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Nothing creates — or kills — a bar’s atmosphere more than the music. These neighborhood gems reveal their darkest secrets …
Steve Olsen — West Bank Cafe (W42nd St – 9th/10th Ave)
“I’m a music fanatic and pay special attention to the music we play. During lunch service we play instrumental jazz such as Herbie Hancock, Sonny Rollins, Jean-Luc Ponty, Jimmy Smith, John Coltrane, and many more jazz greats.
“For pre-theater we play softer jazz, such as Stephane Grappelli, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Pat Metheny.
“For dinner we play jazz, Brazilian, and very specific rock, such as Adrian Belew, Milton Nascimento, Antonio Carlos Jobim.
“Post-theater gets a bit riled up with an eclectic assortment of rock, reggae, and soul music.
“I’m constantly aware of what music is playing throughout the day, to the annoyance of the bartenders. The idea is to fill the room with music, while all the time allowing the guests to have a civilized, intimate conversation.”
Suzy Darling — The Pocket Bar (W48th St – 9th/10th Ave)
“I try and pick songs that hopefully transcend age, race, gender, and sexual orientation; songs that I know you probably belt out when you’re by yourself (Baby One More Time by Britney, How Will I Know by Whitney, Proud Mary by Tina, No Scrubs by TLC). I think the music in a bar is incredibly important in making people feel included, appreciated, and seen. In the end, I believe that is all any of us want out of life.
“Now, if you want people to get the hell out and think it’s their idea, I throw on Johnny Hartmann and John Coltrane’s album. It’s only five songs but, believe me, it’s basically the bar whisperer.
“My favorite trick in my back pocket (pun intended) is surprising everyone with Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas. It brings down the house every time. All year round. Yes, ALL year round. Because she’s a DIVA, people.”
The music at The Pocket Bar changes with the mood, but you can check out some old favorites on Spotify.
Beth Sheinis — Bettibar (W46th St – 8th/9th Ave)
“We allow for the personal tastes of each employee on shift to help set their vibe. By doing so, we have anything from Gato Barbieri, Coltrane, and Ella, to 1970s greats like Earth, Wind & Fire, classic soul as well as Broadway, to today’s hottest hip hop and Onra, ZHU, and Gorgon City.
“Our varied staff of classically trained musicians, poets, and even our in-house RAP artist helps create a cross-section of a groove to suit our equally varied clientele.
“Our servers also take requests and share their personal playlists when asked, and they often are.”
Humeyra Kocak — Wine Escape (W44th St – 9th/10th Ave)
“We play background soft jazz, lounge music, and romantic pop. Stations like Hotel Costes and Buddha Bar are on Pandora — they’re happy, contemporary, smooth, timeless stations that create a relaxing ambience where people can talk.”
Brian Keyser — Casellula (W52nd St – 9th/10th Ave)
“I usually have no idea what is on our playlist because I let the youngsters who work there manage the music. On days when they ironically play ‘80s music, however, I feel like I’m at my prom. The ‘90s are not allowed. Cher is a fireable offense, because Cher.
“If I get to the bar first, Sharon Jones Radio on Pandora gets played.”
Benjamin Pratt — As Is (10th Ave – 50th St)
“We’re all pretty into music at As Is, so we tend to leave it to the bartenders to choose what’s playing. The music differs night to night but there’s a lot of overlap in artists and music style. We play a lot of indie rock and electronic music, anything from Kurt Vile and Poliça to Battles and Darkside. Early in the week tends to be more mellow, so we play chiller music. On the weekends when it’s busy, we play a lot of rap/hip hop.
“A lot of people come in specifically for the music we play. There are few other bars I know of you can enjoy a lambic from a Danish microbrewery while listening to Kendrick Lamar on a Friday night.”
Mandy Oser — Ardesia Wine Bar (W52nd St – 10th/11th Ave)
“The bartenders take their music very, very seriously — which is good for us. Their mantra: we serve you food to fill your belly, pour you drinks to loosen your mind, and play you music to free your soul.”
Of the EXTENSIVE and awesome playlist they sent us, highlights include everything from Boogie Oogie Oogie by A Taste of Honey, Money (That’s What I Want) by The Kingsmen, and Never Too Much by Luther Vandross to 19th Nervous Breakdown by The Stones and Sweet Jane by the Velvet Underground (“to close out a night … always”).
Check out one of Ardesia’s Playlists on Spotify.
This story originally appeared in the May 2017 Food Issue of W42ST magazine.