In a town known for its prestigious university and upscale shops, a bar that serves up $1 pints of Milller High Life and warns “Beware pickpockets and loose women” on a sign that hangs behind the bar may seem out of place. But in fact, Ivy Inn, located at 248 Nassau Street, is popular among 21-year-old college students and young professionals as well as an older crowd looking to have a good time.
On Wednesday nights in particular, Ivy Inn sings with excitement — literally. Wednesdays are karaoke nights, and groups of friends and solo performers alike work up the courage — or the blood alcohol level — to sing their favorite songs for everyone there. I’d heard that this makes for a spectacle that can be fun to watch or participate in, so one Wednesday this summer I went with friends to check it out.
There’s no cover charge or dress code, so once you show the bouncers your ID, you can step right into the action. There’s a pool table, video golf and cards, darts, and two TVs showing mainly sports, but most people make their way straight to the bar.
That isn’t always easy. When we arrived at about 11 p.m., it was crowded and hard to move around. Over the summer especially, it can also get very hot inside. But if you can squeeze in at the bar and get the attention of a bartender — there are usually two — you will be rewarded with inexpensive drinks.
The mix of domestic and imported beers on tap ranges from $1 to $4.25 for a pint, and bottles cost $3.25 to $3.75. Well drinks are also cheap, and judging from the emptiest bottles on the shelf, those are more popular than top-shelf liquors. My friends and I paid just $24.25 plus a tip for seven drinks, which included a range of beers and mixed drinks. Though Ivy Inn does not serve any food, Hoagie Haven is just a few doors down, and it’s not hard to step out for a late-night snack (I recommend the cheese fries).
Once inside, my friends and I didn’t try to carry on much of a conversation: Ivy Inn is not the place to catch up with an old friend. It’s far too loud from the music and singing to communicate by any method other than shouting. Rather, this venue is best suited to groups of friends looking to have a few drinks, enjoy themselves, and maybe dance or sing. And the focus of the evening is on the singers.
Just as the clientele varies greatly, so do the karaoke selections. Performers can choose from a large binder full of artists and song names, and choices range from college classics like Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” and Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer,” to hits and little-known titles from the past half-century and then some. My personal favorite was the white-haired man who sang Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” while I was there. Of course, the singers’ talent varies just as much.
Occasionally, the bartenders take a break from serving to perform their own karaoke selections, and the man operating the karaoke machine stops to take pictures of the revelers. (These snapshots later end up on Facebook, often to the embarrassment of those who were photographed).
Those who aren’t performing are for the most part standing in groups, dancing, or singing along with the music. A lucky few score seats at the bar or at one of the small tables, and eager singers huddle around the binder of song titles to pick what they will perform next.
After standing and taking in the scene for a while, my friends and I found a place to sit at the bar. By around 1 a.m., we were ready to call it a night. We had drunk Guinness and tequila sunrises and heard everything from Kelly Clarkson to Louis Armstrong. Our ears may have been a little worse for the wear, but all in all it was a fun, entertaining night, and one well worth repeating.
Ivy Inn, 248 Nassau Street, 609-921-8555.