Last month after The Highball shut its doors for a year, I started a pilgrimage to find a decent replacement that had the charm and engaging side activities of The Highball. After pricey disappointment and a lack of karaoke at The Goodnight, I decided to try an Austin karaoke standard: The Common Interest Karaoke Bar and Grill.
Both The Highball and The Goodnight have very swanky interior décor, one more intentionally than the other. The Common Interest, however, is *straight 80’s*. It’s not called The COMMON Interest for nothing.
The exterior – an aesthetics-free strip mall on Burnet Road – is drab enough on its own. But the interior of The Common Interest doesn’t set the bar much higher. The walls are sport-bedazzled with one million player jerseys and placards and neon lights. The layout is decent, however, with a number of tables surrounding a large bar and a small karaoke stage in the center of the table zone.
Don’t Leave, You’ll Only Get Drunker!
The cocktails brought to us by our friendly waitress were strong. I am guessing that in an establishment relying on PUBLIC KARAOKEING, it makes the most sense to get patrons alarmingly liquored up early. Not so people will sing, but so people NOT singing won’t be horrified and leave.
The cocktail list was decent. But when once again inquiring about draught beer, I was disappointed to find out everything was in a bottle except for Coors Light, which was on draught out of a GIANT PLASTIC MOUNTAIN at the bar. I was not informed whether the mountain turns blue if the beer was cold.
Fried Mushrooms, Fried Pickles, Fried Patrons
The menu was decent, but it was a bit limited to bar food. We still tried out their hamburger, as The Highball Burger had been a favorite. The determination was that it was “okay.” Despite it having bacon, jalapeños and cheese on it, the meat itself was still very plain. Both the sweet potato fries and the regular fries were absolutely delicious. But I don’t think that The Common Interest is known for their food, nor do people go there for the food.
The Common Interest is known best for its karaoke, a public stage that is indeed very public. The Internet is littered with embarrassing photos and videos of people performing at The Common Interest because none of these people are ashamed about public exposure, evidenced by their performing AT The Common Interest.
People also stay away from The Common Interest because the wait time for songs, as a result of the single stage, is HUGE. HERE IS A SPECIAL AUSTINOT SECRET:
The Common Interest has private karaoke rooms!
I have only lived in Austin for a year, and every native I’ve talked to has sworn that there are no private karaoke rooms at The Common Interest. But in my conscientious reporting, I followed the sad neon lights into the “Game Room” where there were (big surprise) more jerseys and sports memorabilia, three sad touchscreen game consoles, and two seriously old pinball machines including one from the movie Johnny Mnemonic (1995).
And…drumroll…several private karaoke rooms! Before 7 PM, the rooms are free to use, since the main karaoke stage is not up and running yet. They can be reserved ahead of time, and are usually $25-50/hour depending on size.
As someone who is extremely tech-savvy, I will say that the actual touch screens inside the rooms used to select songs and singers are about as non-intuitive as you can get. Factor in that where you touch isn’t quite calibrated correctly, and that you’ve been drinking particularly strong cocktails all night, and you end up with 42 renditions of Black Velvet that no one requested.
The service got particularly slow at about 8 PM, once the main room was full of musical revelers. I think it was on account of a lack of wait staff because the place got REALLY crowded. We had gotten there at 5 PM on a Saturday. When we left our private karaoke room at 10 PM, we could barely squeeze out the door.
But the service had still been really exceptional. Our waitress came over to tell us that the UT game was going to delay the start of public karaoke and offer us a private room for free without any prompting. We got to sing as many songs as we could figure out how to input for a good three to four hours before we were told that the next hour would be charged.
When we came out of the private room at 10 PM, the wait time for a single song at the stage was already over an hour. If we hadn’t been gifted the private room, I don’t know how well we would have fared. When I look back at the photos we took that night, I realize what an amazing night we had, likely induced by the strong cocktails and the confined humiliation of private-room karaoke.
Overall: a wonderful night. Great staff. That tawdry feeling you get comes free.
Laura Darby is a New Yorker who came to Austin looking for sunshine and music. In real life, she works with chimpanzees in the Democratic Republic of Congo and infiltrates the Internet with digininjitsu. You can follow her breadcrumbs at LauraDarby.com.
Photos via Flickr CC, courtesy of yi.