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Andrea Champagne of Oakland, left, gets excited after finishing playing a game with owner Curtis Howard as they play the video game, Guitar Hero, at The Avenue bar on Guitar Hero night in Oakland, Calif. on Sunday June 16, 2008. The bar also has Madden NFL video game night. (Photo by Nader Khouri)

Once upon a nightlife time, it was karaoke that brought us together. We guzzled to numb our inhibitions, chose a high-pitched song from the book and took hold of the mic. Everything after that was hit or miss. Lots of misses.

Now, PlayStation's the cultural phenomenon. The video games "Guitar Hero" and slowly, "Rock Band" are making their way into your local pubs. There are several weekly offerings in the Bay Area, and all you need to do is master those color-coded guitar frets, choose from hundreds of songs from the 1960s to now, and jam to your heart's content for a boatload of points that can be used to buy upgraded guitars and cool avatars. Embarrassment is limited to hand-eye coordination, not musical talent. This is virtual shame.

I'll add that one New York City bar experienced triple the business on "Guitar Hero" nights, so you other pub owners might want to consider investing in a PlayStation. Devotees have told me the more they drink, the better they perform at "Guitar Hero." Maybe it is a bit like singing.

In the East Bay, the Avenue, an Oakland bar from the former owners of King's X, offers up "Guitar Hero" camaraderie on Sunday nights. It's the perfect way to cap off a day of watching football and denying the beginning of the workweek. Why else would you drink on a school night?


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Andrea Champagne of Oakland has got it down. Champagne hits the Avenue every night to practice her "Evenflow." Her face is upturned to the flat screen on the far back wall of the long bar. As she jams, her head is cocked to one side, and at one point I think I see the tip of her tongue poke out of the corner of her mouth. Deep concentration.

Champagne's office has "Guitar Hero" Fridays, and she also persuaded her sister to buy the game a while back. So the Avenue is her third place to practice. "I just think it's great that they offer this for people like me," Champagne says. Addicts; they're called addicts.

I met Champagne on a recent Sunday night at the Avenue, a fine excuse for me to hang out in my new fave neighborhood: Temescal. You've got Betty's famous fried chicken sandwiches for lunch, Lanesplitter Pizza & Pub for authentic New York-style pizza for dinner and the Avenue for cocktails. Conveniently, Lanesplitter delivers slices to the Avenue.

Vicki and I grabbed two Stellas and headed to the back of the bar, where lovely lounge chairs and a brick fireplace rounded out the bar's cozy feel. There's a pool table in the middle of the space, fewer than a dozen barstools, and a half-dozen tables and chairs.

One thing I liked about the Avenue's setup — and the karaoke-"Guitar Hero" divide — is that you're not necessarily performing for an audience. The central spot in this bar is the flat-screen TV. Serious "Guitar Hero" competitors can concentrate in relative solitude since they're facing a wall. People can cheer them on from behind — and we did — but that's where the stage element ends.

As a pair got deeply entrenched in Iron Maiden's "The Number of the Beast," I noted their Grim Reaper avatars (that's a lot of points!) and took in the rest of the bar. Vintage posters lined the middle walls. The patrons were friendly and local, exchanging pleasantries and minor flirting but pretty much keeping to themselves. Co-owner Curtis Howard was among them, checking in with regulars, chilling with his bartender and very carefully keeping score with the folks playing "Guitar Hero."

Maybe he's an addict too?

Jessica Yadegaran covers bars, clubs and other nightlife spots. Got a suggestion? Reach her at 925-943-8155 or jyadegaran@bayareanews group.com.

The Avenue
  • Address: 4822 Telegraph Ave., Oakland
  • Contact: 510-654-1423
  • Hours: Noon to 1:30 a.m. daily
  • Vibe: Mellow neighborhood pub with access to fine pizza
  • Extras: "Guitar Hero" on Sundays

    a week of rocking
    Want to get your "Guitar Hero" on? Call ahead to find out when bars are turning on the PlayStation. Times vary.
  • Sundays: The Avenue, 4822 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. 510-654-1423.
  • Mondays: Underground SF, 424 Haight St., S.F. 415-864-7386.
  • Wednesdays: Tiki Tom's, 1535 Olympic Blvd., Walnut Creek. 925-932-9202.
  • Wednesdays and Sundays: Rock Band at Chug Pub, 1849 Lincoln Way, S.F. 415-242-9930.