The Weeknighter: The Mint Karaoke Lounge
Weekends are for amateurs. Weeknights are for pros. That's why each week Stuart Schuffman will be exploring a different San Francisco bar, giving you the lowdown on how and where to do your weeknight right. From the most creative cocktails to the best happy hours, Stuart's taking you along on his weeknight adventures into the heart of the City's nightlife. So, who wants a drink?
There are few things in life better than seeing a 300-pound drag queen sing “(You Make Me Feel like) A Natural Woman.” I mean really singing it, with all her guts and all her might and feeling every single word. It’s the kind of thing that makes you sit back and think “the world is a good place.” To say that this is a daily occurrence would be a lie, but little bits of magic, the kind that you’re not sure are special out of irony or earnestness, happen all the time at The Mint.
Since transforming from a piano bar/steak joint into a karaoke lounge in 1993, The Mint has been holding it down as San Francisco’s most popular place to belt out other people’s tunes. Their website brags that The Mint is one of the world’s best known karaoke lounges and that some visitors head directly there from the airport. While I can’t vouch for either of these claims, there’s virtually nothing you could tell me about The Mint that would surprise me.
On the surface it’s just a popular karaoke bar with a huge catalog of songs to choose from and a dedicated regular following. But like so many places where booze, music, exhibition, and the song “Sweet Caroline” intersect, The Mint is more than just a spot to be humbled by other peoples’ singing prowess. It’s the kind of place where work parties devolve into make-out fests, old friendships are ruined by flat notes during a duet, and true love blossoms while making eye contact with a stranger who similarly wants to claw their ears off during a bachelorette party’s horrible rendition of “Love Shack.” Nobody should sing that song at karaoke. You know who the fuck you are.
One of the best things about karaoke is that, for the duration of a song, people who have always dreamt of being on stage, get to live out their fantasies. Unfortunately, that’s also one of the worst things about karaoke; some people take that shit way too seriously. Drama happens, weird vibes get passed around by normally friendly people, and feelings get hurt. At karaoke joints, the KJ (karaoke jockey) is king, and given the popularity of The Mint, he or she is an all powerful demi-god whose flights of fancy can make or break your entire night. Do not fuck with the KJ. Applaud vigorously when they self-indulgently take the stage for some ridiculous eight minute torch burner song no one has ever heard of, tip them heavily if you want your song to be bumped up towards the top of the list, and always smile when you turn in your song slip. Absolute power corrupts absolutely…especially in the world of karaoke lounges.
Like pretty much every bar I write about in this column, it’s best to hit up The Mint on weeknights. That’s when the true believers come out, the people who live and breathe this karaoke thing, and practice routines at home in front of the mirror. They are the folks who don’t come to drink and mingle and giggle at the drunk people who realize far too late that they don’t actually know the words to the song the picked. No, these are the people who observe the other singers like pageant moms watching their children’s competitors, listening for a single missed note or a botched word. These are the people who come to The Mint on weeknights, the ones who are actually worth paying attention to and who sometimes truly blow your mind. The 300-pound drag queen singing the fuck out of that song Carole King wrote and Aretha Franklin made famous is one of them. For the three or four minutes the song lasts, she really is a natural born woman. And she makes you believe it too.