Life on Mars might be Seattles best bet for becoming a listening bar, but it would be a huge gamble.
Life on Mars might be Seattle's best bet for becoming a listening bar, but it would be a huge gamble. Kelly O

To answer the header question: probably not. (More about why later.) The impetus for the question is Ben Ratliff's recent New York Times feature about the gradual emergence in America of listening bars, which, Ratliff explains, have been popular in Japan since the 1950s. These bars and cafes are decked out with top-of-the-line audio gear and their employees select vinyl records from the business' scrupulously curated library to provide an extraordinary soundtrack for customers who are (theoretically) more concerned about absorbing the sounds than conversing with and/or seducing other patrons. Most of these new establishments have arisen in New York and Los Angeles (of course). Reading the piece made me wonder if Seattle is ready for such a concept. I have my doubts.

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Back in February, I had the pleasure of frequenting one of the listening bars featured heavily in the NYT article, In Sheep's Clothing, for an event that unveiled Light in the Attic's Kankyō Ongaku compilation. I described the experience in a Slog post: "Hearing it through the exquisite sound system (check the gear here) in that wood-paneled, amber-lit space among deep heads was a sophisticated dream of angel-haired aural thrills." Signs on the tables of the bar—whose creative director is former Sub Pop employee and now big-time music supervisor Zach Cowie—instructed punters to "keep your conversations below the music. To hear more, say less." People mostly obeyed the commands. One sensed that boisterous laughter or a euphoric "woo" would result in expulsion—or at the very least, the evil eye.

While I would love to see listening bars catch on in Seattle, my nearly 15 years of DJing in about a dozen of this city's bars do not fill me with hope over this prospect. It takes discipline and a long attention span to thrive in such an environment, and most people who venture out on the town are looking to unwind, laugh, and get loaded and laid. The last thing these punters want in their carousing routine is to get shushed and to focus intently on what will likely be non-mainstream music.

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From my vantage point in various DJ booths, I've noticed that most customers rarely even register what's coming out of the speakers. Even in hipper spots such as Revolver Bar and Jupiter Bar (where I've spun on many occasions), it's rare for anybody to acknowledge or engage the DJ in conversation—or even to make a request. (I'm okay with that last part, although the act often delivers comedy gold.)

So, it's hard to imagine that there are enough people—even in a cultured metropolis the size of Seattle's—to make a listening bar a lucrative endeavor. It's a huge risk, and even a new space that hypes vinyl in its promotions such as Life on Mars, which is co-owned by obsessive music heads John Richards (KEXP) and Steven Severin (Neumos), probably would face resistance to the constraints associated with listening bars. [Note: Life on Mars' owners do not consider it to be a listening bar; I'm simply speculating that of all Seattle nightlife spots, it may have the best chance at succeeding in such a capacity.]

The reality is, there are too few folks who would desire to turn their watering spots into places devoted to worshiping music. STFU is destined always to lose to LMFAO in the nightlife realm. But best of luck to anyone with the courage to give it a go. I, for one, will support you.