How does this sound for a night out? Low-lit ambience, the clink of ice cubes swaying in a highball, murmurations softened by bar interiors designed to mimic a recording studio, and a trembling jazz track rolling through Bowers & Wilkins 1976 speakers as a clean, smooth sound. Listening bars - a concept that developed in Japan during the post-war years, when cash-strapped jazz lovers wanted to listen to the latest record drop on a communal sound system - are back, and they're better than ever.
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Whether it's a reluctance to return to the dance floor post-pandemic or simply the next step in a worldwide reappreciation of LPs, a raft of sophisticated drinking dens are popping up globally. And while you'll find serious audiophiles cooing over sound systems (Bowers & Wilkins 1976 speakers! Tannoy Little Gold Monitors! Eight-channel amplifiers!), those with no knowledge of tube amp technicalities can take a table at these hangouts, too. It's an elegant approach to an evening on the tiles - one that feels more like a visit to a friend's living room than a sweaty slog on the dance floor - as venues switch on the speakers and drop the needle in cities worldwide, pairing first-class cocktails with sounds as diverse as Afrobeat, indie and jazz.
It's not just vinyls in the lights anymore, either; these high-level sound systems are also being used for intimate acoustic sessions, and by DJs bringing along their ample record collections. Where Tokyo's traditional listening bars could simply be a room with a turntable, some stereo speakers and a barman, today's breed of hi-fi hangout is fitted with audio-enhancing interiors, vintage tech for optimal sound, and positively encourages a conversational ambience - it's as much about the experience as the music.
Ready to have a listen? Here are 10 of our favourites.
The best listening bars in London and beyond
Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan
An OG. Tokyo's listening bars are the blueprint for the trend and Bar Track, in the city's Shibuya district, is a scene favourite. This spot straddles the gap between an old-school salaryman haunt and a hipster hangout for Sennheiser HD 800-wearing vinyl-philes. Here, amid a hazy cloud of cigarette smoke (it's still legal to smoke indoors in Japan), a DJ is on hand to pick the perfect jazz tracks for the perfectly assembled sound system and you'll find highballs at the bar. Just be warned: unlike their western iterations, there's a no talking rule at most Tokyo spots. Prepare to be shushed if you're whispering.3 Chome-24-9 Higashi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0011, Japan +81 3 5466 8871
Covent Garden, London
What was once Covent Garden's stalwart live music venue Roadhouse (where the likes of Adele and Jeff Buckley cut their teeth) has been reimagined as moody Stereo, a 40-seater restaurant and music bar where an early-evening house band gives way to DJ sets as midnight approaches. Cocktails are adventurous - think a vodka and cumin muddle - while the food menu is a riff on 80s New York kitsch: snack on devilled eggs, shrimp cocktails topped with trout roe, and five-cheese macaroni, as well as NY-inspired pies for dessert.35 The Piazza, London WC2E 8BE +44 20 3146 9637 stereocoventgarden.com
Tokyo Music Bar
Mexico City, Mexico
Founded by Edo Kobayashi, this speakeasy spot brings the best of the Japanese capital's bar scene to Mexico City. Take a (gold) stool at the speaker-bookended bar and you'll be swilling sake and sipping Japanese whiskeys as you listen to the bar's vast collection of vinyl records playing through the hi-fi sound system. The cocktail menu is crafted from typical Tokyo ingredients, with drinks served in glassware made by Japanese craftsmen. The toilets are by Toto, and - in true Tokyo fashion - the analogue audio experience is invitation-only, so we'd call ahead before dropping by.Río Pánuco 132, Cuauhtémoc, Mexico City 06500, Mexico +52 56 3035 4220
Brooklyn, NYC, US
