All for Juan

Karaoke Korrespondent ponders Chinese ascendancy at Orient Express.

As most crooners are already aware, the old Andy's Diner—the historic spot on Fourth Avenue South in SoDo made up of railroad cars—is now a Chinese restaurant with private karaoke rooms called Orient Express. I've been there a few times to drink after Seahawks games, and had one very boozy karaoke night with the Weekly staff at their holiday party a couple years back. But last Wednesday was my first chance to review the spot with a clear head. Or so I thought.

I brought my buddy Juan because I couldn't imagine anything lamer than singing alone in a private room. We arrived around 6 p.m. The plan was to eat dinner, get loose with a couple drinks, pop into a room for an hour to sing a few songs, and get out of there. That didn't happen. We were there until almost midnight.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a sweeter drinking atmosphere than that of Orient Express. I never got to see the bar when it was Andy's, but the new owners have kept the original dark-wood interior pretty well preserved. And the famous "presidential" car FDR once rode in is still on display. We spent a lot of time bellied up watching summer reruns on channel 4, listening to awesome, random R&B someone had fired up on the jukebox, and chatting with the bartender, Carrie.

We finally got around to renting the karaoke room at about 9 p.m. It's a great deal—just a $15-minimum food or drink order per person. Had we understood that going in, we would have rented the room before having spent $30 each on gin, whiskey, and Hornitos shots. They set us up in the Hong Kong room (all the suites are named after a different international city). It's sleekly furnished with comfortable black high-back couches that wrap around three walls and can easily seat 15 people. On the wall hung a 55-inch LCD for the lyrics, and below that on a table was a small monitor that provided the song menu. The karaoke receiver was straight from China, and contained around 2,200 songs. It took a little time to figure out how to search the selections, but eventually we mastered the remote-control functions.

Half the selections were newer pop hits, and the rest were a mix from every other genre. I wondered if it would be weird with just Juan and me, but we were so fueled-up for singing that it was great not to have to wait longer than one person to get up next. We easily sang a dozen songs each. Juan discovered he could do a pretty mean rendition of the Queen classic "Another One Bites the Dust." And I was happy to learn my voice has finally matured to the point that I can deliver a truly quality performance of "Lady in Red" by Chris DeBurgh.

One thing about this system completely dumbfounded me. All the newest selections from artists like Jay-Z, Lady Gaga, and Katy Perry used their actual music videos. The crazy thing was this button on the remote that added vocals, and I realized it wasn't a reproduction of the song but the actual artists singing. I went to sleep that night tripping out, thinking the Chinese had actually figured out how to eliminate vocals from studio-produced songs, but realized the next morning that was still completely impossible and they probably just had the original mixes without the artist's vocal track. For a moment there I felt what it was like to believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy again.

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