Shhh, we’re drinking here.
Listening Bars, a Japanese import where guests enjoy old records on high-end or vintage stereo systems, have seen a renaissance in New York. Ariel Arce, owner of four nightlife spots including Tokyo Record Bar in the West Village says, “It’s a space where people can enjoy music communally.”
She says the low-tech option appeals to a new breed obsessed with quality: “We’re a generation of people that are excited about having something that’s excellent, and made well, and vinyl is the pinnacle of that.”
Here’s a look at five of the city’s popular vinyl-obsessed venues.
Gold Star Beer Counter
The Crowd: Locals and beer snobs
What You’ll Get: Sixteen beers on tap, and an alternative indie rock sound are the hallmark of this Brooklyn joint. “They have good beer. I like that the music is on vinyl and that they display the record cover. It’s interesting to see the album art, it adds to the experience,” says Jason Sigal, 34, the guitarist for Lame Drivers, who lives down the block.
The bartenders choose tracks from 200 or so records, played over a Marantz sound system from the 1970s.
Another regular, Sean Gugger, 29, says Gold Star “has inspired me to up my own vinyl game. It’s nice that people are still holding onto traditions.”
176 Underhill Ave., Prospect Heights; GoldStarBeerCounter.com
Tokyo Record Bar
The Crowd: Well-heeled first dates and skater boys
What You’ll Get: If you can get a reservation at the subterranean cool-kid hangout, you’ll be treated to a seven-course omakase menu; on a recent night it started with togarashi popcorn, and ended with a post-dessert slice of square pizza, for $55, not including drinks.
As for the music in the cramped 20-seat spot, guests make requests by writing a single song on a piece of paper, selecting from a list of 200 or so tunes spanning from the ’50s — think Ray Charles and Billie Holiday — to the early aughts, like Jay-Z and Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black.” The crowd-sourced playlist, and dinner, lasts about an hour and a half, and sounds crisp over the hi-fi McIntosh sound system.
Owner Ariel Arce says of the 1,000-plus record collection on-site, “I wanted to make sure that if you came in with your parents, they would see something that they like, and if two young people came in on a date you would see something you were nostalgic for. And if you’re a serious music lover, there’s some cool deep cuts of old music.”
127 Macdougal St; TokyoRecordBar.com
The Crowd: Beer and vinyl aficionados
What You’ll Get: “We live close by, and I love the music. They just played the last Tribe Called Quest album,” says Brian Bush, 32, a Prospect Heights resident who works in tech, and comes to BierWax for the neighborhood vibe and surround sound speakers. “I love Steely Dan, I think the song ‘Peg,’ from ‘Aja’ is the perfect song.”
The bar, decked out in Star Wars paraphernalia, has stand-up shows, art pop-ups and food vendors on a weekly basis. The main draw though is the thousands of records and DJ sets. “Grand Wizzard Theodore, the guy who invented scratching records comes in here,” says the bartender, who goes by Big Nate.
A “No Request” sign is serious. “We have 5,300 records out here. I once had a customer come in and ask for a specific song,” says Big Nate, who adds, “we’ve been really into Khruangbin and Barry White to wind it down.” The bartenders control the music when the DJs are off.
556 Vanderbilt Ave., Prospect Heights; BierWaxNYC.com
The Crowd: Music industry insiders and networking businessmen
What You’ll Get: The VNYL –– the name stands for Vintage New York Lifestyle –– is a clubby four-story joint in the East Village with a 2,000-piece record collection curated by “Entourage” alum Adrian Grenier, the space’s music director.
With decor inspired by the 1970s; think velvet banquettes and spherical lamps, the venue has been a favorite for boldface names — rapper A$AP Rocky threw his 30th birthday party there last year.
Says Jake Riley, the director of operations and a sometime DJ, “During dinner service, a guest can choose a record themselves [from the bins up front] and put it on, and at night we have DJs. Recently people have been asking for disco, like Donna Summer.”
100 Third Ave; TheVNYL.com
The Crowd: After-work drinkers and trivia buffs
What You’ll Get: Karaoke and vinyl. “I just sang ‘Your Love’ by the Outfield,” says Jessica Orellana, 23, a finance analyst who lives in Queens. She’s been coming to the trivia night at RPM Underground, which has about 20,000 albums in its upstairs record store and 18 karaoke rooms downstairs. “It’s a good time, the prices are great and there’s an amazing song selection,” says Orellana, whose next karaoke pick is “anything Cher.”
While 100,000-plus song options are stored in a database and chosen from an iPad, Luddites will revel in the vintage Americana decor. Retro radios, industrial factory molds and old comic books line the walls of the basement-level space.
The prices for records range from free — for the damaged discs left in a box outside for passersby — to $500 for a first-edition of John Coltrane’s “Soul Trane” LP from 1958. Says Sam Huh, a co-owner of RPM, “Most records here are $10.”
244 West 54th St.; RPMUnderground.us