Let's face it; no one goes to a karaoke bar for the music. The atmosphere is truly what dictates the place's quality. If people are trying seriously, and failing miserably, to sing obscure songs because it suits their mood then you're likely to lose interest. Or wish you'd lose your hearing.
The Gaslite, not far from campus, straddles kitschy and trendy. Featuring karaoke every night of the week, the Gaslite's location puts it on the cusp of the trendy westside, and provides Karaoke lovers with the perfect outlet for their harmonizing aggression.
Colored streamers lined the back of the small stage and a large flat screen was tilted towards the audience so that both the performer and those who wanted to sing along could read the words.
"There's the über-karaoke-ers, and then there are those of us who make fun of them," says Rick Major, a regular at the Gaslite on Friday nights. Though not a typical karaoke person, Major comes here often with friends.
"The regulars get a little too serious. One guy even records all his performances with a video camera," says Major.
And just as anticipated, the early song selection fizzles. Someone chooses a song in Spanish that only a few could hope to follow. Several couples attempt to salsa on the small dance floor, but most people retreat to the booths lining the walls. Later on the same person sings "Feliz Navidad." Those already on their third or fourth round adamantly scream, "But it's not Christmas!" and then join in anyway.
The typical songs are chosen, the songs that everyone knows but are what make karaoke bars truly great. "I've Got You Babe" and "Sweet Child of Mine" are belted out off-key. Thankfully, the drone of the crowd's equally tone-deficient singing overtakes the small sound system.
Though a fully loaded bar, the Gaslite lacks beers on tap. The bottled beer selection is sufficient for beer lovers, but mixed drinks see the most business.
There is a clear generation gap at the Gaslite. While many students and twenty-somethings are present, so are the above-fifty crowd, with few in between.
The measly breeze created by the two ceiling fans is not enough to cool the large mass of people. The one thing that dive bars lack across the board is air conditioning, and the Gaslite is no exception. The bar quickly reaches capacity, and the "one in, one out" policy is enforced by the bouncer.
Unable to stand the crowd any longer, many people wander over to V Lounge. Larger, trendier, and more expensive, V Lounge starts to fill up only after the Gaslite is at full capacity.
The openness of the lounge obviously exaggerates the lack of a crowd. Tables available for reservation (ahem, trendy) line the walls and a recessed dance floor sits in the middle of the room. Seats surround the dance floor, giving a voyeur-esque vibe.
One glance and you spot the people who came for V Lounge and the people who didn't want to wait in line for the Gaslite. Suit jackets and body-hugging dresses that were absent at the Gaslite distinguish those who came for the lounge.
With two bars it's clear that the establishment expects more of a crowd than they have. The dark lighting and restroom attendants make this place more suitable for Hollywood than Santa Monica.
V Lounge offers a full bar, but only for a loaded wallet. Even smart ordering can't get you out of a high bill. If your drink of choice is a vodka Redbull, expect $9 for the vodka and $2 for the Redbull.
The oddity that these two bars are next to each other is not lost on many. The Gaslite, a haven for the young and young at heart, and V Lounge, a Mecca for trendy up-and-comers, are two very different places. However, they complement each other.
So next time you find yourself indecisive between the polarity of bar scenes --- hole-in-the-wall or up-to-the-minute -- head out to the intersection of 20th and Wilshire Boulevard. You might just need a little of both.