The team behind Natoma Cabana, Terminus, Pie Punks, High Horse, and the Old Ship Saloon is adding one more bar to its roster. Harlan Records opened September 23, and manager and partner Will Herrera assures fans this bar is perfect for that Haruki Murakami-style experience of working through a glass of whiskey while listening to The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds on repeat. “The inspiration for the concept was to create a venue that focused on the social intimacy of this kind of environment,” Herrera says.
Inside the space, formerly Bar Fluxus, records line the walls like a file cabinet spilt on its side — there are almost 2,000 vinyl records, with artists ranging from John Lee Hooker, Albert King, Taj Mahal, and Charlie Parker to Sharon Jones, Lee Fields, and Khruangbin. For those even deeper in music nerdom, the bar sports a Thorens TD124, McIntosh 2210 amplifier, AdCom amplifier, NAD 1020 preamplifier, a set of Sony SA-7300’s, and a pair of JBL L100s. Harlan Records added more seating and tables where Bar Fluxus sported a stage, though live performances are very much still on the calendar for the new bar. Owner Eric Passetti’s grandfather collected radios from the 1940s and ‘50s, some of which have been refurbished and are on display at Harlan Records, and Passetti says the aesthetic is inspired by Japanese listening bars.
Music-inspired cocktails, in addition to classics like negronis and dirty martinis, work as the main beverage options. There’s no food on the menu — the bar is licensed just for drinks at this point, though snack options are on the vision board for the future. Partnering with High Horse and other food outposts in Union Square and Chinatown, for drop-off delivery options at the bar, is a part of the plan, too, though not available as of yet.
Herrera and Passetti worked together at High Horse and the Old Ship Saloon, and it was during the pandemic that they came up with Harlan Records. In what he calls an abysmal time for the industry, he and Passsetti imagined what they could do for the bar community in San Francisco. The two had Ludo Racinet, who owned Bar Fluxus, and Michael “Spike” Krouse, owner of Madrone Art Bar, on their inspiration list — both the owners and their respective bars. “We were trying to just absorb what was happening to us and the community at the time,” Herrera says. “The grander scope was to try and imagine what our five-year plan was, and to work toward that. We always wanted to run a bar on Harlan Place.”
Events at the bar present a bit of a conundrum, Herrera says. The hope is to have guests stay present and grounded, not fleeing after one drink because a major vibe shift is about to take over the speakers. “Creating an eclectic music set, whether it be for the day or the bar in general, is what we want to define the clientele. We don’t want to jump too far from the day-to-day to Motown Mondays,” he says.
So far, Herrera’s happy to report guests are all on the same page with the vibe — they don’t bring out their phones too much, and real, eye-contact kind of conversations happen all through the space. Writ large, the manager wants to highlight artists that aren’t getting radio play, like Khruangbin, and local artists, too. He’d like the bar to host record releases and bring Red Curtain shows into the space. Collector nights give geeks a chance to build community and engage in their love of audiophilia. And Herrera is as giddy as any one out there about what the possibilities might be. “We have the opportunity for live performances on a stage that hosts a three-piece band,” Herrera says. “We could have mini-festivals in the alley. We could potentially create a downtown weekend where it really helps bring locals and artists together.”
Update: October 6, 8:45 a.m.: This story has been updated to clarify which San Francisco bars the share ownership with Harlan Records.