For people who love to sing in the shower but find the public exposure of barroom karaoke absolutely terrifying, there's a middle ground. It's a Korean pastime called noraebang -- essentially karaoke in private rooms. At a noraebang (which translates to "singing room"), there's still a good chance of embarrassing yourself, but only among friends.
Generally, noraebangs are located in areas with large Asian populations and serve a predominantly Asian clientele. They're usually set up like recording studios, with a series of soundproof rooms on either side of a long hallway. Once a group checks in, the wannabe warblers are given a large binder of songs (in English and many other languages, such as Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Tagalog) and a quick tutorial on how to use the equipment (typically a microphone, remote control and TV monitor). You'll sit on couches and sing along to the lyrics on the screen (usually in front of incongruent scenic backdrops), proceeding without interruption for as long as you'd like. And that can be a long time. Noraebangs are open late -- as late as 5 a.m. weekends, 2 a.m. weeknights. Thankfully, they serve food and beer to fuel you through those long hours of mimicking Britney and Elvis.
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With all its positives, noraebang does have a downside: Friends may not jeer you with the same intensity as a crowd of unknowns, but they will be around to tease you later. Take it from someone who, after six months, still can't live down an ill-conceived rendition of "Jenny From the Block."
Cafe Muse. 7356-B Little River Tpke., Annandale. 703-658-9351. Sunday to Thursday, 7 p.m. to 3 a.m.; Friday and Saturday, 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. This storefront is a regular eat-in cafe by day, with singing rooms open at night. The pricing structure is different here than at other noraebangs: For up to three people, it's $31 per hour, plus $4 an hour for each additional person. Reservations are recommended Fridays and Saturdays.
Cafe U&I. 7031 Little River Tpke., No. 14-C, Annandale. 703-256-8084. Daily, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. This noraebang, renovated about two years ago, is the swankiest local choice. The vibe is techno-coffeehouse, with lit candles and a big pyramid of video screens in the entrance. The rooms are priced according to size, $25 to $60 per hour. The largest features a projection TV, as well as a small monitor for reading lyrics while facing the crowd.
Ijing Music Studios. 2403 University Blvd. W., Wheaton. 301-962-3560. Daily, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. For those with no car, Ijing (aka Mia Casa) is perfect, just blocks from the Wheaton Metro. Rooms all have a black light, and the walls in each glow in the theme of a different world location, from Egypt to Paris to Sydney. Rooms cost $35 per hour.
Rodeo Karaoke Restaurant. 4231-H Markham St., Annandale. 703-941-5959. Sunday to Thursday, 7 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Friday and Saturday, 6 p.m. to 4 a.m. If you want to enjoy fried octopus ($15.99) or chicken feet ($17.99) while you sing, this is the place. It's a full-fledged Korean restaurant, with singing rooms in the back. It's also the only area noraebang that serves hard liquor as well as beer and wine. Rooms are $25 to $50 per hour. Anya Sostek