Lo-Fi Dining: Restaurants Turn to the Turntable for Background Sounds

It’s about to get real old school

A few years back, Ludovic Lefebvre caught heat for blaring expletive-ridden hip-hop during dinner service at his Highland Avenue restaurant, Trois Mec. At Trois Familia, Lefebvre’s new French-Mexican collaboration with Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, you won’t catch four-letter words (at least on the hi-fi), but you might hear a sound that for people under 30 is far more shocking: a record skip. Rather than employ a playlist service like Spotify, the Silver Lake brunch sensation has gone vinyl.

“We wanted something different for music,” says Helen Johannesen, director of operations for Shook and Dotolo’s restaurants. “The space is so small—it needed more of a nutty, round sound.” Which meant installing a rebuilt Marantz stereo with a turntable and filling shelves with LPs that span the ’70s and ’80s. So your churro French toast might be accompanied by Prince’s 1999 album—from the first notes of the title track all the way to “International Lover.”

You’ll also spy wax on rotation at the Old Man Bar at Culver City’s Hatchet Hall, where the taxidermied hunting lodge getup demands the pop and hiss of a worn Muddy Waters record. “We like the imperfections of our old record player,” says chef Brian Dunsmoor. “It’s all a little distorted. It matches the vibe.”

The lo-fi approach is about more than sound. When restaurants want you to know the farmer behind your greens and the exact breed of your pork chop, it makes sense that the music would be sourced with as much attention. Dropping the needle on a handpicked record is the audio equivalent of slow food.

At L.A. Chapter in the Ace Hotel, baristas spin Ziggy Stardust and Nina Simone between nut-milk cappuccinos. “Many of our hotel rooms have turntables and vinyl in them, too,” says food and beverage director Autumn Accarrino. L.A. Chapter employees supply their own records, so along with vintage tracks you might hear a new vinyl release from Broken Social Scene or the Alabama Shakes. “We love it when guests ask, ‘Hey, what album is this?’ ” says Accarino. “It starts a conversation.”