Eavesdrop: An audiophile living room meets izakaya in Greenpoint

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ISC Team
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Immerse yourself in an intimate Brooklyn listening space.

Anyone who has spent time in New York knows that it’s a loud city. The streets are constantly bustling with activity. Bars and restaurants are filled with lively conversation, sometimes at almost shouted levels. Countless clubs across the city deliver various strains of dance floor-oriented music to eager crowds on massive sound systems each and every night. With audiophile and jazz kissa culture spreading around the world, it’s perhaps no surprise, then, that a new type of space has recently emerged in the city designed specifically for noise-conscious listening…

Eavesdrop, a listening / wine bar meets izakaya in New York City’s Greenpoint neighborhood, quietly opened earlier this year and has since been making a buzz around town as a must-visit destination for music and hi-fi lovers. Co-founded by Charlie Ballinger, Max Dowaliby, Dan Wissinger, and designer Danny Taylor, owner of New York audio consultancy House Under Magic, the quaint 1000 sq. ft. space features 36 carefully placed seats, a finely tuned sound system with a diffusion wall and acoustic panels, and a menu of craft cocktails, natural wines, and small plates.

A few friends of In Sheep’s Clothing are regular selectors at Eavesdrop and introduced us to co-founder Dan Wissinger. Below, we asked Dan a few questions over email to learn more about the concept and intention behind this unique space.

What was your inspiration for opening Eavesdrop? Obviously it’s quite different from other music venues in New York and also different even from Public Records, the other hi-fi minded spot in the city.

Of course, we were inspired by what we’ve heard of jazz kissa / listening bar culture in Tokyo and around the world, but I’d say what we really tried to recreate with Eavesdrop was the feeling of friends hanging out at home playing records for each other. 

New York has so many great places for music, but most of them are dance-floor-oriented. We love clubs, but we always felt like our favorite part of the night was the pre-party: having friends over for dinner and drinks, usually to whoever’s apartment has the best sound system. Bring your records, bring your USB, everyone take turns on the decks. Those were really the nights that inspired us to create Eavesdrop.

The small, intimate space reminds us of a lot of jazz kissas in Japan. Did any specific spots in Japan inspire the design of Eavesdrop?

The honest truth is… we haven’t been.  While we were very inspired by what we’d heard about jazz kissas and that whole tradition, we never made the trek before the pandemic. And when we really got serious about building Eavesdrop, travel restrictions prevented us from being able to see those places. We absolutely would have if we could, but I think in a way it turned out to be a blessing. Rather than trying to recreate a concept from someone else’s culture, we tried to take inspiration from it while building something that we felt would work in our community. We were careful to nod to jazz kissas in various ways. I’d point out the food in particular: Max (Partner, Head of Food and Beverage) is half Japanese, and it shows in his food. But at the same time, we were careful not to try to imitate Japanese places – we just didn’t feel we had the credentials to do that.

The traditional non-speaking type of listening bar is obviously something difficult to achieve in New York and the United States in general. How does Eavesdrop approach the listening bar concept, and how has it played out with visitors? 

In a lot of ways this is the million dollar question for our concept, and it matters a lot to the DJs, the music heads, and the audiophile community. Rather than trying to enforce a strict no-talking rule, we try to cater an experience that limits noise naturally. Guests are encouraged to make reservations, and we don’t allow big groups. Booths and tables are cozy and intimate – you’re never more than whispering distance from the folks in your party. We invested heavily in acoustic treatment: there is diffusio`n, but an extra emphasis on absorption. All this leads to an environment where one never needs to shout to be heard. The DJ is right in the room with you – there’s no “booth” area, and when the set starts we change the lighting, which usually creates a bit of a hush and a shift of attention.

It’s not perfect, and we do occasionally ask loud guests to please quiet down, but we’re trying to get the vibe to feel like that living room experience rather than a hi-fi temple. I think this strikes a nice balance that works for all our guests, from the audiophiles to the neighborhood happy hour crowd, the folks deep in the music scene as well as the “listening-bar-curious”, if you will.

It looks like there’s an array of custom speakers and equipment that make up the gorgeous soundsystem at Eavesdrop. What can you say about the soundsystem (builders, parts, brands, etc.)?

The entire room, from the sound system to the acoustic treatment to the millwork and furniture, was designed by Danny Taylor of House Under Magic. I think it’s really important to start that way, by saying that the whole thing was designed cohesively, rather than having one person do the sound system, another do the treatment, and a third do the interior design.  I think that’s really the magic of what makes Eavesdrop work, and for the most part we like for people to just get immersed in it rather than thinking about technical specs, equipment, materials, and such.  That said, it’s always fun to talk a little tech!

The mains are two Danley SH60s which Danny took apart, customized a bit, and then painted. Hidden below are two Seaton Submersive S2 subs. The Danleys have seven drivers and each S2 has a pair of 15s. They’re powered by Bryston 7B SSTs, the kind of thing you’d typically find in a recording studio. The Mastersounds Radius 4v mixer adds some nice character. It’s all carefully tuned by Danny, and most importantly it faces a custom-built diffusion wall. We built a soffit over a booth in the back corner to house a bass trap, and there’s treatment all over the ceiling. The Danleys are very directional, so every seat in the room sounds a little different, but they all sound good.

A few of our close friends are resident selectors at Eavesdrop. Is there a theme or direction with the music played in this space? Can you highlight a few of the other selectors who have residencies?

Our goal with the booking is to pull from all the various scenes and sub-genres that New York has to offer, but to hear how that scene treats a listening environment like Eavesdrop.  We want to hear all different genres, but what’s played should of course be selected to suit the environment.  You can hear anything from jazz to techno at Eavesdrop – you just won’t hear DJs play the same records they’d play in the club at three in the morning in a club. Everyone does such a nice job it’s hard to name anyone in particular.

What are some albums/tracks that have really worked in the space and capture the vibe of Eavesdrop?

This one is really a matter of personal taste, but I tend to really love late ’90s era downtempo and trip-hop. Things that are well-produced, bassy but not outrageously so, mostly electronic but in a way that’s more lush and atmospheric rather than angular or robotic. Ulrich Schnauss’s Far Away Trains Passing By is maybe my all time favorite record for our room and it fits that profile very well.

I’ve read that you also do more industry related events during the week with labels, artists, and record stores. Any recent highlights you’d like to share?

For Monday and Tuesday nights, when there’s no DJ, we had two of our favorite record stores put together a selection of LPs that the bartender will play from a turntable by the bar. The Mixtape Shop has Monday’s and Brooklyn Record Exchange is on Tuesday. Brian and Ben each did a fantastic job and I really encourage people to come check out those nights.

We’ve got a listening event coming up September 15th for Au Suisse’s self titled album on City Slang records. Eavesdrop is such a nice environment for a record release, so we’re trying to do more of those. We have a few in the works, but nothing I can announce just yet!


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