Stepping into an LP bar, one can expect almost anything. The experience largely depends on the space, ambiance and most importantly, the vinyl collection. Lighting will likely be dim, taking the form of soft lanterns or unique lamps. But this is perfect for setting the mood. There is the option of sitting at tables or along the bar, often facing endless shelves of LPs. A drink is recommended but never required to enjoy.
More commonly known as “listening bars” or “hi-fi bars”, these once under-the-radar spots have become hot places for music enthusiasts worldwide. In the United States, they are a relatively new concept, allowing for experimentation like time of day and genre of music. Bars have always been a place to socialize and talk. Now, we are meant to listen.
It’s quite an attractive pairing, with cities putting their own twist on the concept. Here are five LP bars in California that are worth a visit:
1. 20 SPOT
Starting in the city of San Francisco, 20 SPOT is a record store-turned-bar that has quickly become the neighborhood’s hang-out spot. The place boasts both good food and good wine, primarily small plates to accompany the casual but moody atmosphere.
2. Bar Shiru
Oakland has another bar, this one very much inspired by the Japanese kissa. Bar Shiru emulates the most loved aspects, creating one of the first hi-fi listening bars in the Bay Area. From jazz, soul and international, the bar boasts a carefully curated selection. The owners, heavily inspired by their travels in Japan, wanted Bar Shiru to be an intimate space filled with sound. It’s the perfect environment for getting back into “slow listening”, a concept that’s been lost in the digital age.
3. Gold Line
Moving down towards Southern California, Gold Line in Los Angeles expands on the Japanese-type hifi bar, infusing a more Californian color. The place holds a connection to Stones Throw Records and its founder, Peanut Butter Wolf. In fact, the bar pulls from his collection, vinyls that span across genres and across his career.
4. In Sheep’s Clothing
In Sheep’s Clothing is another favorite, one vinyl lovers swear by. Recently, the place underwent renovation and will return as a pizzeria (Lupetti Pizzeria) and hifi bar mashed into one space. Staying faithful to the inspired kissa bar scene, visitors can try classic cocktails alongside Japanese whiskey. Or, come in and grab some coffee during the day.
5. Part-Time Lover
San Diego has a notable bar of its own: Part-Time Lover. The place keeps things casual, situated like a living room. The environment is all about listening, hanging out and most importantly discovering music. Similar to In Sheep’s Clothing, the bar is open during the day, welcoming anyone looking for a cup of coffee.
Jazz kissas originated in Japan, so naturally, they’ve managed to perfect both the space and experience for visitors. Many of these places date back nearly sixty years, accumulating in history and good music. The Old Blind Cat in Shinjuku makes home in an old railroad car, right in the heart of jazz in Tokyo. Mr. Kikuchi and his collection take listeners to and from the past, losing a sense of time altogether (in a good way).
South Korea, particularly Seoul, is another notable location for creating spaces dedicated to sound and the act of listening. Pyung Kyun Yool (or PKY) brings together influences from around the world, both in vinyl and interior. A careful selection of music and food creates for an unforgettable ambiance that turns newcomers into regulars.
London, another vivacious and culturally rich city, houses several LP bars. Spiritland combines a café, bar and radio studio all in one, found right by King’s Cross Station. The place is humble but has one of the best sound systems in the world. Spiritland also features an iconic drink menu that does nothing to let down locals and visitors alike.