On an evening in Tokyo, one might slip into one of that city’s vinyl bars, where music-loving proprietors play selections from their collections of records while customers sip their Suntory. Here in L.A., that style of low-key bar, where you can enjoy a drink and listen to rare tunes on a hi-fi analog sound system, has inspired a handful of new nightlife options.
The Semi-Tropic in Echo Park boasts a vintage McIntosh stereo so central to the place’s vibe that the logo on their signage is based on the power amp. Downtown, the recently-opened In Sheep’s Clothing stores their turntable and records on elegant, Mid-Century Modern shelves behind the bar–and displays small cards encouraging patrons to put away their phones and keep their voices at a soft volume.
Joining them this month is Gold Line, a new project from Chris Manak, the L.A. musician and Stones Throw Records label owner better known as Peanut Butter Wolf. A space within the building that has served as his label’s offices for years will be opening to the public for the first time, thanks to a partnership with Jason McGuire, who also serves as general manager of Stones Throw, and restauranteur Tyler Bell, a co-owner of L&E Oyster Bar and El Condor in Silver Lake.
Bell will be helming the beverage program at the bar, which pays direct homage to Japanese drinking culture, with a focus on craft spirits, classic cocktails, and the installation of a Hoshizaki Lancer highball machine for Suntory Toki whiskey drinks, along with a thoughtful selection of wines. His wife, Hollywood set designer Sara Philpott, oversaw the cozy interior, which takes notes from Japanese and Danish style, retro recording studios, and Highland Park’s historic Craftsman architecture.
It will be Manak’s record collection, however, that commands much of the attention. About 7,500 of his hand-picked albums will be displayed–and played–in Gold Line. Like the Japanese vinyl bars, many of them will be jazz, rock, or eclectic global sounds–but you’ll also hear more upbeat, head-nod-inducing picks, particularly on weekend nights, and in the more lounge-style back room. A rotating assortment of DJs will be invited in to drop the needle on the Thorens turntable, but two rules will apply: No bringing in outside records and no using computers of any kind.
We spoke with Manak about the project, which opens September 29 at 5607 N. Figueroa Street, Highland Park.
What was the inspiration for a space that combines drinking and listening to music in this particular way?
I’ve always wanted to share my records with more than just a couple friends. When I turned 14, I got turntables with aspirations of being a “DJ.” Since then, I’ve DJed radio stations, clubs, festivals, weddings, funerals, high school reunions, podcasts, etc., and they all are fun for what they, are but usually for bigger events, you have to play certain types of songs that people either recognize or can easily dance to. This is a different vibe. Only 50 capacity. It allows a more intimate experience–almost as intimate as my house, without inviting a bunch of strangers to my house to nerd out on my record collection.
My record label, Stones Throw, has been in the building we are doing the bar out of for 15 years. About five years ago, we did a few private parties in a portion of the space. For one of them, I stacked up a bunch of milk crates full of vinyl (thousands from my personal collection) in there and spun them along with some of my DJ friends and had a great time. A couple years later, I learned that “vinyl bars” were actually a thing in Japan so it let me know it was possible out here.
How did those Japanese bars influence what you wanted to do with Gold Line?
I’ve been going to Tokyo for years, but honestly only been to two vinyl bars out there, both a few months ago, so I’d say ours is a looser interpretation. My understanding is that in Japan, there are these bars where the owner has part of his personal record collection and he puts on an album while bartending. Since I won’t be at our bar every night, my concept is for DJs I know to spin with my records. And our DJs will mix more danceable music on busier nights, rather than let a full jazz or rock album play like in Japan.
As for the hi-fi, we’ll have some really good vintage sound equipment which sounds a lot warmer then new stuff does, so you’ll get to really hear music in a way that you don’t hear it in your house on a small pill or even smaller laptop speakers–and it will also sound different than a modern nightclub with major bass and treble, and the sound is so loud, it hurts. There doesn’t seem to be any in-between in bars in the U.S. The sound is either too quiet, too loud and distorted, or just bad overall.
What kinds of records that will be in the bar’s collection?
I’ve been buying records since I was 9 years old in 1979, and the bar will have roughly 7,500 of my records in it. They’ll be organized roughly into seven categories: rock, soul, reggae, rap, electronic, world, and jazz. Of course, within those categories, there’s a bunch of sub-categories, but basically, it’s up to whoever is DJing that night. A lot of time and care was taken to find music I personally want to share with people that may not be all that known. The emphasis isn’t necessarily on familiarity. That can be dangerous when alcohol is involved, because drunk people wanna hear something familiar, but I have faith that there are people out there who are down for something different.
What can patrons expect to experience at Gold Line?
It’s all an experiment at the moment since we haven’t opened yet and there’s really not any bars that I know of like this. It kind of depends where in the bar you are sitting as well. The main front room will be traditional barstools, bartender, and music at a quieter level that you can talk over I would imagine. The back room has some sectional couches that can be moved around and an area where the DJ plays, so that might be more of the party atmosphere as the night goes on. The private parties we’ve done in that room in the past were a lot of fun and, back then, I was telling myself, “I wish I could open a bar here and do these kind of parties for the public, but I know it’s too hard to do in L.A. Getting a liquor license, applying for the change of use, the buildout, coming up with the money, etc, etc.” But the more my two partners and I researched it, the more we were like, “Let’s do this!”