Friday, March 23, 2012
Karaoke review: Dos Charros in Rowlett
Dos Charros is set up perfectly for a karaoke restaurant.
Finding a kid-friendly karaoke gig is not easy. Even the legendary Big Mama’s Karaoke Cafe — home of Chartbuster Karaoke — had to close down in 2011 after 11 years in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. The problem is simple — a DJ’s time isn’t cheap, karaoke discs aren’t free (or at least, they’re not supposed to be), and the best way to pay for karaoke is to serve large amounts of alcohol to the singers and their fans.
A recent change in the Dallas-area restaurant landscape, though, may increase the number of karaoke gigs without age restrictions. Over the past three years, there has been a wave of local-option elections. It started in the suburbs, as localities voted to allow liquor sales in restaurants without requiring wink-and-a-nod “private club memberships.” Then the city of Dallas, known for its patchwork of wet and dry neighborhoods, voted to make the whole city wet. Now, it’s the rare suburb that doesn’t allow alcohol sales in restaurants. The result has been an explosion of liquor license applications, as any restaurant that wants to pad its bottom line can add a mirror and some shelves of booze.
One place that is clearly just getting started in the booze game is Dos Charros, a Mexican restaurant in Rowlett, on the southwest corner of Rowlett Road and Lakeview Parkway (SH 66). Dos Charros occupies a large swath of a strip mall, so it’s divided up into four or five distinct rooms. The room in the back now sports a few tall chairs, a bar, and a gap-toothed selection of alcoholic beverages. The most distinctive feature is the stand-up freezer, full of wine glasses, tumblers, and beer steins. Everything’s better in a frosted glass, apparently!
Clearly, though, Dos Charros has built its reputation on its food. The menu isn’t large, which I take as a good sign — I’d much prefer a small selection of good food over a large selection of mediocrity. Their seafood listings were especially robust, and I’m sure I’ll sample something from that end of the menu on my next visit. This time, I just got a half-order of a nachos, beans, and cheese appetizer. It looked delicious — even though I don’t actually like guacamole, sour cream, or tomatoes! The beans and cheese were very good, and my wife assures me that when we come here together, she’ll take care of the other ingredients.
Of course, I didn’t come for the food, or even for the new bar. I came for the karaoke! Two Hats Karaoke (aka Houston and Cathy) are the DJs, and I’d been hoping to hit one of their Rowlett shows again. I first went to one of their shows at Amelia’s Cocina, where they replaced the DJ that was there for my previous visit. But Amelia’s remodeled and forgot to include a karaoke area, so that option was gone. And their Thursday night gig at a Rockwall burger joint fell through, leading to a helpful but unfruitful discussion about teen-friendly karaoke spot on the Dallas Karaoke Group on Facebook. When I got Two Hats’ email announcing their new Saturday evening early gig, 6–9:30 p.m. at Dos Charros, I knew I wanted to be there for the first night.
One distinctive feature of a Two Hats gig is that they’ve started using a whiteboard for their singer sign-up list. They like to point out that the board puts the singers in control of the rotation, not the DJ. To be honest, I don’t see that as entirely positive. When there’s a 20-singer backup, with people (like me!) staying from open to close, a new singer would have to wait an hour or more for their turn. Chances are, they’ll look at the list and leave. Getting the DJ involved means they have the flexibility to put new singers in ahead of someone who’s on their second or third time through the rotation. It even lets the DJ set the mood, by not putting “Highway to Hell” back-to-back with “Jesus Take the Wheel.” (Or, depending on the DJ’s sense of humor, putting them back to back on purpose!) At a busy place like Paradise Burger Company, such control is essential — and at a place full of karaoke pros like The Goat, it adds to the fun! But for a more casual event like the one at Dos Charros, the singer-controlled whiteboard worked out OK.
