From its origins in the 1860s as a house of ill repute to its time as a legally dubious watering hole during prohibition, The River City Saloon has deep roots in the seedy history of American nightlife. Today however, the saloon blends an old-timey aesthetic with more family-friendly fare. Kids can saunter up to the bar—a vintage 1905 triple-arch Brunswick—and order a glass of old west sarsaparilla, brewed locally at River City Brewing Company. Peanuts are also available, and visitors are welcome to throw the shells on the floor, in homage to the days when saloons had dirt floors and rampant elephant infestations.
The saloon's pub food is cooked with a hot-air fryer, a grease-free alternative to a deep fryer, and its hoagie sandwiches are served alongside chips and pickle spears. On the weekends, karaoke and music videos make old-west cowboys thankful that Bieber fever has a much lower casualty rate than yellow fever once did.
Every evening at El Corazón is a different experience. Although the downtown venue is best known for its rock ‘n’ roll attitude, its calendar presents a genre-defying variety including comedy shows and punk, electroclash, postrock, and postman rock concerts. The majority of their shows are all ages, with a special bar area for the 21-and-up crowds.
At Tokyo Shabu Sushi Restaurant, sushi masters slice up delicate sashimi and handrolled maki while chefs put flame to chicken katsu, teriyaki steak, and umami udon noodle soups. But the crew also takes their flavors a step beyond the offerings of many other Japanese restaurants. The menu has a knack of blending Japanese and western influences, as seen in teriyaki-style New York strip steak and a creamy cheesecake dessert made with earthy green tea. Potent sake cocktails and frosty Japanese beers go with just about any dish and help visitors work up the courage to perform their spoken-word versions of "Purple Rain" during weekend karaoke.
At On The Rocks, barkeeps serve frosty beers and potent cocktails to old regulars and those just stopping by. Homey, knotted-pine walls surround patrons as they watch football games with friends or join in spontaneous high-production-value dance routines during karaoke.
Asian and American karaoke styles join forces at Pandora Karaoke & Bar, whose moodily lit space hosts both an open stage for crowd-friendly crooners and 15 private rooms for groups. In either setting, singers scroll through Super Master touch-screen karaoke systems to choose from more than 100,000 songs in languages including English, Mandarin Chinese, and Frank Sinatra’s native pig Latin. Wireless microphones then capture crooning voices as lyrics scroll across 50-inch plasma TVs, serenading spectators as they munch sushi and Asian-fusion fare from the menu. Inside private rooms, colorful cushioned banquettes host groups of up to 40 harmonizers beneath themed decorations such as brewery logos or a rebus representing the complete lyrics to “Eye of the Tiger.”
Playground serves up classic Korean dishes and a few American standards, whether you’re fueling up before a long night of karaoke or stopping in for a few happy hour bites. Bibimbap comes in beef or spicy seafood varieties, while a house sauce sweetens thin-sliced bulgogi. Shareable finger foods, such as popcorn chicken and garlic fries, make grabbing a bite between songs easy.
Soju—a Korean spirit that’s generally made with rice—is similar to vodka but lower in ABV. This smooth liquor dominates the drink menu and can be ordered on its own or in one of many tantalizing fruity cocktails, such as lychee or mango. But it’s not all about soju. The drink list also offers domestic and European beers, along with Korean brews like Hite and OB. A full liquor selection rounds out the choices, including 17 different whiskey options.
Guests gather in Playground’s private karaoke rooms, which can hold up to 20 people or 5 hyenas. Lyrics flicker on a flat-screen television as singers croon, cushioned by leather banquettes. Note that a food and beverage minimum applies to private room rental.