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Mele, Himeni, Kani

Elizabeth and I spent Week Three of our Honeymoon in Hawaii.  Yes, that’s right.  Honeymoon Part IV after visiting Vegas, Seattle, and Vancouver.  We saved the best for last.

As far as vacations go, Hawaii is one of those places that I feel are as good, if not better, then they come.  I say this because I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been there.  However, this was my third time in O’ahu but this visit, by far, was the most special.

First things first, thanks to my brother-in-law Gabriel for setting us up with the Hale Koa.  This resort was the best place I’ve stayed in Honolulu.  But truthfully, my previous visits were on a very tight budget and I had intentionally stayed in affordable accommodations where I got what I paid for.  This was my first time staying in a hotel room with a view of the ocean.    On tops of having a more than adequate room, immediate access to the beach, a wonderful convenience store and beachfront bar, the Hale Koa has a garden for their luau and it is hosted by one of my favorite singers from the 80s, Glenn Medeiros.  How cool!  I was not expecting to see him, so I was amazed when he was introduced at the beginning of the luau.  Two thumbs up, Gabe.  This was a great stay.

Now, during our time visiting O’ahu, we took our rental car and ventured away from Waikiki, and Honolulu for that matter, to visit with family.  During a day spent at Ewa Beach, we found ourselves looking for a nearby happy hour.  About fifteen minutes from the beach, we stumbled in to Kapolei and settled at Suck’em Up Bar & Lounge.


I just wanted to find a place to have a beer and watch the Mavericks vs. Thunder game.  Imagine my surprise when I overheard another patron ask the bartender to open up the karaoke mic.  What a pleasant surprise it was for us.

One word to describe the set-up:  LOUD.  The speakers may be sensitive, but if you sing there, you’ll definitely be heard.  Sometimes singers like that.  Sometimes I don’t.  I think it was good for a singer.  You could focus more on singing on key rather than belting out your song.  Being on the island, I chose something more mellow, so I sang a Christopher Cross classic, inspired by an entertainer we saw performing at Barefoot Bar in Waikiki (you the man, Brutha Ben).

Suck’em Up may appear like some hole-in-the-wall kinda place.  In fact, you cannot see inside from the outside, but it is a comfortable place, and like most of Hawaii, we felt welcome.  If you’re in Kapolei and want to sing, you can pay this place a visit.  Just know it’s a dollar for each song you sing.  Aloha.


Singers Wanted

Karaoke Wednesday's at Splash with DJ Spice

Karaoke Wednesday’s at Splash with DJ Spice

My boy Rikee hooked it up at Splash Bar.  Come every Wednesday night for the best Hawaiian food in downtown Portland.  DJ Spice is there every week spinning the tunes for all you karaoke lovers out there.  She will sing with you, too!

Elizabeth and I have been out several times and we sing A LOT.  Why?  Not just because we’re good but because no one else will step up.  They get people in there, so if you want to sing in front of a crowd willing to listen, come on down!  Last time we were there, some dude tipped Spice a twenty just to keep us up there on stage.  Hmm… I would expect it to keep me off, but that was pretty cool!

Vancouver BC

Elizabeth and I are on tour stop Number Four for our honeymoon. We have landed in beautiful British Columbia. Now, I’ve been to Vancouver before, but my new wife has not and what a discovery this has been for her.

Not too many details to share as we intend to enjoy as much time as we can during our time off. It’s vacation, for goodness sake. But three plugs I’d like to make here.

The first is Spokes. If you’re going to bike through Stanley Park, and I highly recommend it, get your bicycle rental at Spokes. Great selection and they’ll treat you right.

The Wok Squid at Cardero's is the best in the world.  The ahi is great, too!

The Wok Squid at Cardero’s is the best in the world. The ahi is great, too!

Number two. Cardero’s in Coal Harbour is a must have for dinner. MUST have. Along with their outstanding selection of beers, it’s a great place to eat out on the harbour AND the calamari is to die for.  We loved it so much, we ate here two nights in a row, and we probably ate five plates of this, collectively (but don’t tell my wife I told you).

