only books available have 7k songs out of the 30k and the old song codes which he doesn't really use much anymore (not he queries the songs based on author and title). I'm assured a book is being compiled with the new selections, but its a weak spot. There is a website you can view on your computer or mobile phone (done by yours truly) at, but its not well advertised. (I'm getting a new URL to make it easier).

The verdict: The Gladstone Hotel with Peter Styles is overall still a excellent venue (mostly) with significant improvements. While I'd say its in the top 3, a few things still need to be done to make the undisputed champ of the karaoke pub world.

1. A sound engineer that pays more attention to volume levels (I've had complaints about it at the Toronto Karaoke Meetup Group, that is how bad he is sometimes)

2. Printed books or at least a kiosk where people can have FULL viewing access to the songs he has instead of asking if he has a song (80% change he has it)

3. Wait staff need a bit of polishing up and not neglecting patrons at small tables.

What is good is VERY VERY good. Peter is still the only guy with an applause sign I've seen so far. (and its a powerful tool). You WILL have fun at the Gladstone in spite of a few rough edges.

Final Grade: B+
Excellent Host, fantastic song selection, amazing quality food. Sound balance between the front and back could be improved. Sound engineer that pays more attention to balance is badly needed. Wait times are tricky, popularity has its price.

Score Summary:
Facilities: 7.5 (Lots of Space, sound however is unbalanced in different sections)
Equipment: 8.0 (New speakers installed, but sound engineer needs to be more alert)
Location: 7.5 (Easy to spot, moderately easy to get to using the Queen St. Streetcar)
Song Selection: 9.0 (The spot for best selection is within the Gladstone's reach)
Wait Times: 7 (scaled:public venue,Peter will try to shuffle within reasons if asked)
Host: 9.5 (VERY entertaining, Pays attention to the crowd, you'll love this guy)
Food Prices: 7.5 (Prices are slightly higher than average but the food quality is well above)
Food Quality: 9
Food Selection: 7 (slightly limited in selection)

Venue Information:
10 PM - 1 AM
The Gladstone Hotel
1214 Queen Street West
Toronto, ON
Phone: 416 531 4635
Info on the Host:

Karaoke Review Update: Bar + Karaoke

January 22nd, 2011

Seeing the need to update reviews and venues change I'll start with the one Closest to where I live (because its easy :D) When I checked Bar + Karaoke There were positives and negatives. I had chatted with the owner about them both so let's see how its come along since then.

This is the first karaoke box I'd seen with either LCD or plasma screens. I'm happy to say this so far is the cleanest Karaoke box I've seen to day as well as the most convenient for me. I had made some comments on the equipment last time I was here. There have been a few improvement in the years since I write my first review of this venue.

The Good
: Well the plasma screens were all in excellent order and the computer selection by song number makes it easy to add, remove or switch order of songs. The look of the place felt like karaoke box meets night club feel to it. The looks of the interior was actually very nicely thought out. The selection was identical to XO which is to say it was decent and there have been a number of songs added. A few hundred in the English category which isn't bad. The microphones/receiver are working significantly better and more consist ant then when I first arrived so someone had been looking over the equipment.

The service level is now fairly good level. For rooms, equipment, and food a red button will bring an attendant for any help required including food service (I should perhaps say "snack")

The Mixed: While the microphone and receivers have improved significantly there are still a few things missing which the original had in its favor before it fell into disrepair (and now has a new owner). There are key changes in SOME of the rooms but not all of them. Primarily the more expensive medium room have a key changes. I actually spoke with the owner on this. He says he's working on it. Not sure what the difficulty could be but I'll just say if the owner can get key changers into the small rooms as well, this will be the best Karaoke Box in Toronto. The other mixed issue is the remotes. The remote control key functions are not always consistant. Some rooms seem to have slightly different key mappings to the remove then others which can cahas risen to use confusion for regulars.

The food quality is actually fairly good but the limited food selection means you can't actually get a meal here. This place (as most of the Toronto Karaoke Scene these days), is primarily geared for alcohol. It would be really cool if one could order a real meal. For now, I suggest either eat before you come, or bring food for a party if your group is really hungry. Outside drinks are not allowed, so bear that in mind.

One qualm I have with the computer karaoke system is if you want to use the computer catalog, the song order seems to be questionable. In fact, I'd almost suggest only use the books for song selection. It may be a glitch in the software that makes the order of songs in English rather irregular, but still, it can be confusing. Again, I suggest sticking to the song books to find your selection.

The Bad: There is nothing that stands out as bad. (Hooray!)

Summary: The owner of this place perhaps should consider a career in interior decorating (or refer the person he hired) because he seems to think “westerns” have no knowledge of what karaoke is all about or what quality equipment is. Let's start with basics: People have different song ranges, so key changers are ESSENTIAL. Yes, ESSENTIAL so that everyone can participate comfortably. Not having simple key changers that will work on any analog audio system is, frankly, very discouraging considering the great work on initially done with XO. Not only that but cheap Korean equipment and radio signal feedback on the audio (when there was no radio component on these receivers or perhaps I should say preamp) also suggests that the owner was doing everything to get this operation up on the cheap using excellent decorating to hide the fact. After six weeks of telling them they should have key changers and even telling them where to get them with no results show lack of attention the customers. Every time I went to the place (generally Fridays) I didn't see much of a crowd. Perhaps its just as well given the lack of respect for Karaoke lovers. Perhaps this is why he has let XO become so run down it is now dangerous to go to in the summer due to lack of proper ventilation and working air conditioners which had not been repaired properly for at least 2 years. I had to stop bringing the Toronto Karaoke Meetup Group as a result. There may be a general trend of business and Karaoke Box owners trying to avoid initial business costs with the invent of computer based Karaoke song changers, but just because a computer can do the rotations doesn't mean you don't provide the basics if you are going to be in the karaoke business at all. Anyone looking to start a karaoke box be aware there are those of us who have been to Asia, know what standard karaoke is supposed to provide and we will let people know who respects their customers, and just as importantly, who does not.

Summary Scores

Facilities: 9.0 (Nice rooms, really clean, furniture in amazing shape)

Equipment: 7.5 (Improved mikes, key changes in some medium rooms). Significant improvements here but can't give full marks without key changers in the majority of the rooms. The remote control system should be uniform throughout all the rooms as well.

Location: 8.0 (Block north of Dundas Subway. Parking will cost you a pretty penny at Yonge/Dundas however)

Food Prices: NA (Prices on drinks are average, but only snack food)

Service: 8.0 (Staff improved quite a bit since the last time I review this venue)

Selection: 7.0 (~7500 English songs, lots of Korean, Chinese, some Japanese, same as XO).

Wait Times: 9.0 (Its a computer AVI/MPG server. So this is expected)

Room Prices: 7.0

1-5 people: $25/Hour

6-10 people: $40/Hour

50 Large Room: $50/Hour

Final Grade: C+/B- (Its getting better, owner seems to be making an effort)

Venue Information:
Bar + Karaoke Lounge
360 Yonge Street
Toronto, ON M5B 1S5
(416) 340-7154