Brush up on your Bon Jovi lyrics and buy yourself a mai tai, because every Friday night at 9, the downstairs lounge at Beijing and Tokyo, 61 S. Main St., gives locals a chance to exchange their hairbrushes for real microphones. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I’m talking about karaoke.
Needing to experience this for myself, I dragged my fiancé, Rob, along to check the place out. We arrived around 9:30 p.m., and as we walked into the small intimate lounge, I expected to be greeted by some sweet tunes. However, the only music we heard was the upbeat, club-like kind played by a DJ sitting in the corner with his equipment.
“Where’s the karaoke stage?” I asked Rob.
He pointed to the table of DJ equipment. “I think that’s it.”
Rob and I took a seat at the bar and ordered a round of drinks. As we waited for a brave soul to take the “stage,” I scoped out our company, wondering who would be the next up. Would it be the couple to our right? Doubtful, as they seemed to be arguing over something. Maybe the young couple to our left, sipping fruity-looking cocktails? Or perhaps the people playing pool would break long enough to sing “Friends in Low Places,” by Garth Brooks? I would say that the possibilities were endless, but since the bar wasn’t exactly packed (there were approximately 15 people there), I began to worry that my night would be karaoke-less.
Finally, at 10 p.m., an older gentleman in red suspenders took a seat from across the DJ and sang Otis Redding’s “Sitting by the Dock of the Bay.” He sat, elbow propped up on the DJ’s table, looking as if this wasn’t the first time he’d frequented Beijing and Tokyo on a Friday night. In fact, out of the small group present, many seemed be regulars. Several of the patrons called the perky, young bartender by her first name and others acted as if they knew one another.
Once Suspenders Man finished his song, the guy from the couple to our left got up to sing a Matchbox 20 hit from a few years back. After him, we heard Frank Sinatra sung with finesse by a guy who looked to be in his mid-20s, wearing a white hooded sweatshirt. Meanwhile, the bar began to fill up a little more. Finally . . . the show had begun!
Since we now had reason to stick around, Rob and I ordered steamed dumplings ($5.25 for six). According to the bartender, the full restaurant menu is available until 11 p.m. or midnight (depending on the crowd) and after that appetizers are offered. I thought this was pretty neat because, for one, I enjoy Beijing and Tokyo’s food and the more hours available for me to eat it, the better, and, two, there’s not exactly a plethora of Main Street restaurants open late at night.
While waiting for our dumplings, a woman with long brown hair and glasses who had just completed Journey’s “Faithfully” struck up a conversation with us. According to her, the bar was usually much busier and more happenin’, and she felt it necessary to apologize to us for this. Clearly, we stuck out as newbies.
She explained that as a mother in her 40s, she didn’t get out much, but always looked forward to karaoke at Beijing and Tokyo – even if she only made her way to the bar once a month. She assured us it was usually much better, and hoped we would come back some other time.
“You two look far too awesome to be so bored,” she said.
Although I agreed with her assessment of us looking awesome, I promised we weren’t bored at all but enjoyed being flies on the wall.
When our dumplings came out, Woman in Glasses shook our hands and told us to enjoy.
“She was nice,” I said to Rob.
“Mmmhmm,” Rob mumbled in between dumplings.
When Rob went to the bathroom, I felt a tap on my shoulder. Woman in Glasses was back asking if I was going to get up and dance.
Confused (I had not seen a dance floor), I turned to see two woman dancing away in between the pool table and the DJ booth. They looked like they were having a good time – laughing as they moved with the music, they seemed not to care that they were the only ones out there.
“I’m sorry, no thanks,” I said with a smile. “I would need to drink far more to want to do that.”
Woman in Glasses nodded as if she understood, and scurried back to dance with her friends.
Rob and I stuck around for half an hour longer (not without hearing “Margaritaville” first). It seemed time for us to go – the bar was getting much busier and our food and round of drinks were done. On the way out, our friend, Woman in Glasses, said goodbye, gave us each a hug and reminded us to come back again.
The night had been an entertaining experience for Rob and me, and we agreed we would come back if we could round up a group of friends to go with us.
Although it wasn’t our normal scene, we enjoyed the food and listening to karaoke, and the service was quick and friendly.
Even if we couldn’t find a large enough entourage next time, we’re sure we would be welcomed. Because even if Beijing and Toyko isn’t a bar where you know everyone’s name, whether you like it or not, everyone will try to know yours.
Beijing and Tokyo
61 S. Main St., 228-0888
Karaoke begins at 9 p.m. every Friday.