Minneapolis karaoke bar a destination for wannabe rock stars

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Cold, mid-week winter nights in Northeast Minneapolis aren't exactly the kind of nights that draw people out on the town. But this isn't any old night, and this isn't any old bar. 

Mike Velin is the Karaoke Host at the Vegas Lounge. At the mic, Jake D. brings the room to a standstill singing Queen.

"People always know when you come to the Vegas it's seven nights a week," said Karaoke Jockey, or KJ, Mike Velin.

And that's what sets it apart from many other bars; it's one of the few in the Twin Cities where you can find karaoke every single night of the week. 

Jake D., as he's known at the Vegas, is a regular on Sunday and Wednesday nights.

"It gives wannabes the opportunity to be a rock star for five minutes at a time. I mean it's awesome. The reaction I get from people singing is one of my favorite things in life."

He's not alone. The word of mouth on this place is so rampant, some nights the waiting list to sing can run more than two hours long.

Dan Reeves owns the lounge's karaoke business.

"I've worked weekends where you can't come because it's at capacity. They'll wait out there until people leave."

Meanwhile, behind the karaoke host desk, Mike Velin, moves to the music and mouths all the words to all the songs. He's been running karaoke at the Vegas for the last 18 years.

"Some people say 'how can you deal with that every day night?' And there's songs you hear over and over again. I mean if I never heard 'Don't Stop Believing' again in my life, it would be too soon for me."

But if there's one thing he's learned: when it comes to karaoke, you can't judge a book by its cover.

"I've been shocked. I've been shocked as hell many times. Where it's like that's coming out of that, really?"

And the magic isn't just on the stage. The crowd is different here - a supportive group of strangers, Mike says. 

"I mean at a bar where people drink a lot of liquor I mean, honestly, I can't remember the last time I saw a fight in here."

Geri Schroeder has owned the Vegas Lounge for the last 13 years. But her roots here run deep. Her dad worked at the Vegas in the '70s and Geri started bartending when she was old enough to serve liquor. It'a even met her husband. She's put her heart and soul into the Vegas to make it what it is.

"It definitely does make you feel proud. You have to give credit to all the hosts, my employees - we all work try and work as one big happy family."

She's not kidding. Among the people who work here are Geri's two sisters and her son Nick.

"She started 36 years ago and it's grown so much it's evolved. I mean it's bigger than us and that's the coolest part about it."

The rest of the staff is considered part of the family, from the guys at the door to the bartenders to the karaoke hosts to the servers. In fact, lead server, Dawn Hutton, is arguably the face of the Vegas.

"I think I've been here about 13 years, but I've been hanging down here for 30," Dawn said. "When people first come in I know they're new because when I laugh they're like 'whoa.. what was that.'"

Also known as "Delta," Dawn is here most nights of the week.

"My other choice would be sitting at home with my husband [laughs]. I think I'll sit down here instead." 

And every once in a while, if you're really lucky, you'll get to hear Delta sing. 

"I'm up there, I'm doing me! I'm Lady Gaga, born this way. I can't help it," Dawn said laughing.

"People tell me they go other places, other cities, and they never find anything quite like the Vegas. Right? Not quite like this," Mike said. "I'm super proud of what we got here, super proud of where I've seen this come from when I started here to where we are now."

So where does the Vegas go from here? The answer can appropriately be found in owner Geri Schroder's go-to karaoke song, "Landslide" by Fleetwood Mac. 

Geri is getting ready to turn the Vegas over to her son.

"I need to just let go, I do... but it's my baby for a long time so that's hard to let go. But now I'm gonna give it to my baby.. or not give it to him.. I'm gonna sell it to him [laughs]."

And the next generation is ready to run with it.

"Carving my own lane, you know, trying to make it better, trying to grow. I thank her for it a lot. I don't always say it, but it's there," Nick said.

So as long as the bright lights of the Vegas keep shining seven nights a week and the crowds keep singing and supporting Mike, "I can't see myself stopping doing this because I enjoy it so much."

And the good times will go on and on.