Lastly, for all you karaoke fans, which is why I assuming you are reading my blog, visit Fantacity on Robson St. It’s a private room karaoke place, but I enjoyed the selection mostly. Best part about this place is that it’s always available. I was disappointed there weren’t a lot of places we could go sing in a city as big as Vancouver.  Granted, it’s only Wednesday night, but come on!  Thanks for being open, Fantacity.

We’ll be back someday, Vancouver.

Old Town

For almost ten years, I spent my professional life in what I thought was the most unlikely part of Portland:  Old Town.  One of the things I remember most during that time was working late nights and then finding a place to unwind.  For me, that place was just a block down the way on the corner NW Davis at 3rd Avenue.    It was called The Boiler Room.

The Boiler Room – Portland, Oregon

What I remember most about The Boiler Room was that it was a small place where I could go to do a few simple things:  drink, play pool, and sing karaoke.  It was one of three places I would ever hang out in Old Town, the other two being Barracuda and McFadden’s.  But The Boiler Room was the only place that had karaoke.  In fact, they tell everyone they are Downtown Portland’s only karaoke bar.

At The Boiler Room in 2007

My fondest memory of the place was being there for one of the first dates between two of my best friends Scott and Katherine.  Two years later, they got married.  On one of the announcements they mailed out for the event, was a photo I had taken of them from that date.  Coincidentally, that was the last time I had been to The Boiler Room as I stopped working downtown in 2007.

Sunday night, I would return to the scene after enjoying a night of stand-up comedy at nearby Harvey’s.  After six years, the bar still looks great, but karaoke, seems a lot better than I remember.  I say this because for as often as I went there, I never really felt connected to the bartenders or the karaoke DJs there.  Plus the system wasn’t great.  I remember singing Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up,” which is a song I know perfectly from start to finish.  That track was horribly off key and by far one of worst performances I had ever done.

I met a new DJ.  He is known simply as Dr. Love.  Good guy.  He introduce me, or re-introduced me to The Boiler Room and in typical Saigon John fashion, I went to work on the mic.  My opening act was Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic.”  Dr. Love enjoyed it so much, he decided to follow that up with another Morissette song, “One Hand In My Pocket.”  One word somes up both of those songs:  fun.

The set-up has a nice wide open floor for good time dancin’ and singin’, something I’ve always enjoyed about that place.  But now, I appreciate the karaoke system.  I don’t feel cheated by a bad one that doesn’t allow me to sound good.  The old TV’s have been replaced.  It’s much nicer to read from.  And I felt more encouraged by the new DJ (at least new to me).

The next time I return will hopefully be sooner than six years.  I’ll be back.

Before I conclude, I will share video of Clare, my soon-to-be sister-in-law in three weeks, singing current hit, “When I’m Gone” also known as “Cups.”

The Cup Song



I will start with this:  One year ago today, I popped the question.  What a wild ride these past twelve months have been.  The preparation has been pretty intense and I’m ready to move ahead.  We’ll get married soon enough, Elizabeth.  I promise.  Just seventy days left.

Elizabeth and I hung out at Ambassador Lounge this past Tuesday night.  Nikki, our bartender tipped us off on the new club the owner has opened up this month, so we thought we’d give it a try Friday night.

Trio Club is located at SE 9th Ave at Burnside St.

Trio Club is located at SE 9th Ave at Burnside St.

The place is called Trio Club, located just east of the Burnside Bridge.  This area has changed over the years, I would assume mainly because of the traffic complications with Sandy Blvd intersecting Burnside street not too far from this location.  Burnside and Couch Streets have now become one-way traffic.  It’s a pretty busy area, so expect street parking though there is one small lot across the street that can be used in the evenings.  The building itself has been enlarged and remodeled.  Many Portlanders may remember this spot belonging to The Galaxy which was once a pretty cool karaoke spot.  If you been around Portland for even longer, you may even remember this is where a Denny’s restaurant used to be.

Upon my arrival, I was greeted by Sammy Foong.  You know you’re a VIP when the owner knows who you are.  Even better, he wanted to make sure I wasn’t charged a cover before I walked in.  I didn’t.  But for everyone else, it’s five bucks.  Sorry y’all.  ROR

Trio is appropriately named for the three sound stages inside.  You won’t see a place like this anywhere else in Portland.  It is nice and very welcoming.  Of the three stages, my party was situated in the main restaurant area.  So I’ll be covering the big stage for this visit.

