Vinyl, 64 Oz. Sodas, and Other Ways Audio Is The Next Foodie Frontier

A restaurant scene as busy as ours must be a constant struggle for some small advantage of coolness, and Time Out Chicago zeroed in on one of them pretty savagely this week: the sudden passion for vinyl or other pre-digital forms of music in restaurants. Personally we think everything that needs to be said about the male obsession with music and its physical manifestations was said in a brilliant scene in the greatest movie of all time, Diner, but TOC has a go anyway:

Some chefs—male chefs, mostly—are insecure creatures who are always on the search for another way to push the message to diners that they’re cool. Utilizing outdated music technology is a good way to do this, because it sends multiple messages: a seriousness about “sound” (something about the music being “warmer,” whatever the hell that means), a rejection of populist technology (iPhones: so 2009) and a suggestion that their love of music is somehow so deep—so integral—that current-day technology cannot express it.

Ouch! We resemble that remark! Brendan Sodikoff, who’s playing vintage 8-tracks reel-to-reel at Au Cheval, said they actually tested digital vs. analog in front of test groups (!), and argues further:

I don’t know anyone who would choose a digital recording of a cello to standing in front of a musician who’s making the instrument come to life. A big part of music is how you relate to it. Some guests see the reel to reel upon entering and feel nostalgic or laugh in surprise. If nothing else, that makes it worth the time and effort we put into it.

That sounds downright reasonable. But as Time Out points out, like you can hear any difference in a restaurant. Vinylism meeting foodieism is just the long-destined meeting of two frequently hipper-than-thou worlds. Blogger and occasional retro-food-book author James Lileks tore into Michael Bloomberg’s soda size controversy this week by making a broader point about the foodie world that explains the vinyl business, too:

A culture that redefines food choices as moral issues will demonize the people who don’t share the tastes of the priest class. A culture that elevates eating to some holistic act of ethical self-definition - localvore, low-carbon-impact food, fair trade, artisanal cheese - will find the casual carefree choices of the less-enlightened as an affront to their belief system. Leave it to Americans to invent a Puritan strain of Epicurianism.

We still insist that we’ve never met that kind of locavore— maybe it’s not a midwestern thing; here we have more of the tweet-who-has-the-best-strawberries-at-Green-City-Market-at-8-am-on-Saturday kind— but yeah, that kind of sums up anyone who gets so crazy about food or music. Did we mention that scene from Diner yet? (You’ll recognize one of Sound Opinions’ opening clips here.)

Anyway, as it happens Grant Achatz, whose interest in synaesthetic food-and-music experiences has been noted here before, is as usual way beyond this. An article on music and restaurants mentions something we hadn’t heard before— that “Grant Achatz has contemplated having servers choreograph their motions to the music of a live cellist.” Think you’re hip with your 1950s Erroll Garner LPs? Achatz is reaching back to German Expressionism of the 1920s. Better get started on that Edison cylinder collection for your next place, daddy-o.

Vinyl, 64 Oz. Sodas, and Other Ways Audio Is The Next Foodie Frontier