Prague is pretty progressive on most things but until recently lacked a venue providing a service long adored in other parts of the world - karaoke - that sublime form of entertainment from Japan that brings out the Elvis or Tiny Tim in all of us. Whether you have a voice that makes listeners swoon, or raises the fur on the cat's back instead - in Prague you have a place to go at last. It's called Utopie - Utopia in English - and it is a bar located on the city's massive Charles Square, open from dusk till dawn, 6 nights a week.
With encouraging crowds and friendly staff unafraid to step onto the podium themselves - if you don't find yourself on stage before the night is done - you'll have missed an extraordinary chance. Lumir Vesely, Utopia's owner, says karoake is perfect for a good time precisely because it's not about sitting around: it engages you as both as a viewer and participant. Ultimately, you can take it as far as you want.
"It's a form of entertainment that is still unusual in Prague. I encountered karaoke while in southern Asia where I lived for three years: southern India, Ceylon, the Maldives. When I returned to Prague I realized there was a gap in the market and so I got the idea to open what is purely a karaoke bar - open every day aside from Sundays. The main thing is that people here are used to passive entertainment - with karaoke you have to entertain yourself. It's a game, however, that most people are really excited to play."
The atmosphere is conducive to singing as well - warm lighting that adds character to the bar, seating that includes wicker chairs to really sit back and chill, and walls that are painted bluish tones with motifs no doubt catering to a younger crowd - for example graffiti of aliens mixing it up. Still, says Lumir Vesely, recently a 70-year-old man took the stage for karaoke, putting younger people in the bar to shame. Not necessarily with his singing (which, if it's anything like mine, could peel paint off the garage door) but with his courage: if you have a bit of that half the battle is won.
Young woman:"I like singing, but maybe only in the shower! I'm very shy!"
Zuzana, a regular visitor and karaoke singer:"I'm here almost every week, I like it a lot, I like the atmosphere, and I like the people."
What is the best moment you've experienced here? Have you seen anything unusual on the stage?
Friendly girl:"I saw one boy who was singing here who was really, really good..."
You sing regularly here at the Utopie karaoke bar...
Petr Klima, known to all:"Everyday. This is my hobby."
By now, it's time to get things started - the crowd has been in the club for a few hours and they're hungry for the singing to begin.
A guest sings a song by Petr Spaleny.
After a few very professional numbers by several regular goers Lumir Vesely raises it up a notch.
"I'm gonna sing a song - who'll come up and sing with me?"
Rousing the crowd behind a local beauty - they sing a Lucie Bila duet.
But, that's not all. By now my colleague at Radio Prague Kay Grigar, who has joined me on this night, is itching to take to the stage herself. There's only one problem - for the time being all of the songs on offer at Utopia are in Czech. Luckily, an answer is soon found: because the karaoke list includes Czech covers of Hey Jude, These Boots Are Made For Walking, and the song Kay decides for in the end - Roy Orbison's Pretty Woman.
Kay takes to the stage...
Kay Grigar there at Utopia - and I have to say no one was more impressed than club owner Lumir Vesely - you could hear him there on the track saying there is nothing better than someone coming to Utopia for the first time, picking a tune, and not being afraid to sing. And Kay got a rousing hand of applause and took the night.
"But wait, what do I see, is she walkin' back to me?!!"
That's what karaoke is all about - meeting friends, going up on stage and behaving in a way you normally wouldn't - it's all about having a great time.
Be sure to check listings to check opening hours. You can visit Utopie's website by clicking on this address: www.tezkapohoda.cz
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