A guide to London's listening bars

Written by Mae Bristow - 06 June 2024

listening bar london

The terms ‘listening bar’ and ‘hi-fi bar’ have been increasingly bandied about in the past half-decade, maybe more. You’re here because you’ve heard these terms and curiosity got the better of you – what actually is a listening bar and where can you find them in London?

The listening bar originated in post-war Tokyo, where small bars and record shops offered space for listening to music on high-fidelity sound systems in a relaxed, living room-like atmosphere. The concept naturally expanded beyond Japan’s borders and these listening bars have evolved to offer curated small plates, cocktails, and wines along with a curated selection of (mostly) analogue music.

Don’t be put off by terms like ‘audiophile’ or ‘music aficionado’; you don’t need to know anything about the technical set-up of the sound systems unless that interests you. The only expectation you should have – indeed what defines a listening bar – is a love of music played on a quality sound system, whether it’s a bartender playing entire LPs or a DJ selecting from their record collection.

The history lesson and definitions done with, let’s take a deep dive into the world of London listening bars.

The London listening bars for the curious

This is where you start. The listening bars with the most casual of food offerings that you can pop into day or night, booking or no booking, and get the listening bar experience. In fact, we’d say except for Spiritland – which has an obvious radio studio on-site – these places are so low-key you probably wouldn’t even know they were listening bars if you weren’t already familiar with the concept.

Spiritland, King’s Cross


Spiritland has everything that makes a listening bar – a bespoke sound system that it’s renowned for, low lighting accented by neon, retro mid-century minimalist decor, a menu of seasonal small plates, and a stellar cocktail menu – one of our favourites in London.

Spiritland is relaxed: a café by day dishing up breakfast and coffee before giving way to a bar, mixing up cocktails and pouring craft beers long into the night. The dining tables are between the DJ booth at one end and the radio studio at the other. You can book a table (and also hire the venue), but anytime we’ve shown up unannounced we’ve never had a problem getting seated.

Like any listening bar worth its salt, the DJ sets here are eclectic: spanning Electronic, Experimental, Pop, Disco, Balearic and beyond – the consistency is in the quality of sound and competency of the DJs. It’s a place both for those who wouldn’t care what a listening bar is and those who are just as into music as we are. For us, Spiritland is the epitome of a London listening bar.

Spiritland is also behind King’s Cross-based Supermax, ​a late-night underground cocktail & vermouth bar with a penchant for Disco, Italo, Funk and House – also well worth a visit.

All My Friends, Hackney Wick

all my friends london

A casual introduction to the listening bar is All My Friends. Their custom high-fidelity sound system (and the riverside deck terrace) elevates what would already be a great bar. We also rate the fact they sell both new and used vinyl records in their shop on the ground floor.

The cool industrial minimalism so prevalent in Hackney Wick lends itself well to the retro style of the original Japanese listening bars. This London listening bar is as casual as they come and aptly named – there are other listening bars you would take a date to but All My Friends is a hang-out spot for mates through and through.

Many Londoners are familiar with party collective The Cause and its multiroom raves, but with All My Friends, the brains behind The Cause offers an unpretentious and intimate living room-like atmosphere both for DJs and listeners. If you just want a good place for you and some friends to hang out with good tunes, without having to fork out for set menus and spenny cocktails, then it’s All My Friends you want to go to.

Jazu, Peckham

jazu peckham

At the time of writing this (summer 2024), Jazu has taken a hiatus in preparation for opening their first long-lease location in Peckham. Even still, we would be remiss not to include it in this list for future readers seeking a London listening bar.

As you may have guessed, Jazu previously had a temporary residence in Market Peckham but in the short years since it opened, it has become one of London’s top listening bars and one of our favourites.

From the attractive custom-built hi-fi system made with elm wood to its stripped-back DJ booth, we’re confident the new incarnation of Jazu will be just as intimate, with an equally warm and laidback ambience, and – we won’t lie – equally attractive minimal decor as before. We have it on good authority that the disco ball that crowned the old digs will be crowning the new.

What can you expect from Jazu besides sweet, sweet tunes? Coffee by day, cocktails by night, al fresco dining, and a relaxed neighbourhood spot kinda feeling that’s hard to replicate.

26 Curtain Road, Shoreditch

26 curtain road london

No. 26 Curtain Road is a relatively new kid on the block of London listening bars. While the two-storey 19th-century listed building is as maximalist as the bar gets, the listening bar penchant for minimalism extends right through. The only decor are old wooden tables and chairs, tealight candles, and a few token potted plants – the rest is vinyl records and the hi-fi sound system.

We like No. 26 because – whilst all listening bars feel casual and intimate – the snug, intimate confines feel even more prevalent. Each of its two floors is narrow and leaves little space in the bar for anything other than low lighting, vinyl-only music, and a couple of drinks on a small table.

If you work in the area (like we do) No. 26 is a great little spot to pop into for a post-work drink on a Thursday or Friday.

Love your cocktails? Check out our top London cocktail bars, and if you want more East End cocktail bars check out our favourite Hackney cocktail bars.

The London listening bar-cum-restaurant

These are hi-fi bars and restaurants that we feel have an equal emphasis on the restaurant side of the business as the music side. We recommend booking a table to enjoy a meal or take a date here, all whilst soaking up the atmosphere of the listening bar.

There’s no hard and fast rule about this, you can definitely pop round to these places without a booking but, in our experience, it’s more of a full package deal – a good meal, good drinks, and good tunes.

