Tokyo record bars have become something of traveler’s lore: small spaces with shelves full of whiskey and walls covered in vinyl, a DJ in its center, playing the soundtrack for the evening. Their heritage goes back to the so-called jazz kissaten, Japanese jazz bars that became popular in the 1960s on account of outrageously expensive records and a cultural respect for keeping noise at respectable levels. And now, New York City has its own.
Tokyo Record Bar, as it’s so directly called, is a recently opened bar in the basement of Air’s Champagne Parlor in Greenwich Village. While the focus upstairs is on bubbles and caviar, downstairs channels a particular brand of Japanese cool. Sake cocktails and izakaya-inspired fare hold court in the 18-seat space. The menu–and the experience, you could argue–is set, at least in the earlier hours. Guests can make reservations Tuesday through Saturday for a 6:30 or 8:30 p.m. seating. From 10:30 on, it’s a more free-form affair, where food and drinks are served a la carte and the DJ spins on a wide range, from blues to soul, reggae to hip hop, and, of course, jazz.
Below, we talk to Tokyo Record Bar’s head bartender Ashtin Berry about adventurous menus, plum wine, and drinks with Eartha Kitt.
How long have you lived in New York?
Since June, so I’m still really new to living in the city.
Where are you from originally?
Where does Tokyo Record Bar take its cocktail menu cues from?
The classics. Our goal at TRB is to create flavors that mimic or resemble things our guests are familiar with. However, now that we have more of an idea of who our guest is, the menu will become more and more adventurous.
Person in history you’d most like to share a cocktail with and why:
Eartha Kitt. She was a firecracker and a Jill-of-all-trades. She could do a bit of it all. She didn’t live by other people’s rules and she paid a high price for it.
Most overrated beverage:
I see it as more of a different stroke for different folks.
Three vinyl records you’ll most likely see at TRB:
We’ve got a pretty eclectic selection, but I would say the top 3 are:
Fleetwood Mac Dreams
Michael Jackson Bad
Best vinyl/cocktail combo:
Chaka Khan and our Rosé Spritz–it’s made with umeshu plum wine.
Describe your favorite customer:
One that’s aware of their surroundings and makes sure their good time doesn’t infringe on anyone else’s good time.
What’s your latest drink obsession?
Saké. It’s pretty much all I drink these days, with the occasional champagne.
What’s your go-to drink?
Tequila and tonic.
What would someone order to get your attention?
Where do you go for a drink when you’re winding down?
I haven’t found my wind-down bar yet. I’m still feeling it out and looking.
Best seat in the house at TRB:
The bar seats.
What’s the vibe like at the 6:30 seating vs. the 8:30 seating?
Honestly, each seating is so different. It really depends on who is in the seating and the energy they bring. We find that oftentimes during the week the seatings are a little more mellow. On the weekend, it’s a total tossup. You never know.
Best thing someone’s ever told you when you’ve been behind the bar:
Our space is pretty intimate, so I get a lot of great stories about people’s lives. My job’s great because it’s like inviting people into my living room. Since many of the drinks are made on a bar cart, I get to hear great things all throughout service.