For years, John Brophy has been a nightlife impresario without a nightclub.
Of course, he never seemed hindered. In 2013, his roving sing-along party, Baby Ketten, was declared "America's greatest karaoke night" in a glowing New York Times profile celebrating his technique for handcrafting instrumental tracks for alt-tunes otherwise unavailable or unwieldy. The sheer reach and consistency of his KJ empire might seem the best argument against tying one's star to the success of any brick-and-mortar concern.
But if Baby Ketten never needed a permanent home, the space that houses Brophy's new bar—a famously snake-bitten former poker room and downmarket disco on lower Southeast Powell Boulevard—certainly needed Baby Ketten.
While the food and drink options at Baby Ketten Klub revolve around fryer-friendly practicalities and sugary cocktails, there's a singular joy to reading lyrics off the wood-framed flat screens hung about the bar. Private rooms designed to accentuate sepia-tinged '70s swank or '80s chrome-chic aesthetics linger as impossibly lovely make-out rooms. The pinball- and video game-stocked entertainment center appears bizarrely misplaced, but the bar hopes to bring in a family-friendly crowd for limited access during early evening hours. In any event, eventually transforming an overlit prefab mini-arcade into the '90s Room should go smoothly.
All the same, despite Brophy's famously backward-leaning songbook, the tracks chosen on a recent Friday night weren't notably different from those at any other Portland karaoke night, and those few exceptions hardly advertised the benefits of more left-field song choices. Spectators respected anyone taking the craft seriously, but only truly put their hands together when a performer hit the precise measure of proficiency and personality, no matter the track—see the roar when the husky post-punk nailed the high note in "Take On Me."
To paraphrase an early Stones B-side—offered, perhaps uniquely, by Baby Ketten—any success depends upon the singers, not the songs.
Three Baby Ketten Songs I Wish People Would Sing More, By John Brophy
1. Cibo Matto, “Birthday Cake”
The distorted screaming part always makes me happy.
2. Death Grips, “Get Got”
It's a pretty difficult song that I haven't heard attempted more than once: "Get get get get/got got got got" is stuck in my head always.
3. Todd Terje (with Bryan Ferry), “Johnny & Mary”
This amazing Robert Palmer cover includes the music video and it's beautiful and sprawling and I may have tears.
DRINK: Baby Ketten Klub, 2433 SE Powell Blvd., 503-444-7903, babyketten.com. 8 pm-2:30 am daily.