Karaoke: the word translates to “empty orchestra” in Japanese. But neon lights; cheap drinks with tacky umbrellas; laminated songbooks; strange snacks; brash banquettes; and drunken vocals all make the experience far from empty.
Darren Tong from Echo Point has been in the industry for more than 15 years. He believes karaoke is an important part of the national spirit. “From an Australian standpoint, they love to go out on the weekend, after the five days of work,” says Tong.
The general manager of CEO Karaoke Malcolm Yao believes karaoke should be relaxing, so it helps if you rent a private room. “Once the door is closed, friends go wild,” he says. “The whole idea is that it’s a space they come to relax, that’s the main thing.”
Most-popular karaoke songs? According to Tong and Yao, Taylor Swift is a clear favourite.
Here are the bars at the beating heart of Sydney’s karaoke scene.
This George Street bar and restaurant serves quality Japanese food, so at least you’ll embarrass yourself on a full stomach. A welcome departure from cold dim sims and prawn crackers, there’s fresh sushi, hotpots and Japanese-style pizza on offer. Too busy belting out a tune? Order via the touch-screen TV in your private room. Note that Mizuya closes at midnight. It’s a little earlier than your standard karaoke bar, but you’re in a prime location to kick on after.
Sun to Thu 11.30am–12am
Fri & Sat 11.30am–2am
Chinatown’s CEO Karaoke earns a special place on our list for its long happy hour, on every day of the week. Visitors can enjoy “all you can sing” karaoke for just $16 a head between 1pm and 7pm. “People come over here and sing as much as they like, until they’ve got [a] sore throat, and then they go home,” says general manager Malcolm Yao. There are 22 themed private rooms. Rates start from $60. There’s a range of bar snacks, such as potato crisps, popcorn, dried squid and pizza, and if it’s your birthday, you get 15 per cent off food and drink.
Sun to Wed 1pm–2am
Thu to Sat 1pm–4am
This karaoke lounge was established in 2005 in Capitol Square on George Street. The playlist is extensive and the wall art is on the eclectic side. There’s a Thai menu with chicken wings, hot chips, fish-ball curry and rice dumplings to choose from. If you’re feeling a little lonely out there, they also play the original vocals alongside your own. Prices start from $10 per person for an hour.
Mon to Fri 2pm–4am
Sat & Sun 1pm–4am
Located on Pitt Street, Echo Point has been in the game for 22 years, and it underwent a refurbishment in April this year. There’s more than 180,000 English songs as well as Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Korean, Malay, Vietnamese and Italian songs to keep you going. The list is updated every two months, and each comes with its original video clip. Rooms can fit up to 22 people and the fully licensed bar offers drinks and platters of sushi, edamame and chicken nuggets. 5am might come too soon.
Tues, Thurs-Sun 12pm–4am
Ding Dong Dang
Many Sydneysiders have wound up belting out Bon Jovi at Ding Dong Dang. Intelligently located right near Central Station, the charmingly shonky karaoke bar is a rite of passage for anyone who’s stayed out long enough to see the sun come up. It’s full of kitsch furniture and tacky soundtracks for you to sing along to. It even serves prawn chips out the front.
Mon to Sun 5pm–3am
This well-hidden bar is in Dixon Mall in Haymarket. It offers 13 private rooms as well as the main stage if you’re feeling brave. With an impressively wide-ranging drinks menu, you should have no trouble staying until the late closing time of 4am.
Goro’s offers great bento boxes and gyoza, as well as a selection of Japanese beer and sake. The private booths come with their own iPad playlist. Visit mid-week and you’ll pay just $15 for a Japanese curry, Kirin and free arcade games all night.
Mon to Wed 11.30am–12am
Karaoke World can lay claim to being Sydney’s first karaoke venue, which is a pretty big deal given how swish it looks now. Established in 1994, it’s now a refurbished hub of dodgy singing, with more than 12,000 songs in six languages including Japanese, Thai and Indonesian. There are 18 rooms to choose from and it once appeared in an AC/DC video clip. It’s a classic.
Sun to Fri 3pm–4pm
Updated on May 19.