Kevin, a familiar face who also works at Ambassador, was our karaoke jockey tonight.  The KJ wasn’t the only thing familiar.  The computer system to put in your songs is the same set-up you’ll see at Ambassador.  I like it because it’s fair and  you always know when to expect yourself back on stage.  At other places, you never know with the KJ when you’ll be up to sing again.  That is, of course, unless you tip ’em, but even that’s not always a guarantee.

Saigon John at center stage.

Saigon John at center stage.

Of the three stages, our stage is the only one not in a smaller, more intimate dining room.  Not only will the rest of the restaurant and bar hear  you sing, but you’ll also be heard on the speakers outside.  On the subject of speakers, this is the part that I sometimes take for granted.  I’m sure Trio spared little expense to get a quality sound set-up inside.  But Elizabeth couldn’t hear herself sing and I hardly noticed that problem.  The reason I bring up this comparison is that she sings just for the sake of singing whereas I sing to entertain people.  So if I go up and perform a song I know from start to finish, I pretty much run with the ball and notice nothing else, the speakers being no exception.  Take that for what you will, but it’s loud and I think it’s still better than fine.

There is a lot of space here.  You have your stage and a pretty sizable dance floor in front.  There are also high ceilings, so if you rely heavily on reading words when you sing, just know the monitor is mounted pretty high up there.  However, there is a big projection screen right behind you.  And if you know me, I would tell you that’s not ideal for performers because I’d rather sing to my audience and not have my back turned to them.


Elizabeth sings Dido’s “White Flag”

A couple ways I view this stage.  It’s cool if you sing ballads, but this dance floor takes up a good amount of space and I’d love to see it used.  I couldn’t get anyone to dance tonight.  I wasn’t that bad, was I?  It wasn’t packed but again, this place is new.  As Trio gets more exposure, I certainly expect this to improve and I’ll get what I want as a performer – a receptive audience who will party with you.

From a food and drink POV, expect higher prices due to this location.  Being close to downtown, it’s fair to assume downtown prices.  A bottle of Coors is five bucks and it’s nine bucks for three big mozzarella sticks.   When you feel like splurging, certainly try their menu, but I’d advise eating dinner before you come.  You shouldn’t have dinner that late anyway.

I like the location.  It’s close to downtown, but it’s not downtown, so it doesn’t come with nearly as much transient nuisances and pedestrians blocking traffic.  Pretty soon, I will be living nearby, so I think I’ll start seeing this place pretty often.  I have a good thing with Ambassador but it’s just become better with Trio.  Well done, Sammy.  I like what you’ve done with the place.

White Flag – Elizabeth loves to sing this song by Dido.  I want to share a version of this song performed by one of my favorite artists, and I’ve mentioned him a lot in my blog, Howard Jones.  By the way, Friday night I chose to sing Jones’ United States debut single, “New Song,” which came out thirty years ago.  Wow, that totally takes me back.

Tiki Lounge

Before I share my recent experience, I want to show you this video that made me laugh this morning.  Here are some people with whom I would absolutely love to go singing.

One of my most memorable karaoke experiences was one evening when there was a singles karaoke night.  This was hosted by some local publication, I can’t remember but I want to say Portland Mercury, at Alibi Tiki Lounge located 4024 N Interstate Ave, Portland, OR 97227.  What I remember most was a duet roulette where I got paired up with a woman I’ve never met to perform an undetermined song.  To my fortune, the song selected for us was “Summer Lovin'” from the Grease soundtrack, a track I knew very well.  My partner was amazed by this impromptu performance.  I did the harmonizing and everything.  It was awesome, but no love connection.  Which was fine.  I’d have my connection almost ten years later.

Fast forward to this past Thursday night.  With my new love, Elizabeth, I returned for the first time.  The place was just like I remembered when I walked in.  Only now, the karaoke setup seems a little different.

How cool is this? The entry way from the bar to the karaoke lounge at Alibi.

