Although relatively new to the Berlin scene, listening bars have been entertaining patrons the world over for decades. The concept originally started in Japan back in the 1950s before spreading across the US and to other corners of Europe. And for the past decade or so, while our European neighbours have gloated about their exemplary listening bars, I’ve been eagerly waiting for Berlin to catch up. To me, there’s something very special about a place dedicated to creating the best audible experience imaginable.
Think of them as a gallery for audiophiles… Isn’t it time you stopped and listened to the music?
Listening bars are built and run by audiophiles that ask you to sit back and appreciate the music. Most of Berlin’s bars and restaurants have bad sound systems that mangle the music being piped through them, whereas these spaces have been acoustically designed to enhance the enjoyment of music using precision-made speakers, and the highest-quality turntables and amplifiers.
Along with the astute setting, listening bars also promote highly curated and finely selected music for you to immerse yourself in, either by having a comprehensive collection on hand, or by inviting in some of the best music curators around. It just makes sense: if you’re going somewhere to drink a quality wine or cocktail, why wouldn’t you also expect the highest quality of sound?
My first encounters with listening bars in Berlin were Unkompress and Bar Neiro, two new spaces that opened up this year. These bars are equipped with incredibly impressive sound systems, wonderfully informed music selections, and vibes that make you feel wanted. Unkompress is an intimate listening space and café that opened just north of Hasenheide back in February. With organic wines, a beautiful layout and a mandatory Sade box set on prominent display (as the owner rightfully told me, never trust anyone who doesn’t like Sade), Unkompress is a great spot to just be yourself in and forget the worries of the outside world. The upmarket Bar Neiro, with its sleek retro design, set up shop just off Köpenicker Straße at the start of April, offering Japanese-influenced cocktails along with a speakeasy mood for vinyl heads and music lovers.
If you’re going somewhere to drink a quality wine or cocktail, why wouldn’t you also expect the highest quality of sound?
In addition to these newcomers, there is also the queer-alternative (and aptly named) space Kwia on Maybachufer. Furnished with sofas, futons and electric visuals, Kwia brings the concept of listening bars to the Gen Z audience, while keeping the Japanese tradition of asking visitors to remove their shoes on entry. And arguably the best listening bar in Berlin is Rhinoçéros, which opened its doors back in 2017. Located in Prenzlauer Berg, the space prides itself on having an excellent hi-fi setup and musical curation, having righteously earned a sterling reputation for inviting the right curators to host the best listening parties.
It’s safe to say listening bars are the inevitable and well-needed evolution in Berlin bar and music culture. Getting older, my energy and desire to hang out in clubs has dissipated, but my want and need to embed myself in music has not. Not everyone wants or can afford to go to concerts all the time, so listening bars provide the next best thing. Think of them as a gallery for audiophiles, where you can hang out with a friend or a date and admire the sounds and feelings. Isn’t it time you stopped and listened to the music?