Brilliant Corners, Dalston

brilliant corners

For the past decade, the Dalston-based listening bar Brilliant Corners has lured listeners into its dimly lit interiors with sounds, small plates and cocktails. Founded by brothers Aneesh and Amit Patel, BC is a lover letter to Tokyo listening bars from the requisite sound system right through to its Japanese-like minimalist aesthetic and set menu of Japanese izakaya-inspired small plates.

Brilliant Corners accepts walk-ins who get seated either at the bar in the front, in the main restaurant (where the DJ booth is) or in the side room (one of few London listening bars available for exclusive private dining) which is also equipped with BC’s hi-fi sound system.

Good for a spontaneous visit, we’d argue BC is at its best when you book a table and enjoy top-quality Japanese small plates soundtracked by eclectic music sets. It’s informal, yes, but not the most relaxed as some other London listening bars can be because BC feels more like a restaurant to enjoy good music, rather than a bar – but that’s just our experience.

For something truly casual, check out BC’s travelling sound system, Giant Steps, which throws occasional parties at temporary residencies across London.

Jumbi, Peckham

jumbi london

Like Brilliant Corners, the Jumbi experience is centred equally around food and music. Founded by DJs Bradley Zero and Nathaneal T Williams, both the sounds and flavours of Jumbi are rooted in the African-Caribbean diaspora. As with BC, we recommend booking a table and taking in a meal as much as taking in the music.

By day, Jumbi feels like a giant, high-ceilinged living room with sofas and tables and the DJ booth in front of very tall shelves that house the vinyl record collection, many of which were gifted by family members or friends. By night, the tables get cleared away to make a dance floor and it can get packed, like very packed. If this is your thing, great, just let it be known that Jumbi’s ambience during the day and early evening versus at night is literally as different as night and day.

Hot on the heels of Jumbi’s success, the team opened sibling listening bar Moko in Tottenham which we also highly recommend.

The Shrub & Shutter, Brixton

the shrub and shutter london

If you were worried the SW didn’t have a listening bar within reach, never fear. The Shrub & Shutter is cosy with a neighbourhood feel, so this is another London listening bar that we highly recommend booking in advance and taking in the full experience of small plates, cocktails, and audio.

Expect all the requisite elements you should be familiar with by now – tasty small plates, organic wines, bespoke cocktails and the like. With many listening bars emphasising analogue audio, the set-up at The Shrub & Shutter comprises studio-grade monitors for vinyl and digital playback.

The London listening bars you should really book in advance

You’ve been to a couple of listening bars and you like the quality DJ sets on equally quality sound systems, you like the drinks and the music-centric atmosphere. There are some listening bars where a booking is strongly recommended because the service is seated and so they feel not as casual as some of the other listening bars, but you know what the listening bar is now and you want to experience all of what London has to offer. These are those bars.

Behind This Wall, Hackney

behind this wall

Well-established London listening & cocktail bar, Behind This Wall, is noted for its unique approach to building its vintage sound system, put together ‘like a well-loved home stereo’, they began with a pair of speakers and worked backwards to build their system.

The basement bar is entirely seated so bookings are highly recommended. In our experience, Behind This Wall is great for the late-night weekend outing and as it’s only open in the evenings Wednesday through Saturday you’re more likely to go at the weekend anyway. We’ve been here for pre-dinner drinks and for nightcaps and favoured the nocturnal atmosphere the most.

The uber minimalist decor straddling the line between Scandi and Japanese is exactly what we think of when we think ‘listening bar’ and we’re probably not alone in thinking this. Between being entirely underground and the cocktails curated based on the spirits you like, it’s easy to lose track of time here.

Bambi, London Fields

bambi london

Bambi is a little spot in between popular London Fields bars Mare Street Market and Netil360. The listening bar does accept walk-ins if you’re just after drinks, and grabbing a seat isn’t a problem if you’re popping in for lunch or during the early evening, but if you want small plates you really have to book in advance.

There’s something about the small, intimate listening bars that’s hard to resist. Bambi feels sleek and ultra-modern with understated and minimal elegance, warm wood tones, requisite soft lighting, and for all its minimalism looks like the kind of living room you wish you could afford.

The listening wine bar is dominated by the DJ booth and its wall of records. The vinyl was curated by London DJ, Charlie Dark MBE, and the resident selectors (DJs) spin vinyl on – you guessed it – a top-notch hi-fi sound system. Bambi is equally a spot to catch up with mates as it is a date spot, in our opinion. Turn up between 9 and 10 pm at the earliest on Fridays and Saturdays to experience an array of tunes from top London record collectors.

Equal Parts, Hoxton

equal parts london

Equal parts music and cocktails, we reckon this Hoxton-based listening bar is aptly named. Co-founded by Michael Sager of Sager + Wilde you can bet the cocktails here are standout but, of course, it’s the equal love given to analogue music that differentiates Equals Parts from an ordinary cocktail bar.

Sager’s personally curated stack of records gets played by the bartenders, and as a good listening bar should do, the collection here is eclectic and you can expect to listen to entire LPs exactly as the artist intended. Whilst some seats are left for walk-ins, it’s a snug little place and we highly recommend booking beforehand so as not to be disappointed.

What we like about Equal Parts is the ambience, it’s a lovely old building standing on its own on Hackney Road and the interior still embraces its old time-y features whilst feeling relaxed, modern and very much listening bar-esque.