The inspiration behind this Manhattan Avenue bar? The co-founders' living room. Dan Wissinger and Danny Taylor wanted to replicate the experience of having a friend over and turning up the tunes while still conversing in a hospitality setting. The result is Eavesdrop, a high-end aural experience. Illuminated by a halo of warm light, the vinyl decks at this late-night Greenpoint neighbourhood listening bar act as an altar - just switch candles for vast yellow speakers, and the holy wine for viciously bold cocktails such as absinthe-spiked vodka cranberries. The speakers here are custom-built, while interiors - with izakaya-style wooden panelling - are designed in the same way recording studios are, creating a space made for sound. Everything has been meticulously arranged to make the music sing - from exact speaker placement to the hum the dishwasher makes.674 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn, NYC 11222, US eavesdrop.nyc
Mu, Dalston | Photo credit: Dan Preston / Charlie McKay
The team behind London's first nu-listening bar, Brilliant Corners, opened this Dalston address in 2022 as a bar, restaurant and live music venue. A diverse music programme curates a Tuesday-to-Sunday line-up of Afrobeat artists, jazz musicians and Cuban conjuntos, while the restaurant puts a robata charcoal grill to good use, with teriyaki chicken and yuzu-infused scallops accompanying cocktails of the likes of saketinis, matcha coladas and jasmine old fashioneds.432-434 Kingsland Rd, London E8 4AA +44 7209 4187 mu-ldn.com
This Rue Saint-Sébastien wine joint has become a late-night hit for the French culinary crowd, thanks to its wood-fired food offering of blistering spinach calzones, duck heart skewers doused in salsa verde and fried chicken sandwiches, served until 11pm. The music, though, continues until two, when the bar operates a "good vibes only" code, cranking up its beautiful midcentury speakers and spinning records from restaurateur Fabien Lombardi's personal vinyl collection (displayed behind the bar).25 Rue Saint-Sébastien, 75011 Paris, France +33 1 43 55 68 20 bambinoparis.com
Bar Shiru, Oakland | Photo credit: Daniel Gahr
Denver, Colorado, US
Less is more at this oil lamp-lit Denver outpost of the hi-fi bar trend: the Santa Fe Drive address is a records-only listening spot that serves minimal intervention wines in a pared-back, patina-kissed space. The turntables sit behind a pale wood bar, so those on the decks can match the music to the mood of patrons ordering. Vinyls are either original pressings or AAA remastered buys to ensure the best sound quality filtering through the various speakers in the room, which were themselves sourced from as far afield as China, Australia and Germany.1029 Santa Fe Dr, Denver, CO 80204, US +1 720 751 8163 esphifi.co
Oakland, California, US
This hi-fi listening bar in the Bay Area is the purest iteration of the Japanese kissa to land Stateside, a vinyl-lined industrial space that centres the music as the focal point of a night. You'll hear mostly soul, jazz and groove playing on the sound system, and differing zones are serviced by their own speakers, separated by warm-hued wooden screens and oversized images of legendary jazz artists printed on acoustic fabrics. Records are played in their entirety, and the bar menu offers a trio of Japanese drinks - whisky, craft beers and sakes - plus cocktails.1611 Telegraph Ave #100, Oakland, CA 94612, US +1 510 920 0299 barshiru.com
Equipment Room, Hotel Magdalena
Austin, Texas, US
The subterranean space beneath Austin's Hotel Magdalena (on the perfectly named Music Lane) has just been transformed into a hi-fi bar. The Equipment Room is a joint venture between James Moody, owner of the city's Mohawk music venue, and the duo behind local vinyl shop Breakaway Records. Decked out as a 70s drinking den, complete with shag rugs, raw denim touches and old Austin gig posters on the walls, the bar holds a curated collection of over 1,200 LPs that highlights and celebrates Texan music, while the bar menu playfully riffs on the vinyl theme, offering an "A-Side" of classic cocktails and a "B-Side" of signature drinks.1101 Music Ln, Austin, Texas 78704, US +1 512 867 5309 equipmentroom.com
No DJs here; this Berlin wine bar is the closest you'll get to a classic Japanese kissa, with just a turntable, speakers and jazz vinyls providing the soundtrack to your night. Vintage 70s Bowers & Wilkins speakers play full A- and B-sides of records plucked from owners Bénédict and Martina's small - but good - collection, which encompasses blues, soul and funk, as well as jazz. At the bar, you'll find Deutschland wines and classic cocktails, including the obligatory highballs. Patrons can only sit for a maximum of two hours (it's that dinky) and groups must be of four or smaller.Rhinowerstr 3, 10437 Berlin, Germany rhinoceros-berlin.com