Long gone are the days where club sound systems reign supreme. In recent years we’ve seen a wave of obsession-fuelled, hi-fidelity sound installed in cafés and bars across the UK. Paving the way for sound and music conscious diggers to enjoy records in more comfortable surrounds.
Since their infamous inception in Japan, listening bars’ primary focus is to craft a unique space to relax and listen to music whilst giving DJs and bar staff the freedom of expression to dig deep on bespoke sound. Yoshio Nojima’s legendary SHeLTer has been purveying perfect sound for the past 30 years on his custom JBL DD55000s, The Bridge’s Rey Audio bangs above Shibuya Crossing through to Lion, whose doors have been open since 1926. RA has put together a killer hit list here for those wanting more on the Tokyo scene.
It’s only recently are we seeing these bars grow worldwide, drawing on the same grace, connoisseurship and obsession which enabled Japanese pioneers and early adopters to blossom. Peanut Butter Wolf’s Goldline Bar in LA turned heads globally, Bar Shiru flys the flag in Oakland whilst spots are popping up as far as Studio Eksotika in Bali. By day, these spots play fantastic records at the perfect sound, create atmosphere and give purpose. By night the concept turns traditional nighttime activities on their head, making great record collections and insane sound systems the focal point and soundtrack.
International hat tips are appropriate, but we’re here to talk about the UK, and a handful of great spots have popped up recently which deserve recognition, all of which collectively pushing fantastic sound across the country and all doing the do the right reasons…
The Best Listening Bars in the UK
The daddy. Spiritland is a series of spaces for music lovers – Royal Festival Hall, King’s Cross, a shop in Mayfair are all built around a deep love of music and the culture that surrounds it. Sister venues Merchants Tavern and Supermax underline team Spiritland’s place at the top of the pile, coupled with unrivaled Living Voice sound systems throughout. A must…
One of London’s latest additions and who are pushing fantastic sound as a straight labor of love. The BBE Store, situated just off London Fields and powered by an insane Audio Gold sound, hosts instores (Louie Vega’s roadblock RSD 2019 instore deserves a special mention!), serves up fantastic food and drink whilst acting as the BBE Record Shop HQ! Go see Marcio, Grace and the team, you won’t be disappointed!
Opening its doors in 2014 and very much the OG audiophile spot on the Kingsland Road has remained a consistent flag bearer for many years coupled with a brilliant Japanese kitchen, extensive bar menu all bound together by beautiful Klipschorn sound. Recently expanding to next door, owners Amit and Aneesh also embarked on the successful warehouse project Giant Steps in the last few years, sadly closing its doors soon due to development, but a testament to these brothers for pushing fantastic sound across the capital for the right reasons.
Next up we shine the light on Manchester’s 33 Oldham Street, another spot drawing on Japanese influence, open by day as a workspace, by night as a lounge space. Its MB2SE sound takes center stage and built by Grammy winner Steve Levine and play host to a variety of sessions, from album listening to radio broadcasts and Q&As. It’s three floors (with a fourth promised), fantastic food and drink menu make this diverse space a must hit in Manchester.
Another spot in Manchester driving fantastic sound is Vietnamese restaurant NAM who curate eclectic lineups through the weekend, from local to international acts, that all spin on a bespoke Klipschorn system assembled by London pioneers Brilliant Corners. Be sure to visit the Ancotes, the homemade recipe pho is top-notch whilst the basement venues sound will not disappoint!
With an ever-growing focus, interest and obsession in hi-fidelity sound, it’s safe to say the movements in good hands, especially in the UK. More and more festivals (We Out Here and Houghton notably) are pioneering this same bespoke sound and raising awareness, whilst the rise of vinyl consciousness and importance amongst selectors fuels its development. The future is bright, the future is obsessive and the future sounds fantastic.
We’re always on the lookout for new spots, share your favorite listening bars with us in the comments.