In August 2020, Newark gained its first karaoke bar: Hsiang (pronounced “shong”). Owner Jason Chen, a former Blue Hen, said he opened the bar because it was something he wished he had access to when he was in college.
“I feel like this is something that is missing here,” Chen said. “It’s pretty common in big cities like New York or Philly, but there’s nothing around here. I like to go karaokeing, and every time, I have to drive to Philadelphia.”
One of the added benefits of bringing a karaoke bar to campus is having a piece of home available to students that might miss it the most. In Mandarin, the pronunciation of Hsiang is both “enjoy” and “miss.”
“We want all Chinese students [at] UD [to feel] the same as they used to in China,” Chen said. “And also, everyone who’s new to the concept [to] enjoy their experience here at Hsiang. That’s where the name comes from.”
Hsiang offers customized, wok-prepared stir fry dishes and salad bowls. Customers can come in and pick what ingredients they want, similar to Honeygrow or Roots.
According to Chen, Hsiang offers a more authentic karaoke experience. While some Americanized karaoke bars have a stage that everyone gets up on to perform, Hsiang has private rooms for groups to sing in.
“We put a lot of investment [in] the sound equipment,” Chen said. “All the walls between rooms are sound-proofed. Once you close the door, you won’t hear any other people singing.”
While Chen had anticipated mostly Asian students coming to his bar to have an authentic experience, he was surprised when he saw American students as well.
“With COVID, most of the international students are not here anymore,” Chen said. “So [surprisingly], we got more American students here. We didn’t expect that. We were mostly expecting Asian students.”
Opening in the middle of a pandemic was not an easy task. While Chen said that they never considered postponing their opening, he admits that they struggled in the beginning.
“[Two months after we opened], the state was shut down for three weeks,” Chen said. “So, we got closed up right after we opened. That was a very hard time.”
Regarding COVID-19, Chen said that they are taking precautions to make sure that everyone is safe.
“We check everyone’s temperature before they enter the door,” Chen said. “They don’t have to wear masks inside rooms [because] it’s all private groups. We sanitize every time a group leaves, and we put a UV light for ten minutes to sanitize the room.”
As a fan of karaoke himself, Chen said he thinks it is a good stress reliever, especially during the pandemic when people have reported high stress levels.
“It’s very unique, and it’s like a way to open your heart,” Chen said. “Everyone in the room is your close friend, or at least someone you know. And you can just yell — you don’t have to worry about being yourself.”