When we walked into Seven Beef, Eric Banh’s new steakhouse-slash-Vietnamese restaurant, a manager was spinning bright funked-up jazz on the turntable near the entry and the electricity was palpable. The crowd hadn’t descended yet, so the sparkling music brought an energy that the burble of guests would supply later.
“I grew up with records,” Banh told me later. “So when my manager asked me if we could do them at Seven Beef I said, Go for it! As long as someone’s on it the whole time.”
There are places, bars usually, with records and the DJs to play them: Capitol Hill’s Revolver Bar and Nacho Borracho come to mind. Lately I’ve heard records played at Carlile Room, but usually just on the DJ nights they schedule throughout the week, mostly Fridays and Saturdays. (Next up: 10 pm tomorrow night, Friday, April 15: “Hip-shaking 45s from the ‘50s to the ‘80s.”)
But the first restaurant I can recall hearing records played was years ago at Easy Street Records, of course, over a breakfast burrito. Sitka and Spruce’s original location on Eastlake was the first high-end dinnerhouse I heard them, thanks to music-loving frontman, Kamran Sadeghi, who told me in 2006 that he brought in his own vinyl collection to “symbolize the laid-back feel we wanted here.”
That’s what records do: They bring an individual person’s individual sensibility to a place, which makes the experience singular and thus personal. That they do so with vinyl’s distinguishing pops and crackles is retro bliss to a vinyl lover like myself, no question.
But it goes deeper than that. As a record progresses through its sequence of songs, something akin to a narrative is unfolding. Before the digital age, artists paid close attention to the emotional ride the order of songs provided. That arc can change the mood in a restaurant, in a way that the streaming music from a satellite radio station is not designed to do.
Which is why, as Seven Beef filled up with guests and the energy rose, the manager switched it up to a side of vintage Bowie. Then, once booze hit bloodstreams, the frenetic fun of 70s disco, later to be seized by a straight shot of Mick Jagger.
“We take a look at what the crowd seems to need, and we play that,” a host told us.