If your experience with karaoke is limited to being heckled by regulars as you warble in the dark corner of a dive bar on the wrong side of the tracks, you’re in for the surprise of your life when you visit Galaxy Karaoke, soon to be one of Asiatown’s most talked about destinations. Almost a year in the making, this spare-no-expense “karaoke box,” as these establishments are referred to in Asia, is likely the most stylish such facility in the state.
From the outside, Galaxy Karaoke
(1593 E. 30th St.) looks like any other bland Midtown warehouse, its squat brick shell and steel bar-protected windows offering no clues as to what’s taking place inside. During a recent pre-opening visit I was blown away when I crossed the threshold. No, not by the belabored renditions of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” or Journey’s “Don't Stop Believin'” by amped-up guests, but rather by the space around them.
Owner Shing Ruan, in partnership with the owners of Voice Karaoke Bar in Columbus, says the area desperately needed a large, modern karaoke bar and he endeavored to build one on par with those he’s enjoyed in China. Ruan, who also owns R&R Gift Shop in Asia Plaza, spent a lot of time and money converting the 4,000-square-foot building into a crooner’s dream.
“In China, there are many places like this, but not in this area,” the owner explains, adding that despite its apparent size, the place would be considered small overseas. “I will do my best to make it great. I am using the best sound equipment. We put a lot of money into soundproofing; we put special stuff into the walls.”
Visitors enter into the large main lounge space, outfitted with a small stage and enveloped by a country mile of banquettes, each fronted by low-slung glass-topped illuminated tables. Suspended above the floor is a four-sided Jumbotron-size monitor so everyone in the room can follow along with the lyrics. There is no charge to hang out and sing in the main public space, but guests are likely expected to order a beer or cocktail from the large full-service bar.
An additional nine private rooms are accessible from the lone hallway, which loops around the entire space. Ideal for groups of people celebrating an event or simply those who prefer to sing in relative isolation, the private rooms range in size and can accommodate groups from small to 30 or more people.
When designing and building out the space, Ruan cut no corners. Banquettes are swaddled in tufted upholstery, walls are covered in attractive but functional acoustical panels, and a dizzying array of LED lights gives the impression that one is inside a Seventies-era discotheque. Each room has its own look and feel, with different design schemes and soundproofing panels. The private rooms feature thick doors and walls that shut out the noise from adjacent rooms and the main lounge.
“In every city I’ve been to there is something like this going on,” says Johnny Wu, filmmaker and founder of the Cleveland Asian Festival. “In Asia, karaoke bars are used for birthday parties, graduation parties and company meetings. Like the golf course, they bring business people to karaoke to close the deal.”
Each room is equipped with a touch-screen karaoke system loaded with 200,000 songs that cross cultural borders. To appeal to a wide audience, songs are available in English, Chinese and Japanese languages, with planned updates to up the inventory exponentially. The high-tech consoles control sound, lighting and video, and even feature call buttons to summon the wait staff for another round of drinks or some snacks. App-ready, the consoles can even be controlled from one’s smartphone.
Cleveland’s karaoke scene pales in comparison to those of larger cities, with participants often compelled to partake at fringe spots at off hours. While karaoke is offered at nearby spots like Bo Loong and Szechuan Gourmet, Galaxy will go a long way to propel the popular pastime into the mainstream thanks to a central location, consistent hours and room for literally hundreds.
Ewyn Tsang, who was also present at the pre-opening event, is a rabid karaoke fan. She and her friends go almost monthly, she says, and they can’t wait for Galaxy to open its doors for good.
“My friends and I really enjoy doing it, but we mainly go to local pubs and bars,” she says. “I typically go with 20 or even 30 people; the bigger the group, the more fun it is. The scene in Cleveland is a little quiet but we’re slowly getting there. This place looks awesome; the music is legit old-school Asian.”
Look for Galaxy to open in early June.