The rise of the listening bar
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
When Sager + Wilde launched just over a decade ago, it revolutionised London’s wine bar scene – delivering great wine with a dose of east London cool in a way that was fresh and different. The bar’s co-founder Michael Sager went on to found an artisan mezcal company (Destilado) and a natural wine importer (Sager + Wine). Now he’s back with Equal Parts, a new cocktail bar that’s a hymn to vintage vinyl.
“Whether it’s wine or mezcal or records, my passion is for unearthing things that otherwise wouldn’t be out there,” says Sager. “Half of what we play isn’t on Spotify; very little of it is anglophone. It could be Turkish music from the ’60s and ’70s, funk from Mozambique, soul from east Africa and Guadeloupe; old Italian film scores.” His rare vinyl suppliers include Analog Africa, Soundway and Now Again Records (Beyoncé’s go-to for samples). “Hearing music like this gives you a feeling that’s unique. Like tasting a wine you’d never had before.” DJing duties fall to the bartenders, when they’re not mixing Alpine Vespers or Manzanilla Martinis.
Vinyl is also an essential ingredient at Mountain, the buzzy new Soho restaurant from Brat chef Tomos Parry. The bar in the basement is kitted out with an imposing soundsystem created by renowned DJ and turntable technician Neil Macey. “We’re building a collection of funk and jazz of the spiritual and cosmic orientations,” says Benjamin Chapman, co-founder of the Super 8 restaurant group, which also owns the audiophile restaurants Kiln and Smoking Goat. “Alice Coltrane to Lonnie Liston Smith, some rare Welsh psych and atmospheric film soundtracks from Ennio Morricone to David Holmes. UK music is well represented, from new south London jazz labels like 22a to historical dub, ska and reggae that tell the melting pot stories of London.”
Analogue destinations in Paris include the natural wine bar Montezuma Café and the cobalt-tiled bistro Superflu, which serves up French pét-nat, seasonal aperitifs and retro house. Fréquence in the 11th arrondissement is another favourite of vinyl nerds. “We shift through boogie, disco, afro, reggae, hip-hop, West Indies, South African, disco-gospel, South American, Cape Verde…,” says co-owner Guillaume Quenza.
New York has seen a proliferation of nightspots modelled on Japanese “listening bars”, where the emphasis is on studied appreciation of the music, rather than all-out dancing. Brooklyn newcomer Eavesdrop (its Negroni is pictured top) was designed in collaboration with audio consultants House Under Magic to create “the best sonic experience possible”. “One of our founding principles is that ‘high quality doesn’t have to mean high volume’,” says co-owner Max Dowaliby. “We strive to make sure Eavesdrop is a place that is warm, cosy, comfortable, and a place where you never have to yell.”
Great cocktails and vinyl without the tinnitus? I’m sold.