The atmosphere is thick with audience excitement and anticipation. Microphone in hand and a chart-topping song prepared for cheering fans with live-streaming video broadcasted worldwide, the star is now ready to take the stage – as long as he has enough time before the lunch special ends at the local Chinese restaurant.
Karaoke is a part of the culture and entertainment of San Francisco, and The Mint Karaoke Lounge proves just how successful karaoke stars can be. The Mint, winning several awards over the years for being San Francisco’s number one hot spot for karaoke, is one of the most prominent bars designed purely for karaoke in the state.
Karaoke starts at 3 p.m. and goes until 2 a.m at The Mint. The lounge is also open 365 days a year and is one of the most accessible venues for performing karaoke.
Ben Quinones, who has been attending The Mint for several years, said karaoke at the lounge was one of the best experiences someone could have in the city.
“It’s the best time you can have while being legal, and The Mint is by far the happiest rooms in all of San Francisco,” Quinones said. “There are people of all shapes, orientations and colors here, a huge togetherness and a huge community.’
Many things make The Mint one of the strongest rooms for karaoke in the city. Boasting more than 60,000 songs, The Mint has a sound system that reverberates through the chest and a high ceiling, which makes the sounds soar rather than being stopped short and muffled as in many bars. Co-owner Eddy Chan said that despite success in the lounge, he hopes to create a pleasant environment for the community as well.
“It adds cheer to the community and an inexpensive place for them to have fun,” Chan said. “For the community, I think it’s good for them to come to a place that they can enjoy and afford.”
Chan and his partner Victor Hundahl bought The Mint out of bankruptcy more than 23 years ago and started off with such a small staff that Chan would often find himself washing dishes when needed. Hundahl, who worked in medicine, and Chan, who up until two years ago was also a banker, turned what was a sad piano bar into a lively karaoke hub in the 1990s, after a trip to Asia inspired Chan about the art form’s relevance.
According to Tiffany Crittendon, a karaoke jockey and bartender at The Mint, the karaoke bar is a great place for students because it has cheap drinks, good times and is just a lot of fun. Although the bar is 21 and up, Crittendon says it still draws in students in their early 20s.
“We get students in here all of the time, especially when the schools are on break,” Crittendon said. “They need a break from stress, and here they can drink, not be overworked, and not have to spend too much money in the long run.”
Crittendon said that students are often stressed but the ability to be silly and do karaoke allows them to have an outlet. Crittendon remembered that just recently two busloads worth of students from Berkeley showed up without any warning whatsoever and appeared to have a great time.
“You don’t have to worry about anything when you’re on stage, you can just come on out and belt it,” Crittendon said. “If you’re frustrated, then scream out your song.”
While The Mint has a high reputation in the karaoke community, and some of the singers who attend are preparing for professional auditions, Chan says that there is always an inviting, energetic and accepting crowd ready to justify anybody who performs whether they are a seasoned karaoke veteran or student amateur.
“With karaoke, anyone can do it and be the star, and that’s why it grows bigger and bigger every year,” Chan said. “The audience is very supportive and nobody will gong or boo you, and sometimes they will give standing ovations and that makes it really a special thing.”