Matt Stanger

Every single night of the week, anyone in Portland—regardless of musical talent—has the ability to pick up a microphone and sing to a room full of complete strangers. And that’s a beautiful thing! Since Daisuke Inoue invented the first karaoke machine in Japan in 1971, it’s become a strange but sacred tradition that brings together friends, coworkers, and maudlin drunks, all united by the love of song. It’s also one of the few opportunities for regular people to command an audience, which can be terrifying but also uniquely cathartic. Thankfully, Portland has plenty of places to sing karaoke, whether it’s onstage with a live band, at a Tiki bar, or even surrounded by dancers at a strip club. Without further ado, here are the 13 best places in town to perform. For those about to belt, we salute you.—CIARA DOLAN


The Alibi if you like piña coladas

Heed my warning, Portland: If the Alibi ever closes, I will throw the biggest temper tantrum this city has ever seen, and the streets will be flooded with my mascara-stained tears. Billed as “Portland’s original Tiki bar,” the Alibi is like the adult version of the Rainforest Café, with lush tropical flora, fountains, and potent cocktails with names like “Miami Vice” and “Shark Attack.” The back of the bar is where the magic happens, but beware—this is one of the busiest karaoke joints I’ve ever attended, even on weeknights. (If you don’t get there early to stake out seats, you’ll be forced to hover awkwardly, annoying everyone around you.) The last time I went to the Alibi, I watched two women duet Khia’s “My Neck My Back (Lick It)”—one of the boldest songs you can sing to a room of strangers—while I chose to struggle through “When It’s Over” by Sugar Ray. (The crowd was not impressed. I can’t say I blame them.) Beware: If you’re too drunk, the neon laser lights will distract you and you will trail off mid-song—or maybe not, but that’s what happened to me. CD Daily, 4024 N Interstate


Ambassador Restaurant and Lounge for a pop-star experience

I’ve never experienced as much bureaucracy at a karaoke bar as I did at the Ambassador. There’s a multi-step process to sign up to sing, and I struggled to comb through the digital songbook for Lana Del Rey before realizing that you have to search artists by their last name. (As complicated as it might’ve been, the Ambassador’s KJ was a true guardian angel.) The Chinese restaurant looks the part and takes its role very seriously as one of the city’s few karaoke bars that is open daily. The elevated stage, lights, and mirrored walls make for an immersive pop-star experience, even with a small midweek audience. One of my favorite things about the Ambassador is the low volume at which they mic the singers—as much as I love my friends, the fun of karaoke is not due to the talent shared amongst us, but the knowledge that we all still know every lyric to “Mr. Brightside.” EMMA BURKE Daily, 4744 NE Sandy


Baby Ketten Karaoke for a massive songbook

Behold, the crown jewel of Portland karaoke! Baby Ketten is known for its seemingly bottomless songbook, which focuses on deep cuts but notably excludes annoying, over-sung karaoke standbys. (Consider yourself warned—you won’t find “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Jolene,” or “Sweet Caroline,” unless you’re looking for the metal version.) Beloved KJ John Brophy is constantly adding new songs, and even creates his own original backing tracks for rarities that can’t be purchased elsewhere. The New York Times called Baby Ketten “America’s greatest karaoke night,” and it’s obvious why. The only downside is its popularity—if you sing, you’re likely going to be singing to a full house. Pro tip: Baby Ketten’s entire songbook is available to browse online, for those who prefer to be extra prepared before baring their souls to strangers. CD Mondays at Alberta Street Pub, 1036 NE Alberta; Tuesdays at Century, 930 SE Sandy


Bear Paw Inn for raucous sing-alongs

For me, what makes or breaks a karaoke night depends almost entirely on whether or not there are enough Elvis Costello songs to sing. The Brooklyn neighborhood’s Bear Paw Inn comes through in this respect, and in many others as well. It’s essentially a roadhouse dive, with walls decorated by continental license plates and the omnipresent aroma of oily tots. Among the non-nightly karaoke joints, the Bear Paw is the kind of place where you might find a dude singing KISS’ “I Was Made for Lovin’ You” in falsetto to raucous hoots from the crowd, as well as an extremely pregnant woman confidently hollering, “My god, what have I done?!” during the Talking Heads’ classic “Once in a Lifetime” to a smattering of disturbed grimaces. RYAN J. PRADO Fridays & Saturdays, 3237 SE Milwaukie


