A small group gathers outside Air’s Champagne Parlor on MacDougal Street in Manhattan, awaiting the first of two seatings at its subterranean izakaya. The hostess quickly takes notice, leading all down a duck-your-head staircase into a quintessential Greenwich Village basement space.
With just 16 seats and a seven-course tasting menu paired with audience-selected playlists, it’s no surprise Tokyo Record Bar plays hard to get. The intimate space—like its equally distinctive upstairs companion—is the brainchild of 30-year-old restaurateur and native New Yorker Ariel Arce.
The Tokyo Record Bar experience is a show in itself, and sliding open the shoji is like pressing “play.” Paper cherry blossoms flood from the ceiling. A taciturn DJ wearing a Conway Twitty hat sorts shelves of LPs just feet from the tiny kitchen where chef Zach Fabian gets his groove on.
The first order of business is taking requests. Diners are greeted by cups of golf pencils and small strips of paper to submit selections from Record Bar’s broad and well-curated vinyl library. There’s Bowie to Beyoncé, AC/DC to Daft Punk, Duke Ellington to karaoke classics. The seating’s playlist becomes a reflection of the crowd that night.
Welcome sake arrives with a trio of snacks: spicy pickled cucumbers, togarashi popcorn, and roasted sesame pepitas. Cocktails and sake are à la carte, the latter listed with a graphical LP-shaped key with intimidating tasting notes.
First out is caviar sushi. The second course is broiled oysters with lemon and shiso butter, closely followed by olive oil-poached Icelandic cod with squid ink tempura and salsa verde.
The staff’s synergy is a rhythmic performance in itself. The floral-shirted mixmaster (of the beverage variety) doubles as MC, tag teaming with Fabian to announce the next course. Their clear chemistry keeps it going without skips, even in fulfilling the occasional order from upstairs.
Gulf shrimp and English pea gyoza preludes smoked salmon chirashi, something of a disassembled spicy tuna roll. Tupac comes on deck, distracting progress on dessert: a strawberry and yuzu crumble with miso crème anglaise.
In closing remarks, Fabian shared a personal vexation with tasting menu restaurants: a proclivity to send you home hungry, or straight to Bleecker Street Pizza. And so there was one last song: a heaping slice of house-made Sicilian-style pizza on fluffy focaccia, doled out on paper plates.
All too soon, everyone exits stage left straight to the street, full in stomach and soul from a moment of quirky, analog intimacy in our ever-connected yet increasingly detached world.
Located at 127 MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village, the Tokyo Record Bar welcomes 16 diners to two nightly seatings, at 6:30 and 8:30. Reserve via resy.com. Next: Raise the Bar at the Langham in NYC With Master Mixology Classes