LIKE the national debt and the hole in the ozone layer, karaoke poses an
insidious and ever-growing threat to Civilization As We Know It. We
understood that eventually we'd have to confront these shower-stall Carusos
bent on poisoning the ears of callow youth. Yet we weren't exactly
relishing the encounter. After two miserable sessions in a pair of
notorious South Bay karaoke hot spots, last Saturday night we finally found
a joint we can recommend without reservation -- Cat's Alley.
The club, sandwiched between Flo's Barbecue and the back lot of the San
Jose Greyhound station, is right on the ragged edge of the "new"
downtown, where the pawnshops meet the pinstripes. At 10:30 on this hot and
muggy night, the old-style cantilevered windows of the little brick box
were tilted open to the street and from down the block we could hear a
young man doing unspeakable damage to a vintage Eagles' tune. We found the
club (until recently an undistinguished bar called the Dugout) had been
carefully restored to a state of minimalist grace -- unadorned brick walls,
a few faux marble cocktail tables and a beautiful antique bar that
dominates the right wall of the narrow room.
Cat's Alley gets a very interesting mix. Of the 40 people in the room,
we noted: lots of quintessential west-side club crawlers (cutoffs, black
tops and ankle socks with low pumps were the ubiquitous -- u-chick-quitous?
-- choice for women, jeans and patterned pajama shirts the favored attire
for men) a handful of overdressed San Pedro Square types, some ersatz
cowpokes from Wrangler & Rhinestones and a trio of rheumy-eyed
transients fresh off the bus who were clearly troubled by what they were
hearing. On the small stage at the far end of the room, a woman wearing a
plastic dime-store tiara and a Mylar sash was barreling through a Roseanne
Arnold-style rendition of Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best
The 16-page songbooks scattered around the club featured some truly
classic material sprinkled in a cheesy fondue of '70s hits. Our favorites:
Allan Sherman's "Hello Mudduh, Hello Fadduh," the Jaynettes'
"Sally Go 'Round the Roses" and Shirley Bassey's
"Goldfinger." And what is this? Yessss!!! Shirley Ellis'
"The Name Game." Let's see you try that after three Tanquerays,
good buddy-wuddy-fo-fuddy . . .
For the non-pop oriented singer, we have everything from "Farmer in
the Dell" to "Hava Nagila." Holy Honkin' Mother of Goose! I
would have paid to hear the Roseanne version of "Farmer in the
Dell." But no . . .
The videos that accompany each song were apparently compiled by Sri
Lankan film students working for Total Non-Sequitur TV. For the Elvis
number "(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear" we see a guy in a bishop's
miter, a circus clown and "Amos 'N' Andy." Fellini would be
There were many noble efforts that night -- and a few that really made
the bricks sweat. A bespectacled tourist who looked like golf legend Hale
Irwin just up and smoked "New York, New York." A blond Bernadette
Peters dug in so hard on the "I will, I will, I will" bridge to
Captain & Tennille's "Love Will Keep Us Together" people
stood on chairs and cheered.
By midnight, the crowd had more than doubled. There were folkloric
dancers from a nearby festival, more tourists and a couple of hotel chefs
just off work and still in their checkered slacks. We heard a James Earl
Jones basso profundo version of Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in
Love" followed by a skinny Asian guy with a Bill Haley spit-curl the
size of a handcuff singing "(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear."
Mojo Nixon was right. Elvis is in everyone. But it's only with a few of
us that he gets out very often.
152 Post St.
Admission: No cover
Details: Karaoke Mondays, Wednesdays-Saturdays, 9 p.m.; 11 p.m. Tuesdays