KARAOKE goes hand-in-hand with good times in Japan.
Hiring a private karaoke room and unleashing on the microphone is one of the country's most popular forms of entertainment, and is a bucket list cultural experience for many who visit.
Now it's in Newcastle.
Jam's is the city's first karaoke bar, with eight private rooms boasting 260,000 songs to choose from and a tachinomiya bar that specialises in sake and izakaya-style snack food.
The bar is the creation of long-time friends, Joel Hillier and Andrew Coughlan, who both hail from Newcastle and work in engineering.
They first began throwing the idea around - usually over a few beers - after Coughlan visited Hillier during his three-year stint living in Japan.
"I had gone over to Japan to see Joel and we did karaoke, so the seed was planted," Coughlan says.
"I have always been flabbergasted that there isn't a karaoke bar in Newcastle.
"We really love it and thought it was something Newcastle was missing.
"You get in a room, you sing karaoke, it's your mates, it's your music and you're having an awesome time.
"I was always saying, 'Joel, you should really do a karaoke bar. You can speak fluent Japanese, you have the connections.
" 'Why don't you go and do it?'."
Jam's opened on January 2.
Hillier and Coughlan are the joint owners of the venture.They spent 12 months working tirelessly to overhaul the space that was a gym. It is conveniently located in Newcastle West, between Hunter and King streets on Union Street.
No detail has been spared (yes, they have the high-tech Japanese loos in the unisex bathroom).
A cube light box that reads 'karaoke bar' hangs above the timber entrance of the door that has been designed to recreate the look of a Japanese shopfront.
Inside there is a reception area where the host leads you to either a private karaoke room or the bar area.
The eight karaoke rooms vary in size, with the biggest room able to accommodate about 20 guests, while the others cater for smaller groups looking for a more intimate karaoke experience (pricing available on the website jamskaraokebar.com).
Each room is kitted out with upholstered lounge seating and a karaoke machine imported from Japan.
The user controls the machine via a panel to choose songs that are projected onto a screen with the words to sing along to (complete with accompanying cheesy video).
Drinks and food can also be ordered to the room via a touch screen menu.
Those concerned about letting loose on the microphone can rest assured each room is completely soundproof.
"What we realised after doing some acoustic engineering was that we had to actually build these things like they were recording studios, otherwise there would be someone's Frank Sinatra bleeding into Lady Gaga next door," Coughlan explains.
"We are so happy with the quality of it because it's so important for us to make sure it sounds right, so all of the doors on each room are studio doors.
"You close them and you hear nothing outside.
"When we brought the first machine in to make sure the sound was OK, it was all uncharted territory.
"We did a lot of research and it was a good feeling when we cranked it up, closed the door and sound was cut entirely."
Those who prefer to skip the karaoke can head down the stairs to the bar.
The area is designed to replicate the vibe of a watering hole tucked in a back alley in Shinjuku, with the emphasis on bringing patrons together in a close-knit space where they choose to stand instead of sit.
"A tachinomiya is what it's called and what that means is standing and drinking," Hillier says.
"There is izakaya and then there is this style, which is standing.
"We do have stools, but they are standing height stools, so everything is at that height.
"It's limited in space, but the beauty of it is we have groups of people here and then you might have just a few more people and suddenly it feels full and alive.
"The counter at the bar is constructed so there is this extra platform and it provides a bit of separation between bar staff and people who actually are sitting down at the bar. I really loved that sort of thing in Japan.
"We have had people come through and say, 'Oh my god, this is just like what I saw in Shinjuku', so it's been great feedback."
The drinks list includes Jam's Bright and Jam's Dark beer from Rogue Scholar Brewing, as well as whisky highballs (a favourite in Japan), and a growing range of sake, umeshu (plum wine), and shochu.
The food menu is set to expand but, in the meantime, offers Japanese bar snack food that pairs perfectly with drinks, including takoyaki (octopus balls), karaage chicken, veggie gyoza, apple pie gyoza, edamame beans, and pickled cucumber with sesame and chilli.
"Coming home to Newcastle, I wanted to create something like what I enjoyed over there," Hillier says.
"People that have been to Japan and experienced izakaya, the food is good, the beer is easy to drink, it's always cold.
"There's no pretension that you get from some bars.
"We are trying to create that welcoming environment."
Jam's Karaoke & Bar 8 Union Street, Newcastle West. Open Wednesday to Saturday from 5pm until late.
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