The Venue: Back in '09, when I first reviewed Kona Kitchen, it was a dead Maple Leaf bar that could barely string together five singers on a weekend night. Last Saturday, I returned to discover a vibrant karaoke scene that rivals any in town.
The Setup: My friends and I arrived at 8:30 p.m. The bar and restaurant were filled with people. The stage and KJ station were still situated in a customized nook between the two areas, but on this busy night it really stood out as the center of attention for both rooms. There's a monitor onstage and two plasmas in the bar for lyrics.
The KJ: Sean, this hip Polynesian dude, still runs the show. He opened the night with a sound check, but let the singers take over after that. He's a super-friendly guy. Both times I got up he gave me props on my singing and my song choices.
The Book: The catalogs have not been updated since the last time I was there and are pretty beat-up at this point, but they have tapped into a limitless selection. Sean introduced me to something I've never seen done: If his library doesn't have a requested song, he'll search for it on YouTube and (if available) will play it straight from there. It's the coolest innovation I've seen in a while.
The Rotation: The show started at 9, and the first round was 23 singers. I was the third, but didn't take the stage again until almost midnight. The third and final rotation didn't begin until almost 1 a.m. They called up singers until just before they closed.
The Audience: Eighty-five percent of the crowd was Hawaiian, Filipino, Japanese, or all of the above. Three big groups were cheering each other on all night. I didn't expect much of a reception for the obscure Springsteen number I performed, "Tougher Than the Rest," but wound up getting a huge round of applause.
The Performances: It was mostly a young crowd, so a lot of the numbers were either old-school R&B and hip-hop or current pop hits. We got awesome renditions of Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Posse on Broadway" and "Motownphilly" by Boyz II Men. The best male performer was Wally, who fired up the entire place with the Pointer Sisters classic "I'm So Excited." The best female performer also drew from the '80s, and delivered the finest "Caribbean Queen" I've ever heard.
After midnight, a table of white dudes in the back corner cracked up the entire place with some dirty numbers—"Me So Horny" by 2 Live Crew and "Poor Pussy" by David Allan Coe.
Grub: I'm usually too involved with figuring out my next song to think about eating, but they have these Spam-and-rice bricks wrapped in nori, called musubi, that were absolutely to die for.