The bass booms inside Pixxo while a few Chinese students mill outside the karaoke bar, laughing and talking among themselves.
An American student in a Sixers jersey strolls in, followed by a group of girls dragging their dads along. A group of Chinese students race to the back of the bar.
Inside, the bouncer puffs on a Juul before casually scanning students’ IDs. Vinyls from obscure albums like “FILE” and “Ghetto Jams” line the walls of the bar. There are leather couches on both sides of the entrance, and a poster advertising a bottle of Hennessy is framed in a sharp, white neon outline next to the dance floor.
Past the bar and down a narrow hallway to the left, streams of Chinese students duck into unmarked white doors. There are three private rooms for karaoke. Sounds of shrill Mandarin and off-key singing echo through the walls.
A group of American guys sit behind the DJ with a bucket of chilled Hennessy.
“What’s Pixxo like?” Paul Williams, a 2016 Miami alum says. “It’s hella popular. Hella everything.”
Pixxo officially opened, liquor license in hand, on Sept. 1, 2017.
A group of five Chinese international students who have since graduated from Miami started Pixxo, eventually bringing on Roman Wang, who went to Purdue University for undergrad and got his master’s at John Hopkins University, as another business partner.
One Thursday in November 2017, a group of American students decided to stop by. Senior Ethan Blaze had always joked about going there with his best friend Brad Maupin, who is also a senior.
“We had heard they don’t let Americans come in, which was strange because we walked in and had no issues,” Blaze said. “We got to talking with [Roman], we spent a few hours in there, we taught him how to play euchre and then he ended up inviting us to dinner.”
A week later, Wang asked Blaze and his friends, Maupin and fifth-year Vivek Singh, to help run the bar the following weekend because Theta Chi had expressed interest in renting out Pixxo.
Wang eventually hired them to work Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
By the end of February, Wang was in California for business frequently. He eventually returned to China, leaving Blaze as Pixxo’s general manager and Maupin and Singh as assistant managers.
“You can come here and still meet new people,” senior Adam Witmer says. “Not everyone is stuck in their pretentious, douchey circles.”
Paul Williams, the 2016 alum, taps his golden sneakers back and forth, gripping his belt buckle before taking a sip of his drink.
“Can we talk about how cool it is to hang with the Asian students?” Williams asks. “The Asian kids have style. I mean, they inspire me.”
Two girls sitting at the bar move over to one of the leather couches near the front and gush over how uncrowded the bar is.
“You know, it really feels like a hookah bar,” junior Kennedy Hettlinger says.
“Not like, MIA, but close,” her friend adds.
“It’s hip!” Hettlinger says. “But, really, it’s a hidden gem.”
The two jump up off of the couch and proceed to the dance floor, twirling each other around and laughing as the neon lights reflect off the white soles of their shoes.
Over the summer, Wang and a few of Pixxo’s shareholders flew Blaze out to China to give him a first hand education in Chinese karaoke culture.
“Karaoke is huge there,” Blaze said. “Every place you go to, it’s everywhere. They even do it for business meetings.”
Before Blaze and Maupin started working at Pixxo, one of Wang’s goals was to have 20 American students at the front of Pixxo each night. Now, it fills up consistently every weekend.
Maupin said that since he and Blaze took over, they have hosted date parties for various fraternities and sororities, plus bar rentals for the hockey team, UP Magazine and even a couple of dads’ weekends.
But, Maupin said, Pixxo has yet to completely break the cultural barrier between Chinese and American students.
“It’s not fully immersive yet,” Maupin said. “Pixxo is a safe haven for [the Chinese students], but they all talk to us and they’re not afraid to have a conversation if you try.”
Inside one of the private karaoke rooms a group of Chinese students are piled around on a leather seat sectional.
Pitchers of Hennessy, open packages of dried spicy noodles, rice crackers and empty bottles of Corona line the table as a few people play Liar’s Dice, the Chinese version of the card game “Bullshit.”
Another student belts his heart out to the song playing on the flat screen across from the table. He passes the mic off to his friend, who grips it and takes a deep breath before launching into an off-key rendition of the song.
The whole group bursts into laughter.
“In China, this is what we do,” junior Jiaxin “Jason” Zhong says. “This is a private place compared to the club, and it’s closer than the only other karaoke bar nearby.”
The bar Zhong is referring to is over forty minutes away, near Cincinnati.
“This is better than the Brick,” his friend adds.
The group agrees animatedly.
“Karaoke is way of having fun,” Zhong says. “It’s a cultural celebration.”
Blaze appreciates how much he has gotten to know Chinese students through his work.
“At the end of the day, we are just three college kids running a bar,” Singh said. “It’s refreshing here — it’s the only place where you can have a closed social area to sing and have fun.”
Blaze says he always thought that bartending in college would be fun, but for him, the most rewarding experience has been seeing Pixxo filled with American and Chinese students.
“The coolest thing I’ve noticed is some of the Chinese students asking to come sit down at tables out here and get bottles out here and start to assimilate with the crowd and see that Americans have fun, too, rather than just sticking in the back.”