Capitol for all-day karaoke

One of Portland’s newest karaoke hotspots is Capitol, the colorful Northeast bar that belongs to the same family as the Bye and Bye, Church, and Century. It’s got a shiny, bright, mid-century modern interior with an all-vegan menu and plenty of specialty cocktails. But the primary draw is the fact its karaoke lounge can be reserved for private groups all day—but unlike Voicebox, it’s completely free (at night, the space opens for public karaoke). It’s definitely the place to go if the karaoke mood strikes you before nightfall, but after dark, it’s not my favorite place to sing, compared to the city’s scrappier venues. CD Daily, 1440 NE Broadway


Chopsticks for a taste of old Portland

The legacy of Chopsticks is permanently sewn into the pleather fabric of Portland’s history (according to legend, Elliott Smith even sang at the original). With the recent shuttering of Chopsticks III still weighing heavily on the hearts of local karaoke lovers, it’s high time to appreciate the last remaining member of the How Can Be family. Chopsticks is open every single day, there’s no cover, and its location on Northeast Sandy makes it the perfect place to land after catching a show at the Tonic Lounge. The songbook is vast and reliable for classics, the greasy Chinese fast food is ideal for soaking up all those cheap drinks, the motley crew in the audience is almost always supportive, and on multiple occasions I’ve witnessed complete strangers storm the dance floor to join singers. CD Daily, 3390 NE Sandy


Karaoke from Hell for actualizing rock-star fantasies

Longstanding musical institutions are hard to come by in Portland these days, but one of the few left standing is Karaoke from Hell, Tres Shannon’s live-band karaoke experience that’s been going strong for 25 years. The appeal ain’t that difficult: Here’s a chance for folks of all stripes to sing while being backed by real musicians! It’s all of your rock-star fantasies fulfilled in three- to five-minute increments. Like those tinny instrumentals you’ll hear in typical karaoke spots, the music isn’t a carbon copy of the original tracks, but it’s close enough that you’d best know your stuff before getting onstage. If not, at least Shannon will be there to help get you back on track. They’ve also got one of the most diverse and fun songbooks around—one that highlights local heroes like Dead Moon and Hazel alongside truly daring tunes by Pere Ubu and Agent Orange. ROBERT HAM Mondays at Dante’s, 350 W Burnside; First Thursdays at Spare Room, 4830 NE 42nd


Matt Stanger

Satanaroke for the weirdos

The tag line for Satanaroke, the twice-weekly event that takes place at two of the city’s most headbanger-friendly venues, is “Karaoke for the Weirdos.” Catchy but unnecessary, considering the assortment of oddballs I’ve rubbed shoulders with at more upscale karaoke bars. The point still stands: If you want to spend the night singing an array of unusual show tunes like “A Little Priest” from Sweeney Todd or throat-shredding favorites from the Sword or Entombed between the usual run of pop hits, this is the place for you. Like Planet Fitness, it’s a judgment-free zone. If you’re looking to stay comfortable between turns on the mic, going to Satanaroke when it’s at the Tonic is your best bet, since the High Water Mark Lounge recently removed an entire row of booths to install new bathrooms, and plopped a ping-pong table and pool table in the middle of their performance room. That’s bad news when it starts getting crowded, which it most certainly did when I was there recently. But get there early and you’ll get one of the few seats in the room and plenty of stage time. (Bonus points: KJ Dungeonmaster brings a smoke machine, and he’s not afraid to use it.) RH Tuesdays at High Water Mark Lounge, 6800 NE MLK; Thursdays at Tonic Lounge, 3100 NE Sandy


