While visiting Tokyo in 2015, Daniel Gahr and Shirin Raza fell in love with the growing hi-fi vinyl bar scene there. These establishments are designed for the audiophile, offering dedicated places for listening to music on high-fidelity sound systems. They typically have an array of vinyl covering the walls, and generally offer a more contemplative vibe than a regular bar. Gahr and Raza were so enamored, they wanted to share the concept with Oakland.
As with many listening bars and cafés in Japan, the focus at Bar Shiru is on jazz (and related genres). Gahr and Raza, who are not only business partners but are married too, share a love for the musical style.
“[Jazz] is the spirit of creativity that is the connective thread amongst all the music we play (…) it’s at the heart of everything that came after it that’s good,” said Gahr.
Located in Uptown, Bar Shiru has already become a destination spot. It’s been a hit with folks on the bar trail and for music aficionados alike. A hat tip to Japan’s simple, functional aesthetic, Bar Shiru’s interior was designed by Berkeley’s Studio KDA and deeply reflects Gahr and Raza’s own creative eyes. Working closely with a local mill and carpenter, the space is filled with midcentury modern-style couches and candle-lit walnut tables as comfortable landing pads for an evening of relaxing and listening. Maple screens sectioning off parts of the room offer a bit of privacy for larger parties.
Music listening is the underlying intention in Bar Shiru, but “it’s not necessarily to the exclusion of conversation,” said Raza. Unlike some of the stricter Tokyo hi-fi bars, where visitors are sometimes shushed for speaking over the music, Bar Shiru has a more relaxed vibe. “Everyone that comes in says it feels warm and welcoming, like it’s in someone’s home.”
Gahr and Raza envision the space as a friendly counterbalance to our digital lives, where guests can slow down and indulge in the multi-sensory delights of seasonal drinks and listening to a record played in its entirety. Bar Shiru’s fully analog, high-fidelity sound system (pieced together with their close friend Adam Wexler) offers a deep, “three-dimensional sound” — as Gahr describes it — of the little details in, say, fingers sliding up a fretboard or breath traveling through a woodwind, a sonic wholeness that compressed digital files can’t quite imitate.
The couple felt confident that the audio quality at Bar Shiru would be up to par, but something much simpler worried them during their first few days in business.
“One thing that made me nervous at first was the dead space when you need to flip the record,” said Raza. “But I actually learned to appreciate it because it gives people a moment to sit with each other and kind of realize there is a physicality to the music… I really like the slowed down pace of it, particularly when everything else in our lives is so fast.”
While listening, guests can sip on a craft cocktail, wine and beer, or enjoy Japanese whiskey and sake. Bar Shiru’s cocktail menu offers fresh takes on classics, with the aim of fewer, but better ingredients in each drink. A favorite of Gahr’s, created in collaboration with bar manager Sammy Demecillo, is the New Pal ($12), a dusky libation made with Toki Japanese whiskey, Gran Classico and dry vermouth.
For those not in it for the buzz, Bar Shiru offers less alcoholic “lo-fi” beverages like a spin on the Negroni called the Sorcerer ($12), with rosé, Bruto, gin, Cocchi Americano and soda, or a “no-fi” non-alcoholic beverage called the Fresh Lime ($8), with lime, garam masala and soda.
Bar Shiru’s cocktails mostly reflect the season, with tarragon and rosemary as central figures on current rotation in its shrubs and syrups. Raza says the finalized spring drink menu will be available in the next few weeks and simple bar snacks will be available soon, but don’t expect a full food menu — Bar Shiru will leave it to the area’s surrounding restaurants to provide more substantial fare.
As seating for larger groups is limited, Bar Shiru will soon launch an online Yelp Reservation system to allow groups of up to seven people to plan a visit. Raza and Gahr also plan on hosting listening parties and ‘guest selector’ nights — where, say, a journalist or a lecturer selects a handful of records and tells a story through the music.
“We absolutely love Oakland’s rich musical fabric,” said Raza. “The idea here is to give folks — particularly in a community that is so musically oriented — the chance to come hear music and have it be a focal point, while still getting to converse and socialize.”
Bar Shiru hours are from 4 p.m. to midnight, Tuesday and Wednesday; 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., Thursday through Saturday; 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday; closed Monday.