Karaoke Night at Montero's
“I Bet You Think This Song Is About You.”
Knock Three Times On the Ceiling if You Want Me
There are definitely some things to seriously consider before moving into an apartment above a bar. I’ve lived above the historic Montero Bar & Grill for three-and-a-half years and, as someone who writes about drinks and bar culture for a living, I feel like I’m an ideal tenant.
The bar opened more than 80 years ago on the western edge of Atlantic Avenue, just a few blocks from the Brooklyn Waterfront. Visiting sailors and longshoremen from the docks and shipping yards were among the regulars over the years, and while the interior remains a museum to all things nautical, the clientele these days range from devoted neighborhood regulars to post-shift restaurant and bar workers to grad students to karaoke devotees (more on that in a moment).
Everyone who passes by takes notice of the large vintage 1949 neon sign that hangs over the bar that spells out “Montero, Bar Grill, Wines, Liquors” in red and pink script. There were a lot of Seinfeld-related Kenny Rogers Roasters jokes among my friends when I first moved in, but the ambient neon glow that illuminates my living room each night until 2 a.m. is one of my favorite parts of living over a bar, and it feels very New York. And the fact that writer Frank McCourt lived in my very apartment in the 1980s gives the space good literary bones.
The reality is that living on a busy thoroughfare right near a BQE on-ramp and exit is the least appealing factor (that and the smokers who hang out in front of the bar). And with a new hospital recently opened nearby, my hearing has been on the decline from honking horns, screaming sirens, drivers cursing at each other, and the nonstop chainsaw buzz of motorbikes, three-wheelers, four-wheelers, and all sorts of Road Warrior-like all-terrain machines racing up and down Atlantic Avenue.
The three nights of karaoke each week (Thursday, Friday, Saturday) isn’t much of a concern to me, though when my sister was visiting and spent the night on my sofa and a rousing, seemingly endless 1 a.m. group sing-along of “Bohemian Rhapsody” downstairs had her inquire, “How can you live like this?”
But the karaoke, which takes place directly below my kitchen, is more like a neighbor throwing a party. It can get a little rowdy on Saturday nights, and I can make out some of the often-requested songs like “Paradise By the Dashboard Light,” “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” “Mr. Brightside,” “Landslide,” “Zombie,” “Under Pressure,” and “All Too Well,” but usually it’s not too bad. And I get a kick when I hear someone singing songs from the BTP Playlists, like “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” “Girlfriend in a Coma,” “Boys Don’t Cry,” or “Pretty in Pink.”
When I first moved in I had hopes to develop the eccentric guy who lived upstairs persona and drop in on Saturday nights in a big bathrobe like 1970’s Brian Wilson, wearing TCB sunglasses and balancing a Whiskey Sour in one hand and a microphone in the other. I would then belt out an immaculate rendition of “Suspicious Minds” before disappearing back upstairs.
That still hasn’t happened, for better or worse, and, in fact, since moving here I’ve only performed two karaoke numbers downstairs. The first time was a late December night with friends and one of them put my name down without telling me so I really had no choice when Amethyst called my name. Luckily it was one of my favorite songs, “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” by Looking Glass, which is about sailors and bars and lost love and ships at sea so was appropriate. And dare I say, I owned it, and wondered why I didn’t do this more often.
That answer came earlier this year when I met a charming British couple named George and Abi at Long Island Bar who were visiting from London, and our post-dinner drinks continued over beers and karaoke at Montero. I confessed to Abi that I always dreamed of singing a duet of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” with an imaginary girlfriend I didn’t have. She wrote out a song slip, ordered two shots of Fernet-Branca and said, “Let’s go.” Trust me, Marvin Gaye shouldn’t be anyone’s second-ever karaoke song sung at Montero. They should’ve pulled the plug. I knew I was doomed from the first “Listen, baby…” Abi was fantastic and she later ran the room with her lively rendition of “You’re So Vain” (I sang the Mick Jagger background vocals from the sidelines) while George blew the roof off the place channeling Jarvis Cocker on “Common People.”
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