In this digitized, online-everything world we’re living in, one thing is for sure: vinyl record culture isn’t going anywhere. Especially if Francis Harris, Shane Davis, and Erik VanderWal have anything to do with it. They’re the trio behind Public Records, a high-ceilinged, light-filled hub in Gowanus that acts as a vegan cafe, cocktail bar, and record playing performance space all in one.
“Erik is a seasoned mixologist, Francis (in addition to his background in hospitality) is an accomplished music producer and label owner, and I come from a design and branding background,” says Davis. “When the three of us met, we decided to team up and create an establishment that served as a canvas for all of these disciplines.”
In many ways, the space, which opened in April, naturally lends itself to an intersection of great music, drinks and food, all in good company. The two-year rehab of the 1912 building, the former Brooklyn headquarters of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals [ASPCA], yielded an angular sunroof and enormous windows that flood the bar with light, while leafy potted plants accent nearly every corner of the space. Enormous wooden speakers hang from either side of the ceiling, a long wooden shelf lined with hundreds of records connecting them both. Outside is a courtyard with a dozen or so tables, trees blooming in between.
So what does a typical day look like at Public Records? In the mornings and afternoons it’s a cafe stocked with magazines and records serving coffee, kombucha, and a set of curated vegan bites like overnight oats with coconut cream, and endives topped with crushed peanuts and miso caesar. After 6pm it turns into a vibrant bar, strong cocktails flowing (the Mezcal Melon is a treat) and Japanese-inspired dishes like mushroom fried rice and buckwheat soba being served. In the corner, a dedicated DJ spins long sets. “Our core focus is record selectors,” says Davis. The word choice is deliberate: “Selectors don’t necessarily mix. They may just play great records. Our bar is more about selecting than mixing,” he explained. “We have a great set of residents that play often and help define our culture.”
But where Public Records really makes its mark is its Sound Room, a venue with a free flowing, curated program of vinyl selectors, ambient musicians, and experimental performers. ”Friday and Saturday nights are programmed with more well known selectors, typically tasked to play extended all night sets so they can sink in and take people on a journey,” said Davis. Once a month on Saturdays, co-founder Francis Harris, who runs the record labels Scissors and Thread and Kingdoms, hosts a daytime series called Ambient Cafe featuring ambient artists like Lucrecia Dalt, Benoit Pouillard, and BVdub. On Thursday evenings, the live series Kingdoms showcases experimental artists like Earthen Sea and Gregg Kowalsky. The Sound Room hosts vinyl-leaning dance parties, too, like upcoming shows with Bradley Zero (9/20), Project Pablo (9/27), DJ D.Dee and Young Marco (9/28).
“We built our performance spaces with the artists in mind,” says Harris. “If you provide ideal performance conditions for the artist, they, in turn, are inspired to broaden their range and experiment.” Traveling through the elegant cool of all three rooms, it’s clear that Public Records reflects not only a love of design, but a love of hospitality as well. There’s thought behind every cocktail, every table, every corner, and especially the intricacies of the sounds that play. “Our sound system is a combination of a hi-fi and commercial system,” explains Harris, “and the sound room has the clarity of a studio.”
Despite its lineup of selectors and musicians, though, the owners don’t want to be classified only as a music venue. “Our food and beverage program is equally as important to us as the music programming. This intersection is what one might say makes us unique,” says Davis.
Public Records, 233 Butler Street, Gowanus, Brooklyn. Open 9am-2am Tuesday-Thursday, 9am-4am Friday, 10am-4am Saturday and 10am-1am Sunday. Closed Mondays.