Belting out “Sweet Child O’ Mine” before a barroom of strangers takes nerve—especially if you’re tone deaf. But at Lincoln Karaoke (5526 North Lincoln), patrons can leave their inhibitions at the door. The club brings to Chicago the intimate style of sing-along East Asia has embraced for decades—private-room karaoke.
In one of fourteen rooms appointed with comfy couches, friends come together and shut out the rest of the world. Under the kaleidoscopic lights of a disco ball, club-goers munch on free snacks, shake light-up tambourines and choose from more than 4,000 English-language songs, including everything from “Anarchy in the UK” to “We Are the World.” The club adds ten new releases to the list each month and offers a vast Korean song list, as well as hits in languages such as Russian.
“My job is trying to make people happy,” says Lincoln Karaoke owner Steve Han, as a group of gregarious guys intone “Piano Man” in a nearby room. Han opened Lincoln Karaoke eight months ago.
If you get thirsty during your songfest, just press the button located in your room. This triggers a bell at the bar, and your room number displays on a screen. Within minutes, Han or one of his staffers is at your door ready to take your drink order. In addition to a full bar with beers from around the world, the club’s kitchen serves up kalbi, Korean beef ribs, and mandoo, steamed or fried vegetarian dumplings that come with dipping sauce.
Most of Chicago’s karaoke bars still use the pencil-and-paper method of queuing up singers. “You wait for a mic a couple of hours, right?” Han asks. “Then only one song.” Unlike such old-fashioned venues, Han’s club imports the latest karaoke technology from Asia. Wireless mics and powerful four-channel stereo systems are a few features Han’s club boasts. To choose a song, enter it on your remote control and point it at the flatscreen TV. If you want ambiance, choose from an array of background videos—from scenic views to digitized anime characters dancing in time with a song’s beat.
Lincoln Karaoke offers other extras patrons won’t find elsewhere. For birthday parties, Han provides a personalized cake and free bottles of champagne. With over twenty-five years in the travel business, Han knows a lot about hospitality—and hard work. He keeps the club neat as a pin, while by day, he runs Air American Travel next door.
Han believes karaoke is a good thing for the Lincoln Avenue strip, which is lined with rundown motels. “All the nice young generation people coming,” Han says. “The neighborhood is getting better.” (Elizabeth Winkowski)