Lead image: Bunga Bunga
For some, the word alone is enough to make us shudder, but for others, it’s the perfect opportunity to let your inner Beyoncé take centre stage – whatever your views are on karaoke, you won’t be short for choice when it comes to picking a venue…
We’ll be the first to admit that we’re BIG fans of a good old karaoke night – okay, we might need a drink or two beforehand just to get us in the mood, but what could be better than belting out your favourite anthems with friends on a Friday night?
It’s now pretty much impossible to find an area of London that doesn’t have a hugely popular karaoke bar, and if there isn’t a dedicated venue, then many restaurants and pubs are now starting to set aside special sound-proof rooms too.
This craze has its roots in 1970s Japan, when a musician called Daisuke Inoue introduced the first ever karaoke machine. Legend has it that this was in response to a number of demands from his clients who wanted to sing along to his music even when he couldn’t be there to perform it live – he came up with the ingenious idea of a machine that allowed people to sing along to a pre-recorded song in 1971.
The idea soon caught on, spreading across the rest of Asia and indeed the rest of the world; by the 1990s, karaoke machines were in all the coolest bars, lounges and clubs.
Lucky Voice was one of the early trailblazers for karaoke here in London. The founders, Martha Lane Fox, Nick Thistleton, Julian Douglas and Jonny Shaw were inspired after taking part in a 24-hour (!) long karaoke marathon in Japan and decided that the concept needed to be brought back to the UK. By the summer of 2005, the first branch in Soho had opened its doors, and London has been a distinctly more musical place ever since.
Bunga Bunga was another early voice on London’s karaoke scene, with their first venue opening back in 2011: ‘When we opened our first Bunga Bunga, London’s karaoke offering was limited and outdated.
‘It was our vision to disrupt the banality of the London pub/bar scene at the time, and open a space where people could eat, drink and be entertained (through karaoke) all under one roof from the early evening to the early morning,’ reflects Charlie Gilkes, co-founder of Inception Group.
Charlie credits the recent growth in karaoke as being down to a number of factors, such as the popularity of reality singing shows and the development in karaoke systems. ‘But perhaps the most significant factor fuelling the demand for karaoke is the growing desire for customers to seek out ‘immersive’ experiences,’ Charlie adds.
So, if you’ve been inspired to put those vocal cords to the test, here are some of London’s top karaoke spots (you can thank us later)…
1 Lucky Voice, Soho, Islington & Holborn
Lucky Voice are the trailblazers when it comes to karaoke in the UK, so head to one of their locations if you’re after the ultimate, authentic sing-along experience. You’ll get a two-hour long session in your own private booth that can fit up to 30 people, so it’s the perfect place to take friends or colleagues (it’s a sure way to break any tensions in the office…). Push their iconic ‘thirsty’ button to get cocktails delivered straight to you, and there’s also an extensive pizza and snack menu on offer if you need to top up the energy levels.
2 Bunga Bunga, Battersea & Covent Garden
Think karaoke, and Bunga Bunga will often automatically spring to mind – this super trendy, Italian-themed bar and restaurant is known for its whacky live entertainment, and if you come here for food or cocktails, there’s little doubt that you’ll be up and out of your seat taking part in no time. Bunga Bunga Battersea offers a ‘karaoke brunch’ on a Saturday, where £28 per person (plus £20 per person for two hours’ worth of Bellinis) will get you a three-course menu featuring Nutella dipped doughnuts, fruit and their famous crispy pizza. This is a brunch with a difference though, since you’ll have the opportunity to take to the spotlight and choose from over 5000 songs to wow your audience with. New for 2020, they’ll be offering a number of themed musical nights – on Thursdays you can take part in ‘Bunga in Their Eyes’, which is their homage to the 90s talent show ‘Stars in Their Eyes’. On Wednesdays ‘Singo Bingo’ will take place which offers the winning combination of karaoke and bingo (we know, amazing) whilst Fridays will see people performing the biggest hits at ‘Singa-Longa-Bunga’. At the Covent Garden branch, on Fridays and Saturdays you can sing alongside their 5-piece in-house band and give them a run for their money when it comes to musical skills.