They seem to have a brand.  It’s called Baby Ketten Karaoke.  I’m not sure it will catch on, at least for me, anyway.  But I don’t want to take away from the menu.  Alibi has the deepest selection of songs of anywhere in the area from my recent memory.  That is a very big deal to me.

I love the feel in this place.  I feel welcomed here.  But a few things you must know when you come sing here.  First, they do solicit a recommended dollar for each song you put up.  I’m not against doing it.  I just don’t like the solicitation.  Secondly, and more importantly, if you sing here, you should really know your song.

There are two screens from where you can read the words to your song, one big projection screen which is commonly place on the back wall, and another small but clearer screen next to the mic stand.

Looking at either screen for your words will not enable you to sing TO your audience.

I say you should really know your song because if your stuck looking at either one, either  your back will be towards the audience or you just simply don’t face them at all.  That kind of set-up is a faux pas in my book.

Elizabeth described the speakers as too loud to hear herself.  Yet another reason to know your song.  I didn’t even think about it when I sang, but that is because I perfomed “No One Is To Blame,” a common track in my repertoire.

I was impressed with the talent we heard that night.  But it seemingly got pretty busy.  Thinking it would be too long before we’d get up and sing again, we left.  But that’s not to say we didn’t enjoy our experience.  We will certainly come back again.

Aloha, Pyzanos

Yesterday, I made my way out to Hillsboro in Portland’s westside.  The plan was to meet up with two of my best friends, Edwin and Scott, to play some basketball.  The three of us got in to hours of pick-up games at LA Fitness and enjoyed the competition.  We worked up a pretty good appetite.

Pyzano's Lounge & Grill

Pyzanos Lounge & Grill

After playing basketball, Edwin made the suggestion to go to Pyzanos Lounge & Grill in nearby Aloha.  I was excited for this as I’ve heard of this place and this is one of the few west side places on my list to go singin’ and as luck would have it, they had karaoke on Wednesday.  It was Ladies Night, but that didn’t stop the three of us boys from coming in.

We wanted to watch the Blazers vs. Lakers game.  But I think we were late as all we ended up watching were highlights.  No big deal.  We stayed and got a good feel.  This was a fairly small place but it did have a few TV’s and a pool table if you want to shoot some stick.

I checked in at this place on Yelp.  Low and behold, there was a special offer:  25% off a large pizza.  What a way to be a first-timer and since we were in Aloha, I ordered a large HAWAIIAN pizza for the three of us to share.  One more thing to add, and I absolutely love this, is that this place serves RC products.  I think it’s easy for people to like Coke and Pepsi.  But if you’re a cola drinker, RC is the way to go.  That’s my endorsement.

This is Pyzanos KJ, Kim and she wants you all to meet Woody.

This is Pyzanos KJ, Kim and she wants you all to meet Woody.

While we waited for our pizza, I went to put up a song for me to sing.  This doesn’t happen very often, and I cannot remember the last time this happened, but the Karaoke Jockey introduced herself to me first.  Yeah.  I had the pleasure of meeting Kim and her husband who was also hanging out at the place.  Kim has a great personality and she was fun to sit and chat with, but what impressed me the most was her ability to speak a few phrases in my native Vietnamese.  I, The Bomb from Viet Nam, found HER to be “the bomb.”

Sadly, they didn’t have “Mandolin Rain” in their menu, but Kim convinced me to sing another Bruce Hornsby hit, “Just the Way It Is,” and I rolled with it.  Again, this is a small place, but they did a good job keeping a pretty good space open for performers and their other patrons if they wanna come up and dance.  I certainly had fun with my own song and dance and Kim accompanied me on the tambourine.  You wanna know what was impressive about that?  She played it around her neck.  That’s talent, my friends.

Edwin bringing down the house.

Edwin bringing down the house.

My only criticism of the place was that it is small and I think their menu of songs could use much expansion although it did have a good selection from what they already have.  Nevertheless, the food was good, the people here (both staff and customers) seem cool, and you get to sing with the coolest KJ on the west side.

By the way, thanks for dinner, Hacksaw.

I give Pyzanos Lounge & Grill two thumbs up.  I’ll be back for more pizza, RC, sports, and of course… karaoke.