As far as Doc and Nancy Thompson are concerned, karaoke is king.
Over the past 15 or so years, the couple has built a veritable empire devoted to amateur singers on the Central Coast, hosting regular karaoke sessions from Arroyo Grande to Morro Bay.
Now there's a new spot for the loud and proud--Doc's California Karaoke Bar & Grill in San Luis Obispo.
Nancy Thompson described the Nipomo Street restaurant and lounge as a warm, comfortable spot for both beginners and karaoke veterans.
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"We didn't want anything that was really uptight because that's not karaoke," Thompson said of Doc's, which opened about a month ago in the building vacated by Tortilla Flats. Raul Torres owns the restaurant, along with Doc and Nancy Thompson.
With its kitschy touches and basic bar-food menu, Doc's might not be for everyone. For those with a yen for performing "Pretty Woman" in front of strangers, however, it's a classic karaoke hangout, seven days a week, 14 hours a day.
Doc's true nature is apparent the moment you walk through the door and spot the tangle of wires and microphones propped in one corner.
Two computer screens set in a counter display California Karaoke's catalogue of country, rock and pop standards. Televisions scattered throughout the bar and dining area -- which doubles as a dance floor --broadcast the lyrics to the latest sing-along.
On one recent night, the selection veered toward the country rock side with classics like "Hot Rod Lincoln" and Gretchen Wilson's "One Bud Wiser." A few enthusiastic singers --members of California Karaoke's "star performers" club -- even led a line dance under colored lights.
As for the 2,100-square-foot space, bright red walls and a massive fish tank set in an elaborately carved wooden cabinet lend a touch of oddball interest.
There's even a wooden couple hugging one wall: an Indian man and maiden carved in the cigar-store style with real feathers and fringe.
Bar food with a twist
I soaked up the atmosphere while sharing the dinner menu with a couple of friends.
We started with a basket of sweet potato fries ($6), served with our choice of ranch dressing, honey mustard or barbecue sauce. Thin and crispy, the fries proved tasty enough to encourage snacking even after we finished our meals.
Passing up regular Angus beef for a healthier option, I sampled the buffalo burger ($13) with all the trimmings and a side of slim-cut fries.
Besides the lower fat content and calorie count, I couldn't tell much of a difference in taste between beef and bison. However, the patty did seem slightly sweeter and firmer than regular red meat.
One beef burger on the menu also caught my eye -- the appropriately named "Karaoke Burger" topped with pastrami, onion and pepper jack cheese.
Serious karaoke fans might be better off sticking with something they can nibble between songs --breaded mushrooms and jalapeno poppers, for instance.
One standout among the appetizers, the chicken quesadilla ($9), featured melted Monterey Jack cheese and a massive toasty-warm tortilla holding together salsa, chicken and bacon. The quesadilla came with a generous cup of chunky salsa for upping the heat factor.
Singing's the big draw
The food at Doc's is on the basic side, with hot dogs, burgers, hot sandwiches and simple salads making up the majority of the menu.With no vegetarian options for adults other than side dishes, it's difficult to find much for health-conscious eaters --even with the help of the accommodating staff.
That said, the food is only part of the picture at Doc's.
Karaoke lovers, especially those who stick to the classics, could find the bar and grill a perfect place to get their song on. After all, this is homegrown karaoke.
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DOC'S CALIFORNIA KARAOKE BAR & GRILL
1051 Nipomo St., San Luis Obispo 595-3627 Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily The scene: Classic karaoke bar The cuisine: Basic bar food with a few surprises Expect to spend: $3 to $13