The Art of Sound — Equipment Room and Dante’s HiFi Redefine Retro Austin Listening Rooms
Japanese Jazu Kissa Vibes With a Texas Twist
By Lauren Jones
Lead photo by Nick Simonite
Embark on a sonic journey with two enchanting Austin listening rooms: Equipment Room at Hotel Magdalena and Dante’s HiFi at Soho House.
Step into retro-inspired sanctuaries with a Japanese influence, where music lovers indulge in curated record collections, immersive soundscapes and handcrafted cocktails.
These unique spaces bring Austin’s rich musical heritage to life in a vibrant celebration of music.
Photos by Jessica Attie
Illuminated by a stained glass-inspired fixture and a single “E,” the former basement storage space Equipment Room opened at Hotel Magdalena on Music Lane.
Mohawk‘s James Moody, Bunkhouse’s Amar Lalvani and Breakaway Records‘ Josh LaRue and Gabe Vaughn teamed up on this unique high fidelity sanctuary.
From Tokyo, With Love
Jazu kissa bars — Japanese cafes dedicated to the enjoyment of jazz on high-quality stereos — first opened in Japan in the late 1920s. They quickly spread in popularity.
Lalvani and Moody bonded over a shared interest in jazu kissa. They wanted to bring the same vibe to Austin.
“Years ago, I went to Jazz Blues Soul bar in the Shibuya district in Tokyo,” recalls Moody. “I was blown away by how serious his collection was and how it was handled and played.”
“Moody and I have been talking about this idea for what feels like almost a decade,” Lalvani says.
While some focus on the DJ aspect of record playing, Moody was drawn in by Jazz Blues Soul’s “quiet, confident, focused art curator managing a very deliberate and special collection.”
It’s a place to hang out, listen to and appreciate records as they were intended to be heard.
Custom Sounds in a Custom Space
At Equipment Room, the journey begins with an expansive music selection. It beautifully captures the stories of Austin and Texas, spotlighting a rich musical heritage through a carefully curated record collection.
Classic artists like Willie Nelson, Townes Van Zandt and Stevie Ray Vaughn make appearances on the playlist.
The team’s programming also thoughtfully explores the influences that shaped them, their parents’ musical preferences and the connection between the American jazz, blues and soul scenes.
Once used to store extra tile, furniture and restaurant supplies, the team transformed the basement into a lounge with custom speakers, 1970s-era furnishings and one-of-a-kind band posters.
The featured posters include the 1975 Pointer Sisters show at Armadillo World headquarters. There’s also one from BB King and Bobby Blue Band at Antone’s (purchased from music enthusiast and third-generation Austinite, Nick Picciandra).
A Tailored Acoustic Experience
Audio technology company Klipsch provides an acoustic experience tailored to the space that matches the retro aesthetic.
It installed custom speakers, crafted at its Arkansas factory, along with spun copper cerametallic subwoofers and spectrum analyzers to measure frequency and noise distortion.
Additionally, individual tube amps, a type of electronic amplifier, provide rich, resonant sound that envelops every corner of the space.
Don’t Forget the Cocktails and Snacks
Cocktails and music go hand-in-hand.
Equipment Room’s menu brings the space to life with A-side classic cocktails and B-side cocktails from mixologist Robert Björn Taylor.
Sip Obscured by Clouds with Suntory Toki whiskey, lavender honey and blue spirulina, named for Pink Floyd’s 1972 album. Savor All Tomorrow’s Parties, a French banana liqueur, rum, Batavia arrack and Cynar drink, named for the Velvet Underground track.
The elevated bar snacks, such as caramel puffed cheese corn, a Texas take on Pirate’s Booty, and veggie onigiri give you something to nosh on while you listen, too.
Photos by Weston Carls
For hospitality entrepreneur Sven Vogtland, a pre-pandemic trip to Tokyo led to one of his most exciting ventures yet.
Vogtland, who operates a number of restaurants in the Miami area, thought the jazu kissa concept was something his clientele would love.
Dante’s HiFi debuted in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood in September 2021 to great success. “Miami and Austin are very different markets, but we’ve always had our eyes on coming here,” Vogtland says.
While Dante’s Austin was initially members-only, it opened to the public in March.
“The community has embraced us, and I hope more people come out and explore new music,” he adds.
A Focus on Sound Quality
Soundlux, a Miami audio store, provides the impressive sound setup. It includes vintage speakers and a tube power amplifier.
Vogtland, an avid vinyl collector himself, knows it’s the sound quality that sets spots like Dante’s apart.
“The sound at kissa bars is very particular,” Vogtland explains. “High-fidelity sound mixed by hand is everything in creating a great listening experience.”
DJ Rich Medina, a partner in Dante’s HiFi, takes pride in curating the music for the listening lounge. Medina is delighted to reintroduce an analog approach to the experience.
“If you love records, it’s a place for you to come and get busy, whether you are a rookie or veteran,” Medina says.
In addition to the numerous speakers, there’s a custom DJ booth which frames 6,000 records from Medina’s own collection.
Giving the People What They Want
While early evenings at Dante’s are calm and intimate, Vogtland and his partners strive to invigorate the nights by inviting renowned DJs and other talented acts to entertain and engage the guests.
Theme nights, genre nights and band-specific events are customer-favorites in Miami. The team hopes to plan these for the Texas crowd.
It’s also about understanding and catering to the specific tastes and preferences of the crowd for that particular night.
“It’s an age-old adage,” Medina says on reading the room. “What the room needs at 10:30 pm is different than what it needs at midnight. What it needs at 2 am is different from what it needs at midnight.”
And Creative Cocktails, Too
Dante’s also boasts a fun cocktail menu.
“A lot of our drinks are named after albums or songs we love,” Vogtland says. “Our mixology team in Miami and at Soho House have created a menu that complements our music style.”
Try the Sweetest Taboo, a bourbon drink named after the Sade song. Perhaps you prefer the Skinny Love, a margarita-inspired cocktail with mezcal, lychee and lime.
Not into cocktails? Dante’s has nitro espresso martinis and local Austin beers, too.
But don’t wait to try Dante’s. It’s only open at Soho House until August.
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