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City Scene: Restaurant Owners Live Karaoke Life


November 20, 2009

HARTFORD — - Hector Cruz stands in the cool blue light of the Corona beer sign.

With his right foot forward, arms outstretched and a microphone he doesn't need, Cruz lifts his shoulders to his ears and his face reddens as his urgent tenor pleads — sometimes for life, sometimes for love, sometimes for forgiveness.

"Perdón," he sings, his face so flushed at times that the bar owner reminds him to breathe, "vida de mi vida."Friday nights are karaoke nights at Aqui Me Quedo II at 150 Albany Ave.

Wilma and Joel Rohena bought the restaurant five years ago from her father. Joel left his job as manager at Coca-Cola to run the place; she kept hers as a manager at Travelers.

Until a few months ago, the Rohenas would close their restaurant and bar for the night and head to East Hartford to sing karaoke. Now, Joel has his own setup.

Above the bar is a flat-panel television that displays song lyrics. Behind the bar is a white binder with the song lists, from Shakira to Sinatra, mariachi to hip-hop. The Rohenas' favorites are highlighted in blue; the songs favored by Cruz, a regular, have "HC" next to them in pen.

Wilma likes a glass or two of white zinfandel before she makes her way to the microphone. This night, she and her husband choose their favorite duet to serenade an all but empty bar: "Reunited," by Peaches and Herb.

Cruz has been a fire marshal, a landlord, a truck driver — but he said if he could live his life over, all he would do is sing.

"When I hear people singing," he says, nursing a Heineken, "I say, 'Damn, I worked all my life. I could …'"

Cruz likes ballads. He sings "My Way" in Spanish and English. He's more convincing singing "Si Tú Sabes Que Te Quiero" than he is with "No Huggie, No Kissie Until I Get A Wedding Vow," but he's happy to do both.

He's seen the people who sing for presidential inaugurations. He's seen professional singers who need professional classes and professional microphones to sound good.

He doesn't need all that, he says. He says his talent is natural.

"This is what God gives me this for," Cruz said, touching his throat. "To be a singer."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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