When considering the fact that New York City is a bustling metropolis of millions, it’s ironic how often you hear it’s inhabitants express feelings of loneliness. Or alienation. Or a sense of hopeless disconnection from their fellow denizens. These are trite sentiments, certainly, but that doesn’t make them untrue. Even Mark Twain, when chronicling his time in the The City That Never Sleeps, wrote:
“A man walks his tedious miles through the same interminable street every day, elbowing his way through a buzzing multitude of men, yet never seeing a familiar face, and never seeing a strange one the second time.”
But if New York City offers anything, it’s options–a plethora of them. For almost any malady, the city will graciously afford you the perfect salve for what ails you. And more often than not, it involves a night out at an offbeat locale with the promise of tasty eats, great beats, and a convivial crowd. Recently, Lynn and I found just such respite on a particularly frigid night at Tokyo Record Bar.
What is it?
Tokyo Record Bar is described by its proprietor as “an underground listening room dedicated to quality and obsession through music, food, and booze,” though that hardly encapsulates the experience. A little bit more descriptive is the statement, “an homage to the jewel boxes of vinyl in Japan,” but again, that’s not entirely helpful if you’ve never been to Japan and have no idea that there is a popular style of bar there in which the music you listen to is as big of a focus as the food you are served. So then what is it? Not to worry, we’re happy to elucidate.
How does it work?
The setup is pretty simple: you make reservations for the 18-seat izakaya, confirming 24-hours in advance. To reach the space, you enter through Air’s Champagne Parlor on MacDougal St at least 15 minutes beforehand. Air’s Champagne Parlor, which is a charming space in its own right, has reserved tables and its extensive champagne menu available for the guests of Tokyo Record Bar while they wait. Once all or most of the parties are present, you are led downstairs to the small, ornate, subterranean izakaya.
After you are seated, you are presented with both record and drink menus, as well as pencils and papers to write your choice of songs for the evening’s playlist. The drink list includes a selection of beer and champagne, as well as an extensive filtered and unfiltered sake list. A handy flavor pairing index is on hand to assist with your decision. The record menu offers an eclectic mix of blues, soul, jazz, hip-hop, reggae, funk, and more–something suitable for anyone’s taste. Shortly after everyone has turned in their selections, the DJ for the evening curates the list as he/she sees fit, occasionally adding one of his/her own tracks.
What about the food?
A seven-course izakaya tasting menu is delivered to your seat expeditiously over the 1.5 hour seating. Ours began with an aperitif of sake and snacks such as togarashi coated popcorn, toasted pepitas, and spicy, fermented cucumbers. The courses that followed included interesting dishes like Kaluga Osetra Caviar Sushi and perfectly crispy, oilless Maitake Mushrooms Tempura with Agedashi Sauce. The sixth course–my favorite–was the tender, flaky, dashi-poached Cobia paired with sesame-braised cabbage and fried shallots. And no meal is complete without something sweet. A homemade milk chocolate pudding with soy caramel, rice krispies and orange zest was as satisfying as it sounds. Of course, it couldn’t end there. For one final, whimsical, punctuating dish and with the mindset that nothing is sacred, we were presented with a slice of homemade pizza as a form of smile-inducing digestif.
What did we think?
What Lynn and I liked best about Tokyo Record Bar was the vibe. There was a palpable feeling of inclusion and intimacy. When a song that you didn’t select–but that you love–comes on, you’re exchanging a wink and a nod with your fellow diners. For a brief moment in time, while you relax, dine, and listen to records with your guest and sixteen strangers, you are a part of a collective, swapping songs and stories. And for an even briefer moment, in the dim lighting, amongst the light wood accents and furniture, under a ceiling blanketed with paper cherry blossoms, you feel like you’re somewhere else and not quite so entirely alone.
– Tokyo Record Bar will accommodate dietary restrictions so long as those restrictions are provided ahead of time. Vegetarian, vegan and pescatarian options are available.
– On Monday to Wednesday from 10:30 pm – 2:00 am the basement flips to a late night hang with DJs playing records and an a la carte izakaya menu.
– Cancellations can be made up to two hours before reservation time; less than two hour notice will be subject to the full charge for dinner.
127 Macdougal St (Enter through Air’s)
Mon-Wed 6:30 pm & 8:30 pm
Thu-Sat 6:30 pm & 8:30 pm & 10:30 pm
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