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Best karaoke bar

Tie: Tennyson Lodge/Nico's Recovery Room
4797 Library Road, Bethel Park. 412-833-4442 /178 Pearl St., Bloomfield. 412-681-9562

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SIDE ONE

It was cold and dark on the Wednesday evening I sought out the phenomenon known as "bareaoke." With address in hand and some apprehension in heart, I weaved through the suburban sprawl of Library Road, headed for the Tennyson Lodge in Bethel Park.

But my reservations were swiftly dispelled as I entered the lodge: After chatting with an affable bartender and a few equally friendly patrons, I introduced myself to the host of Bareaoke, DJ Marty. When I mentioned the warm fuzzies I'd received from everyone I'd encountered thus far, Marty exclaimed, "This place is like Cheers. Cheers with tits."

And karaoke.

For the last seven years, the Tennyson Lodge has been home to "Bareaoke," which is essentially karaoke with less clothing.

The club follows the standard karaoke basics: Flip through the binder and pick a song. Write the selection down for the DJ and wait to be called onstage, get on stage, look at monitor, follow lyrics and best of luck.

The Tennyson offers an added feature: a pole at the end of the stage, complete with a gyrating dancer. If you're nervous about speaking or performing in public, supposedly, the old adage is to imagine the audience naked. The Tennyson has taken the guesswork out of that equation.

In hopes of averting serious embarrassment, let's be clear about this: The "bare" in "bareoke" refers only to the dancers, who do their routines while others sing. I managed to get a gander at moves set to the theme from The Beverly Hillbillies, for example, but sadly arrived too late for "Puff the Magic Dragon." The dancers will occasionally sing during their routines as well: Moments after I arrived, I was treated to an earful (and eyeful) of "Total Eclipse of the Heart."

DJ Marty says he still sees some familiar faces left over from the event's origins seven years ago, though he says he's "lost a lot of my regulars, probably to marriage." Still, the event's popularity merits two nights a week: Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. (There is a $5 cover.) Even at 1 a.m. on a Wednesday, there's a pretty good crowd, though Friday is the busiest night.

I looked through the bulging binder whilst sipping my gin and tonic; with 20,000-plus songs to choose from, the giggling schoolboy in me found a plethora of pervy possibilities, ranging from the obvious choices of "Come On Eileen" and "One Night in Bangkok" to the oh my god it's so wrong it's right but really it's wrong of Monty Python's "Sit on My Face (and Tell Me That You Love Me)."

But whatever your taste, the Tennyson Lodge has it covered -- and uncovered.

I turned away from the lyrical teleprompter to scan the room, where I glimpsed a fair amount of skin. I had finally worked up the courage to bare myself -- musically -- to the crowd, but several audience members were already waiting for their own shot at glory. It didn't matter. Just by walking into the Tennyson, I had achieved a form of rock superstardom: I hadn't even finished one song, and naked women already surrounded me.

SIDE TWO

It had been a while since my last visit to Nico's for karaoke. But back then, we made it an event: days of planning, rounding up friends, thinking of the best songs for group singing, wondering if we would finally be able to coordinate our choreography ... it was an experience.

So for the first time in years, I walked through the doors of Nico's at 9:30 p.m. on a Saturday night and was greeted by a packed house. Every table was full; all four song binders -- each containing an overwhelming 48,000 titles -- were being greedily pawed at. I made my way over to the bar and ordered a tall glass of talent.

Karaoke at Nico's has been going strong for the last nine years. The bar offers a Monday beer special, and a pizza/pitcher special on Wednesdays, but what packs the house each week is the live entertainment on Saturdays

My experience at the Tennyson still fresh in my mind, I ask DJ Keith -- one of a cast of rotating DJs that work for Total Entertainment, the company responsible for tonight's show -- if he's ever had any nudity during a performance. "No nudity," he says. "But one time a bra was thrown."

It's a start, I suppose.

Moments later, Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" is winging through the room, with the whole audience singing along. Later, when Def Leppard's "Photograph" plays, the energy level is even more electric. It's quickly followed by a rousing version of "Love Will Keep Us Together," complete with another sing-along.

These are the nights I remember at Nico's ... friends fumbling through songs, getting help from the audience. The beers, the cheers, the tears, the fears. A random harmonica player running up to play along to the sax solo from Duran Duran's "Rio," a Cyndi Lauper cover that sounds more like Cyndi than Cyndi. I'm back at Nico's on a Saturday night and it's like I'd never been away.

I wonder if "Glory Days" is coming up next?

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