Scoreboard Sports Bar for a supportive audience

Performing at Scoreboard feels like singing to a conference room full of punks. The seating area is full of leather-bound armchairs on wheels that are erratically placed around long, equally erratically placed tables. Thursday nights are full of regulars and Reedies; when I’ve gone with a group of friends, we’ve rarely found seats together (but have always been too drunk to care). The KJ is one of Portland’s most generous, and if you can’t find a song you like in the massive binder of options, he’ll offer to pull it up on YouTube, proving that chivalry is very much alive. Between the fun and supportive crowd, the pinball machines, the incredibly patient and kind bartenders, and my favorite Long Island Iced Tea in Portland, Scoreboard’s karaoke nights are truly great. EB Thursdays, 4822 SE Division


Stripparoke for company onstage

Forget church—Sundays are for Stripparoke, the only karaoke night in Portland where dancers perform while you sing. Devil’s Point pioneered this winning combination more than a decade ago, and it’s inspired similar events in other cities. Stripparoke’s not for the meek—you have to be comfortable in a strip club—but it’s great because (A) there’s already a big stage, and (B) there’s abso-fucking-lutely no way anybody’s going to be looking at you. A few guidelines that should be obvious, but apparently they aren’t: Don’t touch the dancers! Don’t bring your phone! Tip both the KJ and the dancer! Don’t be a dumb jerk! The song selection isn’t the best in town, but try to pick something that’s not too annoying for the performers you’ll be sharing a stage with. CD Sundays at Devil’s Point, 5305 SE Foster


Trio Club for zero lines (plus an indoor waterfall!)

Across the street from the Doug Fir sits a fluorescent eyesore of epic proportions: the ever-perplexing Trio Club. What is this knock-off Vegas monstrosity, and why would anyone go there? I’m happy to announce that I’ve figured it out: It’s for no-line karaoke. This bar is typically so empty that your karaoke wait time will be short and painless, enabling you to sing multiple songs in one night. AND THERE’S A FUCKING WATERFALL. Forget dropping dollars on a private room at Voicebox to get some hot mic practice in. Forget having to follow some music theater nerd who crushes the high notes in Sia’s “Chandelier.” Forget putting in a song with a wink and a tip to the KJ at the beginning of the night, and then five vodka sodas later having to leave before your song comes up because you’ve got to pour your drunk friend Becky into a Lyft. So what if Trio only has one-and-a-half stars on Yelp? If you can tolerate the expensive drinks and probable cover charges, you can get your hands dirty with the very sparse bridge-and-tunnel crowd that’s dropping the mic at Trio. (Important note: Do not ever actually drop a mic at karaoke. The KJ will be very angry.) BRI BREY Daily, 909 E Burnside


The Triple Nickel for low-pressure performing

The Belmont strip remains relatively unspoiled by the almighty developer’s boot. Even in the spots that have gotten facelifts, hints of former skullduggery are evident in long-running watering holes like the Triple Nickel. At some point the bona fide Southeast dive painted its bright blue exterior and attempted to clean up its act a little, and the bar now features more dance nights and live music, as well as karaoke every Sunday—by far the mellowest, lowest-pressure opportunity to get your rock-star rocks off. There’s a modest stage, a disco ball, and a nifty lighting setup, along with the steady presence of KJ Will Reno. If you feel like taking a break, they’ve still got a giant Jenga puzzle set up amid four decent (and free) pool tables, plus 70 different beers to whet your wailing whistle. RJP Sundays, 3646 SE Belmont


Voicebox Karaoke for private rooms

My attraction to Voicebox is simple: When I go out to do karaoke, I want to sing a lot. That’s not an easy thing to do when hunkered down for a busy night at Chopsticks or Baby Ketten. But with a private room and a few forgiving friends, I can turn a night out into my closest approximation of a one-person show. Beside my egotistical desires, there are plenty of reasons to recommend a trip to Voicebox. Before 9 pm (and 7 pm Friday through Sunday), it’s open to all ages, which means your little future superstars can get a chance to hone their chops before the next American Idol audition. And because you control the song selection, you can also skip a tune when it hits a boring stretch or you find out, the hard way, that it’s out of your range. The only downside: It ain’t cheap. During peak time, the group rate is $90 an hour, not including their reasonably priced food and drink. You get what you pay for, though: not having to wait an hour between songs and avoiding any overly friendly, booze-fueled strangers who really liked how you sang Sheryl Crow’s “If It Makes You Happy.” RH Daily, 2112 NW Hoyt & 734 SE 6th