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With Downtown Sumter growing more and more into a destination for community members and neighbors, J. O'Grady's has expanded into an after-hours karaoke bar to provide live entertainment from Sumter's very own music lovers.
Owner Scott Estep opened J. O'Grady's After Hours in late September. It is next door to the restaurant in downtown Sumter at the corner of South Main and East Liberty streets and is open Thursday-Saturday with the space available to rent for parties and private groups on weekdays.
"This place has been in the plan for about four years. We opened up early in anticipation of the brewery," Estep said, referencing Sumter Original Brewery, Sumter's first-ever brewery that is under construction across Main Street from J. O'Grady's and anticipated to open near the beginning of the year.
With new businesses opening downtown amid revitalization efforts that have picked up steam in the past five years, Estep said almost everything still closes about 10 p.m., and he wanted to give the community somewhere to go after everything else closes.
"We opened this place because we're trying to complement everyone down here instead of competing," Estep said.
That goal seemed to come to fruition Thursday night. With a small handful of people there just after the doors opened at 9 p.m., it filled up quickly about 10 p.m. as the Homegrown benefit concert let out at the Sumter Opera House and restaurants downtown served their last tables, and the roster of singers expanded.
J. O'Grady's After Hours has a $5 cover charge, is for ages 21 and up and is planning to provide a small bar menu from the J. O'Grady's kitchen in the future. Eventually, people will be able to eat, drink and sing through the night.
Estep isn't a fan of singing himself, but he is a music lover. He said he decided to open a karaoke bar to give the community a fun activity and let people shine in the spotlight.
Thursday night, people tried their hand at a variety of songs in genres spanning country, rock, classics and even one man's lively rendition of The Little Mermaid's "Under the Sea."
"Sumter has a huge singing population," Estep said.
He decided to base the d cor as an unofficial "Sumter Music Hall of Fame," mirroring the sports hall of fame that covers almost every inch of wall space in the mainstay restaurant next door. Pictures of local singers and musicians cover the walls of the bar. Even the cocktails are named after local musicians, like Kim's Korean Punch Shot and The Drifter.
To give the karaoke singers a true spotlight, Estep has a camera facing the stage to broadcast the show live on the bar's 10 or so TVs throughout the night. No sports or other entertainment is played on the TVs, keeping the focus on the karaoke. There is no background music during a lapse in singers.
Estep also has a wardrobe next to the stage, where singers can dress up with props, jackets and hats to make the show a unique experience.
"They're the show," Estep said. "Some people never get the chance to get on stage."
It can seem nerve-wracking, but while the karaoke is the main feature, friends carried on their own conversations, creating a casual, non-judgmental atmosphere.
Even the employees take part. Estep said he only hires those who are willing to sing and have a blast. Instead of letting silence fill the background during a lapse in singers, they take a break from emceeing the lineup or pouring a drink to steal the stage themselves. They don't disappoint.
"It's like you have your own little show when you sing that song."
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