Too often the ambience of a popular drinking establishment will be marred by the deafening din of conversations shouted over an endless digital stream of music. Not so at Bar Shiru, a new craft cocktail bar in Oakland, California, where you can enjoy Japanese whisky highballs while a wide-ranging selection of jazz records plays on an impeccably assembled stereo system.
Located smack in the heart of Oakland’s thriving Uptown district, Bar Shiru is the Bay Area’s first hi-fi record listening bar. It is one of a few similar Tokyo-inspired audiophile sanctuaries that have popped up recently in Los Angeles, New York, and London, among other places. Owners Shirin Raza and Daniel Gahr had long dreamed of launching a creative business endeavor that celebrated their love of music.
“Music is such an important piece of who we are and how we exist in the world.” says Gahr, a DJ and former creative director at Pandora Radio. “It’s a major passion point for both of us.”
It was during a vacation in Tokyo in 2015 that the husband-and-wife team had their epiphany moment. Raza, then a media attorney, had been craving a career switch. “We came across Bar Martha and a few other amazing record bars where they really prioritize music, but where you can still socialize at the same time,” says Raza. The couple wondered why there was nothing else comparable in the Bay Area.
Tokyo’s record bar scene traces its roots back to the 1950s, when people would gather at jazz cafes to hear imported American records on sound systems they couldn’t afford for themselves. That tradition lives on today in dozens of tiny hidden spots equipped with exquisite-sounding stereos and tastefully curated vinyl collections, where the music is taken so seriously customers are often discouraged from talking. After a few memorable nights in Tokyo’s unique sonic oases, Gahr and Raza made a pact to leave the nine-to-five behind and create something equally special back home.
Fast-forward four years, and Gahr is now at the controls in the DJ booth of his dream bar most days of the week. The musical menu ranges from the hard-bop classics to current recordings from rising London jazz stars such as Nubya Garcia and Shabaka Hutchings. Customers are equally likely to hear Digable Planets, Sharon Jones, or A Tribe Called Quest. Guest selectors—usually local musicians and DJs—are invited regularly to the bar to spin a set of their own choosing. Jazz is a connective thread, rather than a rigid theme. The only rule is to play albums in full.
The concept was to recreate the “slow listening” environment of a classic Tokyo jazz cafe. Limited seating at Bar Shiru keeps the crowds contained in order to maintain the integrity of the experience. This is not a place to dance and party; it’s a place to kick back and appreciate albums in their entirety.
“We embrace the silences between sides and between records,” Gahr says. “It makes people notice the music.” And music is very much the focal point in a visual sense, too, as evidenced by the 15-foot-high record wall, brimming with the bar’s growing vinyl collection.