Opening This Weekend: A Japanese-Inspired Hifi Cocktail Lounge 

XO's 35-seat interior / Photo Taken By Josh Pruitt of Ivywild Visuals

Over the past couple of years, there’s been a stateside surge in the Japanese-style “listening bar,” a lounge where audiophiles can grab a drink while intentionally listening to and appreciating music, often from records. KC’s first will open in the West Side this weekend. XO (709 W. 17th St.) blends the essence of Japan’s postwar music culture with upscale food and drinks. 

“Back in the ‘60s, the Japanese were very isolationists,” says Mitchell Foster, one of the owners of XO. “The only media and culture that they were importing at the time were records. Since the equipment to play that media was so expensive, these public spaces opened up where the bar would have a stereo system to play these records on. These listening bars were where people could come in and hear music from all over the world.”

The music played at KC’s listening bar will benefit from a new amplifier made by EM/IA; the amp will be showcased for the first time ever at XO

“It uses old technology and hardware manufactured in the 1940s,” says Foster. “We’re the first ones to receive a working version of it. Eventually, it’ll become available for sale.”

Foster owns the bar alongside William Minter, Jordan Hubner and Noah Manos (Manos owns the building). The Town Co.’s James Beard nominated chef Johnny Leach, a record collector himself, helped curate the Japanese-inspired food menu featuring pork katsu and nori egg salad sandwiches, a rotating selection of rice bowls and mochi chocolate cookies. 

XO’s Pork Katsu Sandwich / Photo Taken By Josh Pruitt of Ivywild Visuals

Beyond a few whiskeys, the drink menu isn’t nearly as Japanese-inspired. You’ll find classic cocktails on the menu, along with natural wines and a few zero-proof options. 

The 35-seat bar will play music strictly from its vinyl collection. It’ll focus on jazz, like Miles Davis and Bill Evans, but also switch it up with bands like Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac, Erykah Badu, Outkast and more. While audiophile venues typically promote listening over talking, Foster says he does encourage customers to strike up a conversation with the bartender about any musical artist. While the bar won’t be able to meet all requests, there’s always a chance they’ll have what you’re looking for on vinyl. 

XO’s Garrard 401 motor unit turntable / Photo Taken By Josh Pruitt of Ivywild Visuals

Eventually XO will open its patio to add another 25 seats. 

XO’s hours are Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4 pm to 11 pm, and Fridays and Saturdays 4 pm to 12 am. Happy hour takes place from 4 pm to 5 pm and includes discounts on cocktails and food. Reservations are not available.

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