Iconic Adelaide karaoke bar La Sing has transformed since shutdown, including manufacturing its own hand-glued diamanté tees and pink trucker caps. We spoke with venue manager Jason Makarenko about how the venue came out of COVID stronger.
Carry a song in your heart and on your back with La Sing’s new merchandise
Jason Makarenko, venue manager at La Sing, greets CityMag at the door of the Chinatown karaoke venue on a rainy Thursday afternoon. The main singing room is empty and quiet. This is a far cry from the La Sing Jason loves.
“This is my safe place, my happy place,” Jason says, spreading out in a booth.
“It’s also a leveller. Politicians come in here, and I’ve bought celebrities here. We’ve had all those people in and there’s no pretentiousness. Once you walk through that door, it just drops away.”
La Sing recently announced on Facebook it had created an online store, stocked with newly made merch slapped with the baby blue and pink La Sing colour scheme and logos.
Jason just ordered $400 worth of samples, spanning baseball shirts, muscle tees and caps, to display around the bar and sell to customers. The rest of the goods are made to order and can be found online.
“I glue them personally,” Jason says of the tiny pink jewels.
“The outline of the print is screen-printed, and then I put all the diamantés on the inside.”
The reason Jason goes to so much effort is for a bit of “love and care,” he says.
Jason has visited La Sing for decades as a patron – his go-to track is ‘Wind of Change‘ by hair-metal band Scorpion – but is relatively new to the management team.
Ung Chin has run the venue since 1995 and does many jobs; he is responsible for the overheads, and cooks fried rice and chicken wings from the kitchen while patrons belt out Motörhead or Mariah Carey to their heart’s desire.
Jason operates the floor as the venue manager but will soon join the business as a partner. He aims to bring enthusiasm and his business nous to the operation, as he has worked in marketing and project management roles in the past.
His LinkedIn doesn’t outline any hospitality experience, and Jason admits his portfolio spans security and management, but he name-drops food and wine bigwigs around Adelaide who he “workshops ideas with” for La Sing.
“Look, we’ve got 3,600 followers, we’ve got 25,000 check-ins at this place,” Jason says. “There’s a captive market there straight away.”
The COVID-19 lockdown from March to June sparked the working relationship between Jason and Ung. They have been friends for a long time, with Jason saying Ung once went to one of his birthday celebrations in Malaysia.
While Jason was renovating the interiors, laying down fuchsia piped lighting and sticking old music discs to the walls, he says he and Ung didn’t have one disagreement. This was a good sign.
“It was an organic thing,” Jason says of the working relationship.
“I found myself in a position where I had some time on my hands and I renovated all this with my own hands. Did it myself.”
The extended period of lockdown also increased demand for La Sing. When Adelaide woke up from its pandemic hibernation in June, with clubs shut and some venues unable to pivot their operations to suit COVID restrictions, La Sing thrived.
“We’re booked out for weekends in advance,” Jason says.
“When there’s 58 people in here, and you’ve got two people singing, you’ve still got a room small enough to have that interaction. You’ve got the feedback from the crowd and the clapping. There’s a vibe to it.”
Jason also realised if patrons can’t enter the venue because it’s booked out and is limited by capacity, he could bring La Sing to you. They have a transportable kit of karaoke gear, including a projector and deejay (which is currently Jason), that will bring the good times to your home.
“In terms of what else we are doing next… by this time next week, we’ll have an app launched,” Jason continues, excitedly.
“When you request your songs through your smartphone, [it’ll] go straight to the library. That’s part of the evolution.”