Plumbing

San Francisco’s most beloved Market Avenue karaoke bar makes its triumphant return

Aside from the cars and the occasional passers-by, Market Street was quiet on a Thursday night. The same cannot be said of The Mint, a karaoke institution founded in 1993.

Avril Lavigne, The Cranberries, Bing Crosby – here the playlist is scattered, dictated by the whims and whistles of the guests. The constants are strong drinks, high energy, and a diverse crowd ranging from 20 to eighty year olds.

The Mint (1942 Market St.) reopened for the first time since the pandemic shutdown began on June 17th. And the regular guests are happy that she is back. A lot of the people we spoke to have been coming to this humble karaoke bar for 10, 20, almost 30 years. Some regulars stop by at least twice a week.

SFGATE reporter Amanda Bartlett fills out her Song Request Card at The Mint.

Patricia Chang / Special for SFGATE

“It reminds me of ‘Cheers’,” said regular Tony Maddox. “We all know each other, we all feel comfortable singing around each other. It’s a second family, a second home. ”

Not much has reportedly changed since the pandemic forced The Mint to close its doors in March 2020. Before the pandemic, easily more than 100 people filled the bar every Saturday evening, many came with stomachs full of sake and unlimited sushi from Sushi to Joy next door. Regulars cheered newcomers and sweaty dance battles broke out. At some point, the DJ usually jumped on stage to take the mic for his own solo.

SFGATE reporter Michelle Robertson gets help from the DJ and the crowd at The Mint.

SFGATE reporter Michelle Robertson gets help from the DJ and the crowd at The Mint.

Patricia Chang / Special for SFGATE

What has changed above all is that you no longer have to leaf through a laminated, alcohol-soaked songbook – instead, the participants scan a QR code that leads them to a digital song directory. But other than a plastic partition around the bar and disposable microphone covers, everything else seemed normal (as normal as a place like The Mint can be).

It’s just after 6 p.m. and the opening chords of George Michael’s power ballad “A Different Corner” penetrate the back of the room. Maddox strolls to the stage and positions himself in front of a colorful backdrop. Behind him is the silhouette of an animated character reminiscent of a 2005 iPod commercial, and he offers a few twists of his own while humming in a rich vibrato, then receives applause when he returns to his seat.

The enthusiastic audience at The Mint.

The enthusiastic audience at The Mint.

Patricia Chang / Special for SFGATE

Another woman who wears a flannel and has her long gray hair tied in a ponytail surprises us when she brings out Bruno Mars ‘”Uptown Funk”, followed shortly by Britney Spears’ “Toxic”. It’s a pretty humble audience at this point of no more than 20 people or so, but almost all of them scream to dance next to her and put their fingers against the ceiling to underline their lyrics. “Free Britney!” she screams and her new found fans scream excitedly in response. Then a stocky, older man takes her place and warns his fourth Frank Sinatra song of the evening.

All bets are closed at The Mint: you can sing whatever you want (with the exception of “Hey Jude,” such a regular) and take on a whole new role, if only for a few minutes. Many of the people who take the stage probably haven’t sung loudly in over a year – at least beyond the confines of homes or cars.

SFGATE reporter Madeline Wells appears on The Mint.

SFGATE reporter Madeline Wells appears on The Mint.

Patricia Chang / Special for SFGATE

But the community is so closely connected that long-time guests feel at home even after a long absence, even if they have moved outside of the Bay Area. Bradley Sweet, for example, was visiting from Reno. The mint was one of his first stops when he returned to town, and although it was his first visit in four years, he was instantly recognized. “No matter how long you’ve been away, when you’ve been here and met people, they’ll still remember you. It’s like you haven’t left, ”says Sweet.

The exterior of The Mint.

The exterior of The Mint.

Patricia Chang / Special for SFGATE

For singers like Sweet, Maddox and many more, karaoke isn’t just a passive form of after-hours entertainment. In a way, it can be a cathartic release from the caged day-to-day life to which we have adapted during the pandemic. After a solemn year marked by loss and tragedy, we all need something ridiculous and ridiculous to help us let go and let off some steam. For many people, this something is the common consolation and the common exit to belt out Christina Aguilera hits at The Mint at the top of your throat.

“I’ve been coming here for 20 years. Why am i coming here? I have absolutely no idea, ”Maddox mused. “It’s the best place.”

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