This story is part of an occasional series exploring nightlife in New York City.
After a colleague brought up karaoke in a conversation last week, Molly Archuleta knew exactly where she wanted to spend her Friday night.
Ms Archuleta, who lives in Bushwick, hopped on the subway to head to Planet Rose, a karaoke parlor in Alphabet City she discovered 12 years ago.
“The best thing about it is that it’s an open karaoke experience, so you don’t know what’s going to come out the door,” she said. “You have accountants coming in to sing Metallica; you have people from outside who want to sing Celine Dion, whom we will always support.
Even with the abundance of private karaoke rooms in New York, many people prefer a more communal environment. At Planet Rose, they sing their favorite songs from zebra print booths and dance as strangers perform on faded tile floors.
“People randomly come up and say ‘my mom’s birthday is here, I want to sing her favorite song’ or ‘my brother is getting married and I’m so excited’,” Ms Archuleta said. “Everyone in life always needs some kind of safe space to break free.”
Planet Rose, of course, is not the only bar of its kind. Many New York venues host communal karaoke nights that are popular with guests and guests.
Olive Oliver, 26, hosts Sunday night karaoke some weeks at Jade, a bar on the border of Bed-Stuy and Bushwick.
She usually kicks things off by performing Sisqo’s “Thong Song” – “it’s so theatrical, and it shows that you actually have a range as a singer” – and then tries to rally the customers so that they sing their own songs.
“Of course, I respect the limits. If someone says, ‘I don’t want to sing,’ I think that’s fine,” she said. “But whenever a shy person agrees to come on stage to sing something, I will always be his #1 hype man.”
On some nights, she also hosts Rebecca’s, a Bushwick bar a block from Jade, or Chino Grande, a new karaoke lounge in Williamsburg.
But no matter where she is, her success relies on reading the energy of the room.
“If there’s a room full of white women, I’ll probably do ‘You Oughta Know,'” she said of Alanis Morissette’s song. “If there are old aunts or people who like the grown-up, sexy vibe, I’d pick something from the 90s R&B catalog. And sometimes, if I feel like I belong in the family of homosexuals, maybe I’ll sing Whitney Houston or Shania Twain.
Either way, she’ll do her best to find common ground.
“If they don’t have any apparent commonalities at first glance, you can at least know they’re all in the same place at the same time,” Ms Oliver said. “If you live in Bushwick in 2022, you must have heard a Charli XCX song.”
Jade Beyers, 36, co-owner and manager of Jade, said she had experienced “enough karaoke for a lifetime” as a bartender during her Karaoke Sundays. But she still enjoys watching people take the opportunity to play a role or do something silly.
“You can be comfortable in a space like this, where you can just be silly or forget the words and not feel humiliated,” she said. “Because there’s just this undercurrent of love and care.”
Missy O’Reilly, 43, who has co-owned Planet Rose since 2007, said she doesn’t often do karaoke herself and prefers to dance with others.
“I need to get a little eggnog drunk and hear ‘Christmas Shoes’ to get motivated to sing,” she said.
But she fully understands the importance of creating a place where regulars can connect with each other, one “where people can feel free to be vulnerable.”
“It’s such a diverse group of people who are connected through this weird, sticky place and have just made that connection through karaoke,” she said. “Everybody always says it’s their church.”
Last Friday, Roy Marasigan – known to his friends as Cowboy Roy – played Tony Orlando and Dawn’s “Knock Three Times” at Planet Rose as the bar cheered him on.
Mr Marasigan, 44, works as a freelance video editor and said his odd schedule was part of the reason he had come to the bar since 2004.
“That’s the beauty of this place,” he says. “My weekends are sometimes like a Tuesday or Wednesday night, and I can stop here any night and there are always people to hang out with.”
Later that night, while watching two people perform “Dog Days Are Over” by Florence + the Machine, Mr. Marasigan began to cry.
“There’s something about singing a good song,” he said. “Joy is so beautiful.”
Where to go
Please check websites or contact venues to confirm karaoke hours; some only have karaoke on certain nights each week or month.
Pink Planet219 Avenue A, planetrosenyc.com
sing sing81 Avenue A, singsingavea.com
Sing Sing Karaoke Saint-Marc9 Piazza San Marco, karaokesingsing.com
161 Lafayette161 rue Lafayette, 161lafayettebar.com
at Winnie’s58 East Broadway (2nd floor), instagram.com/winniesbar1987
Room at Sid Gold’s request165 W 26th Street, sidgolds.com
Mulberry Street Bar176 Mulberry Street
Upstairs59 Canal Street