A guy walks into a bar ready to sing some songs in Spanish and Mandarin, and he’s greeted by servers dressed as superheroes.
While you might be waiting to hear a punch line, it’s actually the basis for a serious business undertaking in New Haven by attorney Andrew Lebwohl, a Big Law expatriate who just opened Karaoke Heroes, the state’s only full-time karaoke bar.
Opening a bar “is every lawyer’s escapist fantasy,” said Lebwohl, who spent nearly three years practicing corporate bankruptcy and insurance regulatory law at Dewey & LeBeouf in New York after graduating from Columbia Law School.
But Lebwohl wasn’t acting on a whim. While he enjoyed the bankruptcy work he was handling as a junior associate in 2009, it was a crushing workload.
“I realized that despite all of the things I loved about law, there was more that I wanted to be doing,” Lebwohl said last week as he was tying up loose ends a couple of days before Karaoke Heroes’ grand opening on Aug. 25.
So he left the practice to earn his MBA from Yale and developed his business plan in 2011 as a fellow at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute.
His vision is a bar that blends two of his favorite things—karaoke and superheroes. Lebwohl, a New York City native, got hooked on karaoke when he was 8 years old singing Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” at a ski lodge in Vermont. He has sung with numerous a capella groups and won the first round of the New York City trials for the National Karaoke Championships last year.
Located at 212 Crown Street, Karaoke Heroes is set up like a traditional karaoke bar in Japan, where this type of nightlife entertainment began. There is a main bar area and stage for singers as well as a three soundproofed private rooms where groups can gather.
The bar’s décor includes colorful mural artwork from a Marvel Comics artist that Lebwohl commissioned, and all of the servers dress as superheroes wearing capes. A comic book will tell the elaborate story of Karaoke Heroes, based on a superhero who saves a depressed society through singing and performing.
“The business model is built on expanding as a chain in college towns,” Lebwohl said.
New Haven was the ideal opening location because of the diverse ethnic mix and the vibrant downtown area.
“Any well-executed business will find its customer base here,” Lebwohl said. And he’s bringing a unique nightlife option that doesn’t exist anywhere but the largest metropolitan areas. Visitors can choose from more than 5,000 songs in English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean and Spanish.
As Lebwohl was developing his plan and running financial models, he said friends and family were easily sold on the idea.
“I thought that I should be willing to take a chance on myself because others were willing to,” he said of his decision to take Karaoke Heroes beyond just a concept. “I am lucky to know people who believe in me and my ability to do this.”
His legal background came in handy, too. Establishing a music catalog for the bar was the easy part. The challenges came in locating the right space (which he did with the help of economic development agencies in New Haven), managing the contractor who built out the space, obtaining the proper licenses and permits to operate, and hiring and managing a service team.
“Being a lawyer made a lot of things move quicker,” he said. “I saved time and money by knowing how to read and understand a contract.”
Lebwohl has been spending a lot of time this month marketing his new bar and participating in local events, such as the Connecticut comic book and sci-fi convention, to get people interested. He envisions his bar will be a gathering place for the after-work crowd, bachelorette parties and groups of friends.
“I want karaoke and superheroes to work together as a nightlife option to make you feel good about yourself,” Lebwohl said. “People who wouldn’t normally share the bar together will get together and enjoy karaoke.” •
Karaoke Heroes is open from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., Monday through Thursday, and 5 p.m.
to 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. For more information, visit www.karaokeheroes.net.