Where To Drink With Someone Who Insists That Vinyl Just Sounds Better

Listening bars for music nerds and fans of dark, moody places.
Where To Drink With Someone Who Insists That Vinyl Just Sounds Better image

photo credit: Peter Fisher

Most bars play music. Some even have live music. But not every bar has turntables, a record collection, and a hi-fi system that massages your ears with the sounds of pressed vinyl. Thanks to the influence of Japanese listening bar culture, NYC now has quite a few places where you can grab a drink and hear analogue audio. Most of them are relatively low-key, and almost all of them host rotating DJs who play everything from trip hop and Detroit techno to jazz and disco—so be sure to check beforehand to see what's coming up.


photo credit: Bryan Kim


West Village

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Hidden in the back of Port Sa’id, a massive Israeli restaurant in Hudson Square from the chef behind Miznon, there’s a sauna-sized bar where you can bathe in the sound of ambient music coming from huge wooden speakers. It's called In Sheep's Clothing (from an LA-based music collective of the same name), and it has few barstools, a little vinyl shop, and a brief cocktail list that features lots of Japanese ingredients. This tiny spot doesn't take reservations, so get here on the earlier side if you want to guarantee yourself a seat.

When it opened in early 2022, Eavesdrop was incredibly difficult to get into, even at 6pm on a Monday. But now it's not too hard to snag a reservation at this Japanese-inspired bar in Greenpoint, where the music ranges from deep house and illbient to disco and R&B. About the size of a railroad apartment, the room is pleasant and serene, covered in white brick and blond wood. It’s a cool spot with great acoustics, but keep in mind that there’s no standing room. You either have to book a table or try to snag one of the bar seats saved for walk-ins.

A night at Upstairs, the listening lounge located above Gowanus restaurant Public Records, starts out mellow. People begin trickling in around 8pm, and the angular white couches spread throughout the loft-like space start to fill up as the DJ sets up shop in the middle of the room. You never know what you’re going to hear, but you can assume that it will be obscure and vaguely dancy. With its state-of-the-art speakers and futuristic feel, this place is definitely on the clubbier side, but it's not where you go to take shots and jump up and down. It's more of a sit-still-and-soak-in-the-vibe kind of spot.

The Last Call is the rowdiest bar on this list. If you want your listening experience to end on a dance floor inhabited by people who smell like tequila, stop by on a Friday or Saturday night. For a more laid-back evening, come here on a weeknight. No matter the day, there’s always some sort of interesting vinyl playing (pop, rock, jazz, etc.), and the music is invariably just a little bit louder than it needs to be. A cross between a dive bar and a retro izakaya, the space has a long bar and a couple of tables where you can hang out and eat wonton nachos, in addition to a nice backyard that’s perfect for when your ears need a break.

Yet another establishment modeled after Tokyo listening bars, Honeycomb is a place where you can sit in the dark and listen to the latest release from Impulse! Records. The narrow room in Park Slope is filled with wood and leather, and the overall mood is laid-back, casual, and generically romantic. This spot an impeccable choice for first dates, but if you just want to drop in, have a quick drink, and listen to a few tracks, you can do that as well. Be sure to order the cocktail with truffle honey. It’s a lot better than it sounds.

Open since 2017, Tokyo Record Bar helped launch the current trend of Japanese-inspired listening spots. (Riddling Widow, the owner’s previous vinyl-centric bar, was an underrated foreshadowing.) This minuscule Greenwich Village restaurant serves a $65 prix-fixe menu, with two to three seatings per night. The food is similar to what you’d eat at an izakaya, but the main attraction is the vinyl menu. Everyone chooses one song from the record collection, and you get to listen to the communal playlist as you enjoy your roughly hour-long meal under a canopy of fake flowers.

There are two Bierwax locations in NYC. The original is in a cozy space in Prospect Heights that feels like a fun, cramped neighborhood clubhouse, and the other is in a huge warehouse-like room on a quiet corner of Ridgewood. Both have walls of records and great beer selections, and neither is necessarily better than the other. Stop by the Brooklyn location if you want to listen to some soul, funk, or '90s hip hop with a friend, or plan your next birthday party at the Queens one. They were playing Bad Bunny the last time we stopped by.

If you’re tired of hearing Dua Lipa and Harry Styles on an endless loop, head to Hi-Note, an Alphabet City “radio bar” that functions as a coffee shop by day. The music’s not mind-numbingly loud here, and it seems like someone is actually putting thought behind what’s playing. That someone could even be you: there’s a DJ station near the bar where you can play your own LPs and 45s on Monday nights, starting at 8pm. Besides the shiny, L-shaped bar, there are also banquettes up front, and the whole space is soundproofed for karaoke, which this place plans to offer one day.

photo credit: Teddy Wolff

To get to this Alphabet City sushi speakeasy, head up some stairs, ring a buzzer, and go through a steel cage door, where you’ll come upon what probably happens when a celebrity buys an empty building and turns it into their dream loft. If you ask about the jazz playing here, they’ll tell you they only play vinyl to keep the volume relatively low—and this makes for a very pleasant listening experience. Most of the massive space is filled with leather couches and high tops where you can order nigiri and temaki à la carte, but the $80 omakase at the four-seat counter is what makes this place special.

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