Dining in close quarters is no faux pas in Manhattan restaurants. At Tokyo Record Bar, an 18-seater restaurant located in the basement of Air’s Champagne Parlour in Greenwich Village, you’re definitely going to have to get cozy. With two seatings an evening at 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., Tokyo Record Bar thrives on this closeness, creating a sensory experience for guests that goes far beyond what’s on the prix fixe menu.
“The seatings at Tokyo Record Bar range drastically from day to day,” explains Ashtin Berry, TRB’s beverage director. “The energy all depends on who is present and relies heavily on the musical choices of the room. This makes every seating new and my aim is to encourage people to play to the crowd.” Simply put, guests can expect an experience that puts them in the driver’s seat.
Precisely at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday night’s guests are collectively escorted down a steep staircase, where Ashtin greets us with a welcome glass of sake. Our first task is assigned: choose a song from a curated selection of records. As the choices are collected by our host to create a custom playlist for the evening, the turntable needle drops, “How Deep Is Your Love” escapes from the speakers and the first course, caviar sushi, is placed at our table.
Tokyo Record Bar began long before the concept arrived in the form of its basement space. Owner Ariel Arce hosted a vinyl-focused pop-up every Thursday at Riddling Widow, the bar that formerly occupied the space. A nod to the record bars often frequented by music enthusiasts in Japan, Tokyo Record Bar intimately houses izakaya bites, premium sake selections and vinyl records ranging from country, hip-hop, soul to alternative rock and reggae.
“It seems like we have the same taste in music,” a woman says, and her friend nods in agreement as Otis Redding plays in the background. Between sips of sake, a conversation is set aflame with our new friends. As a food writer, I dine out often, yet this ambience breaks with standard routine. What’s left is anticipation of the next course and song choice, and a sense of community that emerges as customers sing along to throwback tunes.
Our recent dinner included dishes that complement the range of wine and sake options. On menu, bottles are listed by tasting notes like “Mineral” and “Blossom,” furthering the appeal to the faculties of smell and taste. In addition to the traditional izakaya bites like pork belly, oysters and sashimi, Tokyo Record Bar accommodates vegans and vegetarians, generally featuring blackened cabbage, miso-glazed and roasted eggplant, fried shallots and dirty rice. While the menu changes slightly in terms of swapping out different courses, Tokyo Record Bar will be doing their first full menu change in November to take advantage of the peak freshness of the season’s ingredients.
Get close. Make new friends. Spark up conversation and play your favorite old-school tune at Tokyo Record Bar.