I am not Beyoncé. But behind closed doors with the party lights turned low and a microphone in my hand, I can be whomever I want.
That’s the luxury of the new Off Key Karaoke Lounge & Suites, which opened this month in the old America’s Pub spot in Westport. Here, friends can get together and throw a private concert.
In front of an audience of strangers, stage fright takes over. It’s hard to shake judgment and let the music take control. But on a Saturday night, I celebrated my birthday by singing a “Drunk in Love” duet with my Beyhive buddy while my loved ones snapped pictures and sang along the way they would at a club. Or in our living room, thanks to the comfy couches.
Plus, there’s food to add to the comfort. You can even decorate and bring in outside treats as long as you leave the alcohol at home. Off Key has its own cocktail menu, and the bar serves food and drinks from the menu at neighboring Bridger’s Bottle Shop and Preservation Market, which is operated by the same owners.
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It’s easy to feel at home and evoke your inner Kurt Cobain when you’re stuffing your face with an Italian sub and potato chips ($9). And bottle service starts at $100. A basic package includes a mega bottle of your favorite alcohol (something sexy like Ciroc costs an extra $80), plus you get three carafes of mixers and some fruit. It’s worth it. It covered a party of 10 for two hours.
If you’re into shots and cocktails, I suggest the Off Key signature shot ($3): a combination of Korean rice liquor and the house sour mix. It’s like drinking a Capri Sun. The OutKast-inspired Hey Ya! Tequila! or the alcohol-free Like a Virgin are fun for music lovers.
Even the shyest friends open up after a few drinks and good eats. Besides, the sound system is sophisticated, and the fluorescent lighting makes you actually think you are a pop star. Or a rapper or soul singer. The song choices at Off Key are endless, from one of my hubby’s faves — “Tom Sawyer” by Rush — to Rihanna to newcomer Rita Ora.
A free app lets you upload more songs and control the volume and lights from your phone.
Still, it costs to party like a rock star. Weekend rates start at $30 an hour for a party of up to six, $40 for up to 10 and $50 for more. (It’s a little less on weeknights.) The standard two-hour party might sound like a long time, but trust me, time flies when you are pretending to be Bruno Mars.
And when they say two hours, they mean it. Our time slot was 7 to 9 p.m. At 8:53 our music cut off. It took me a minute to figure out we couldn’t access the menu, and another minute to find the boss. I had to barter with him so we could end the night with a Jay Z finale. At exactly 9, a clean-up crew abruptly busted in and killed our vibe.
Let that soak in for a second. You’re supposed to feel like a VIP. $40 an hour, $180 bottle service, about another $150 in food. You don’t even get time to gather your presents and clear out the room in private. It’s a new business; I get that.
One other thing: Every time you need the waitress — and our waitress was wonderful — you have to cut the music off to hear her. Taking orders for 10 people requires 10 minutes. It took even longer to break down the checks. So between ordering and paying, we lost 20 minutes of rocking out. At least.
If I could make one suggestion, it would be to work on a new way to order and pay. Or just add a 15-minute grace period at the end. They have an app for the song list; maybe that same technology could be applied to the menu.
Co-owner Aaron Beatty recognizes the growing pains. He says they schedule the parties very close together but are working on improving the process. That’s great to hear, because it really is a good time.
Luckily, we still had the main bar to party in. That’s where my friends sang “Happy Birthday” and we ate cupcakes. We even got applause. The cool thing about hanging in the lounge is that the bartenders pass the mic around, and everyone gets a chance to sing.
One customer was so pitch-perfect during her rendition of Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker,” it sounded like the actual song. And the entire crowd sang along during Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy.”
That’s the beauty of Off Key: Behind closed doors or in the presence of strangers, everybody is a star.