The Song Riders

A karaoke quest leads to South Philly.

By Leah Blewett
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Feb. 7, 2007

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Hazy shade of winter: Gavone's regulars welcomed the young crooners.

This is a story about three uptown girls who'd been living in their uptown world as long as anyone with hot blood can. It's also a story about karaoke, which means all otherwise groan-inducing lyrical puns are to be considered precocious and witty.

It was a chilly Tuesday, and our former Tuesday night music club, Rock 'n' Roll Karaoke at the Smoked Joint, had yet to be replaced since its closing this past summer. So when talk turned to Gavone's, a corner bar at 10th and Wolf whose karaoke DJ is none other than Nick's Xtreme Entertainment, formerly of Smoked Joint fame, we bundled ourselves against the cold and hailed a cab with visions of backup singers noshing on hoagies and the gold chains around their necks catching the lights dancing in our heads.

We exited our cab in front of the bar to thunderous applause. Never mind it was from our bemused driver who'd chuckled the entire ride while we practiced our rendition of Fiona Apple's "Criminal."

At the top of the concrete entrance steps was a tiled likeness of what turned out to be Gavone's mascot: a pig, of course.

"Be careful--that pig is slippery," warned a regular who was smoking outside. We had a giggle over the charming local color. And then we were in.

At first glance things didn't look too promising. The bar was lined with regulars, only a handful of whom looked interested in the karaoke happenings at the end of the bar.

More entertaining was the pig decor: pigs on the wall, pigs sketched on the menu and a pervasiveness of pig products among the menu items.

"If there were any more pork in this place, we'd be singing karaoke in Congress," I cracked to my uptown girls. And then we settled into our downtown world.

The charming bartender Nicole poured us a seriously strong round of cocktails. Nick himself took the mike and sang "The Entertainer," eliciting cheers when he got to the line about laying all kinds of girls, probably inspired by his T-shirt, which read, "lays well with others." One of the regulars, a middle-aged crooner named Frank, did an admirable Sinatra. By that time we were into our second round of drinks. And then things really started looking up.

"With karaoke, if you do it right, you can be anyone you want," Frank said to us instructively. Then he broke into a version of "What a Wonderful World" that absolutely resurrected Louis Armstrong.

My uptown girls and I each took a turn on the mike. Little plastic takeout cups began appearing in front of us, which Nicole explained meant that someone in the bar had offered to buy us a round. Shots were poured. A chain-smoking local named Mean Gene wandered in and parked himself at the bar, conducting each singer with his cigarette like a middle school band director and speak-singing along, most notably to Jay-Z's "99 Problems."

Another couple of little plastic cups, and then the girls and I were ready to take our show back uptown, feeling rested, revived and not a little tipsy. As Frank launched into "Like a Rolling Stone," the entire bar chimed in, and the three of us wandered out the door to another round of applause.

Being cheered in and out of the bar--how does it feel? Well, I know it's only rock 'n' roll. But I like it.

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