Nico's Recovery Room
178 Pearl St., Bloomfield
Andy Lucci is something of a karaoke connoisseur. He's karaoked in eight different countries, including Bulgaria, where the only song available in English was Bon Jovi's "It's My Life." And for the past half-decade, the Lawrenceville resident has been a semi-regular at the karaoke gathering hosted every Saturday night by Nico's Recovery Room.
The bar and restaurant "is like a microcosm of Bloomfield," Lucci explains, after executing a respectable rendition of "Paranoid." "You've got your old heads, hippies, hipsters; you've got your doctors and lawyers. I like the communal aspect."
And that is exactly what makes Nico's karaoke, which starts at 9:30 p.m., so much fun. Other bars might host more specialized nights, like punk-rock karaoke. Or they may attract a more homogenized crowd, like theater/vocal students who annoy everyone else by possessing actual talent. Nico's, however, is for everyone.
Even for those with performance anxiety, this is a low-pressure place to work on your chops. There is no stage, which helps foster a kind of egalitarian atmosphere. Singers stand in a small, loosely defined area between booths and tables in the dining area, which has a 1970s game room/hunting-lodge feel. (As Lucci says, "It's like singing in your grandma's basement.")
As the night goes on, and the crowd inevitably grows to standing-room-only proportions, spectators press in closer around the singers. On one particularly crowded recent night, there were loving, and drunken, recreations of: Digital Underground's "Humpty Dance," Foreigner's "Urgent" and Weezer's "Buddy Holly." Two different women bravely tackled Adele's ubiquitous single "Someone Like You," with mixed results. The hit of the night, however, may have been Chris Palino's performance of "Open Arms," by Journey.
Palino isn't just another Nico's regular; he's also become one of its stars. His white hair and large, square-framed glasses give him the look of a mild-mannered dad, and if people routinely made bets on karaoke singers, Palino could make a fortune as a ringer. He got his start in church choir; now, he says, "Journey, Styx, Survivor -- those are usually my forte."
As he sang, members of the audience grinned and held up lighters, swaying back and forth, cheering uproariously at the end. Unlike many performers, who clutch the microphone in a kind of wide-eyed terror, Palino confidently held the mic high, tilted up, like Tom Jones or Bill Gaither.
"I love to sing, and I like to hear the applause I get, to be honest with you," Palino admits. During the week, he occasionally goes to karaoke nights elsewhere in town, but Nico's, he says, brings out the best audience. "At some of those other places, people don't pay attention. That's what I like about Nico's: They always acknowledge you here."