In fact, Dos Charros is set up perfectly for a karaoke restaurant. Those multiple rooms are arranged in a line, along the length of the strip mall. With the bar (and karaoke) in the far room, patrons coming in to eat in relative quiet can sit in one of the first rooms, far from the amplifiers and mikes. Those who are curious can sit a bit closer, and the folks ready for the full karaoke experience can sit where the action is.
I started out in a booth, since only a couple of spots were taken. But soon, a large family came in and took up three tables, followed by several more couples and small families. I took my nachos to the bar to free up the booth for a more appropriate customer — but please note that that was on my own accord, not because anyone asked me to! I’m sure the friendly Dos Charros waitresses (and the owner, who came by frequently to check on his patrons) would have let me sit there all night.
I stayed from the start of the show until after 8pm, long enough for the room to fill and refill a couple of times. Everyone had a great time, especially the families with little kids. Kids that age were a mainstay of the Paradise Burger Co Karaoke show, and I’m sure the families will come back again to let their little ones sing. Perhaps the most touching family was a mom with her teenage daughter and elderly father, both of whom got up to sing! Everyone had a great time, even the curious folks in the next room, and I expect the karaoke at Dos Charros to be a hit.
My song list from the event:
"For the Longest Time," Billy Joel - I sang this song for Bibi, even though she wasn’t there. It’s a great story about the doubt that comes from a new relationship, and the courage to overcome the fear.
"Dance Little Jean," Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - The first of several songs I sang in honor of the kids eating with their parents.
"She’s All I Got," Johnny Paycheck (via Tracy Byrd) - DJ Houston couldn’t find a version of this classic song in the original style, but apparently it’s been covered by someone new. The Tracy Byrd version, happily, gave me no trouble at all.
"Heard It in a Love Song," Marshall Tucker Band - This song came out great — the family sitting at the big table said I sounded just like the original. Good thing there wasn’t a big singer list, though ... it was the long version, with a huge instrumental break in the middle!
"Roll On (18 Wheeler)," Alabama - When Houston sang “Six Days on the Road” by Dave Dudley, he mentioned that he’d been a trucker. I love the old trucking songs from the ‘70s, when my Pepaw’s Cadillac came with an AM/FM/8-Track/CB Radio. Also another one for the kids in the house.
"What’s Your Mama’s Name," Tanya Tucker - Sadly, the big table was between families when my time came up for this song. But that’s OK — the grownups all knew it.
"Born to Run," Bruce Springsteen - I wasn’t able to stay all the way to the end, but I still wanted to go out with a bang. I considered “Tragedy” by the Bee Gees, but that song works better when the crowd is more highly “lubricated” — strong drink does help with appreciation of my over-the-top style. So I did “Born to Run” with less craziness and more focus ... and it was a hit, drawing applause halfway through. That’s a compliment you can’t fake!
Bonus: More stories from the bar - As I said, Dos Charros has clearly built their reputation on the quality of their food and their friendly service. The bar is a new addition. In fact, they don’t employ a bartender at all, just whichever waitresses are working the back room. It wouldn’t do much good to employ a bartender, anyway ... they wouldn’t have many ingredients to choose from. I’ve had to explain a Tequila Sunrise before, but this is the first bar I’ve been to that didn’t even *have* the red Grenadine that gives the drink its distinctive appearance. So I settled for a Tequila and Orange Juice over ice. Not bad, really ... the Grenadine is too syrupy, anyway.
My barmate, though, was in a much more difficult situation. Leyton, new to Texas and its patchwork liquor laws, ordered a martini — the most basic mix in the American bartender’s book. The waitress was very helpful, but completely dumbfounded when he told her it was made with gin and vermouth. She went through the bottles — it didn’t take long — showing each one to Leyton to ask if it was vermouth! None of them were, so he told her to make his martini *extra* dry (a joke that was, of course, completely lost on the poor girl). She did her best, though, improvising a shaker and strainer from a styrofoam cup and a lid, because a good dry martini must absolutely be shaken, not stirred.
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