When Daniel Gahr and Shirin Raza traveled to Tokyo in 2015, they were struck by the city’s thriving jazz cafes and bars centered on the owners’ record collections, often called hi-fi or listening bars. In mid-February, they’re opening their own version in Uptown, Oakland: Bar Shiru.
“We want to make a place that is equally focused on listening and conversation,” says Gahr. “We feel like in our experiences, there aren’t a lot of places that are able to strike that balance — music is either sonic wallpaper, an afterthought, or inaudible due to crowd noise.”
Bar Shiru (1611 Telegraph Avenue) promises to be the first hi-fi bar in the Bay Area, focused on playing records in their entirety on a fully analog, high-quality sound system. While jazz cafe owners in Japan are known to shush customers and ban chit-chat, Gahr and Raza are hoping to more naturally set a tone for listening through the acoustics, emphasis on seating instead of standing room, and the music itself. “We don’t want to constrain people’s behavior,” Raza says. “We just want to subtly guide it.”
First-time bar owners Gahr and Raza teamed up with Berkeley architecture firm Studio KDA, which also designed Comal, for its acoustically-treated space. Set inside the historic Latham Square building, the 1,500-square-foot bar will feature high ceilings, concrete, and some of its original industrial details alongside warm lighting, wood, and pops of color. Gahr doesn’t want it to feel overtly Japanese, “but you’ll be able to get the influence of simplicity, form following function,” he says.
For drinks, they enlisted the help of Adam Stemmler and Joel DiGiorgio of Farm League Restaurant Group (East Bay Spice Company, Shinmai, Arthur Mac’s Tap and Snack). Expect to see updated takes on classic cocktails, an extensive whiskey list, local beer, sake, and highballs. Raza is looking forward to a variety of low-ABV cocktails and non-alcoholic drinks, too. “There’s definitely a movement toward that and we want to make sure our environment is as accessible as possible given music is the focus,” she says. “I think there is an opportunity to bring in people who don’t normally go to bars.”
There’s no real kitchen, so food options will be kept to a minimum — think simple snacks like rice crackers and pretzels.
Hi-fi bars like Bar Shiru are just starting to make waves stateside. In Los Angeles, In Sheep’s Clothing recently opened as a listening bar hidden within Lupetti Pizzeria, and Stones Throw Records debuted Gold Line with one of the city’s best sound systems.
Taking a cue from Tokyo, Bar Shiru will emphasize jazz — both traditional jazz as well as genres that tie back to jazz in some way, like hip-hop, soul, funk, and electronic music. The goal is to expose multigenerational audiences to new sounds, and once Bar Shiru’s musical identity gets solidified, Gahr and Raza plan to experiment with artist collaborations, guest lecture nights, and other sonically-minded one-off events.
“I think one of the things we love about jazz is it’s such a common thread through so many genres and so much of the music we appreciate,” Raza says. “We definitely see music as a really connective force in our community.”
- Bar Shiru [official]