It’s Saturday evening at the K-House, a local karaoke lounge. A few small groups sift through books of songs at the bar while jazz plays. The groups exchange nervous laughter as they discuss their upcoming performances.
Suddenly the music cuts out, and a slow violin melody begins. The bar patrons turn their attention away from their books as Alina Kim steps forward from the front of the bar with a microphone in hand.
“I’ll get us started,” she says before diving into a soulful rendition of Etta James’ “At Last.”
As the owner of the K-House, which opened at 15 Catherwood Road — just a stone’s throw from the the Shops at Ithaca Mall — last November, Kim is no ameteur when it comes to karaoke. As a 2003 graduate of the Cornell School of Hotel Administration with a lifelong enthusiasm for karaoke, Kim said she opened the K-House to bring something fun to her college home. Kim said she, her brother — a 2007 Cornell graduate — and her sisters — a current and a prospective Cornell University student — have been singing karaoke since they were children.
“My little sister actually mentioned how there’s nothing for college students to do in this neighborhood,” she said. “This is a pastime of ours that we thought would do well in this town.”
Senior Meghan Hellwitz is a bartender at the K-House and said working with Kim has been a way to embrace one of her old hobbies.
“I used to live in Japan, where karaoke got started … and I’ve been missing it since I moved back, so this is kind of my dream come true,” Hellwitz said.
Karaoke is by no means new to Ithaca, as several of the city’s bars, including Lot 10, Kilpatrick’s and Loco Cantina, offer karaoke nights. However, with daily business hours from 4 p.m. to at least 2 a.m., Kim said she provides a place for karaoke enthusiasts to go any night of the week.
Kim said the K-house has waves of people coming in at all hours of the night. However, she said while she expected to see a late-night crowd, her menu of Korean-inspired bar food consistently brings in a dinner crowd.
The menu at the K-House includes a blend of traditional Asian dishes, like bento boxes and fried dumplings, and American standards with an Asian spin, like the K-Dog, a beef hotdog with cheese and chopped kimchi, which is a spicy mix of vegetables and seasoning.
“The menu is almost reflective of what I eat at home with my friends,” Kim said. “It’s really a fun Asian-inspired bar menu where you have your typical hot dogs and chicken fingers and burritos, but with a little bit of an Asian twist.”
In addition to its main stage and bar, the K-House offers 11 private rooms, which can be rented out by the hour. Each space offers a different theme, such as the America room, the hip-hop room and the emoji room. They also vary in size with rooms for groups as small as four or as large as 49.
The lounge also features work by local artists. The hip-hop room features a graffiti mural by Jay Potter, who is known for his artwork at the Ithaca Skate Park. To support the Ithaca art scene, Kim said she hopes to eventually host fundraising events for local artists.
Since its soft opening in the fall, the K-House has gained a following within the Ithaca community. Ithaca resident Rivka Bluh said she has already become a regular at the K-House, and that the fun atmosphere of the bar keeps her coming back.
“I spent four years living in Hawaii where places like this are really common,” she said. “This is an upscale version of those places with a great staff, and I love it.”
Kim said she thinks the open nature of Ithaca has allowed the K-House to find a place in the area nightlife. She said she is thrilled that the people of Ithaca have been willing to come out and try something they may not be used to.
“Over here, I think it translates really well, especially in a town like Ithaca that is very, very open to creative ideas, musical ideas, and is very accepting of different cultures,” Kim said. “The fact that people come in here without knowing anything of what we’re about, are open to just taking a tour and committing to parties, that is an investment, so I’m very flattered.”