3 TSQ Playhouse, Covent Garden
Earlier this month the Thai Square Restaurant Group opened this cocktail concept bar in the heart of Covent Garden, and we’re already obsessed. Think signature dishes such as their crispy duck with ruby sauce, as well as glamorous cocktails called all manner of things such as ‘Enchanted Rose’ and ‘Girl Gone Wild’. Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten about the karaoke – there are two decadent karaoke rooms here, as well a ‘play zone’ equipped with a digital beer pong table.
166-170 Shaftesbury Avenue WC2H 8JB; tsqplayhouse.com
4 Mama Shelter, Bethnal Green
There are Mama Shelters all over the world, and we’re lucky enough to have one in Bethnal Green which prides itself on being your ‘home away from home’ in East London. So, get comfy and book yourself and some friends in to one of their two karaoke rooms – which, rest assured, are perfectly soundproofed so you can carry on singing your heart out late into the night. They’re open from 12am to 12pm seven days a week, so you can quite literally karaoke here all day, every day.
437 Hackney Road E2 8PP; mamashelter.com
5 All Star Lanes, various locations
Live the American Dream at All Star Lanes, with food and drink, ten-pin bowling and the all-important karaoke – what more could you want? Alongside the bowling lanes that they are famous for, the White City and Brick Lane venues also have private karaoke booths which are suitable for up to 14 people, and they’re a bargain at less than £10 a head to hire too. If all the singing has got you feeling a bit peckish, you can choose from options such as mac’n’cheese, steaks and tacos on the menu; alternatively, come here for a dreamy bottomless brunch which includes two hours’ worth of prosecco, mimosas or craft beer.
6 KaraUke, Tower Bridge & Albert Embankment
This one’s a little different, because it’s a band of real-life people rather than pre-recorded songs in a karaoke booth. ‘KaraUke’ is made up of 5 ukulele players, a bass player and a cajon player, and they’ll play all your favourite tunes whilst you sing along; you’ll be able to read the lyrics off a page, but if you forget them, you’ll have the experts on hand to back you up. They play at The Raven in Tower Bridge on the second Thursday of the month, and then at Tamesis Dock on the third Thursday – this is a very special venue, since it’s a floating barge on the Thames offering stunning views of the Houses of Parliament.
7 Bao Borough, Borough Market
Just on the edge of Borough Market, you’ll find this hidden gem that’s a karaoke lover’s dream. They have a private KTV room that seats up to 14 people, with the option of switching to ‘disco mode’ (we think that sounds great). From Wednesday to Sunday you can grab something to eat from their window hatch, but they also offer sharing cocktail pitchers and food platters to keep any karaoke induced hunger at bay. At lunch time, hire of the room is just £5 per person per hour, or £8 in the evening.
13 Stoney Street, Borough SE1 9AD; baolondon.com
8 Star of Bethnal Green
This hugely popular pub is known for its chilled, quiet vibe in the day time as well as for its DJs and disco nights in the evenings, but did you know there’s a karaoke room here too? We didn’t either, but it’s got space for up to 20 people and it’s powered by Lucky Voice, with over 10,000 hits to choose from. Surely even the fussiest of us will find something to sing on that list…The room is available to hire by the hour, costing £49 from Sunday to Thursday or £69 from Friday to Saturday.
359 Bethnal Green Road E2 6LG; starofbethnalgreen.co.uk
9 The Old Queens Head, Islington
The Old Queens Head is yet another thriving pub that’s jumped on board the karaoke band wagon, with two spacious rooms that are the perfect place to find your inner Mariah and party the night away. They have space for anything from 10 to 70 guests, and personal hosts will be at your every beck and call for food and drink whilst you choose which hit to belt out from a 10,000 strong list. On Monday and Sunday hire of the room is free for a minimum of 10 guests, whilst on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays it costs £20 per hour. On Fridays and Saturdays, £150 will get you the room for two hours.
44 Essex Road Angel N1 8LN; theoldqueenshead.com
10 Karaoke Box, Mayfair, Soho & Smithfield
With various locations across London, Karaoke Box is another iconic venue that is dedicated solely to offering the ultimate, karaoke-filled night out. There are various private karaoke rooms which have a seemingly endless selection of songs to choose from, and there is also a fantastic drinks menu so you’re bound to find your favourite tipple too.