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Sean Brock

Sean Brock opens Bar Continental in Nashville

The new vinyl-focused lounge offers Japanese-influenced food and a state-of-the-art sound system

Gone is the Continental and Vesper Club in the Grand Hyatt hotel in Nashville. Now it's Bar Continental, a hi-fi listening lounge with a whole lot of records and a Japanese twist to the food and drink created by chef Sean Brock.

"It’s one of my favorite projects that I've ever worked on,” Brock said in an email, adding that the hope of Bar Continental is to immerse guests in a 3D-sound-stage-type experience. "[It's] a place for those who appreciate extraordinary sound and the pursuit of sonic excellence.”

Brock, who already runs multiple restaurants in Music City, is drawing inspiration for the new lounge from Japanese kissaten culture. A kissaten is a kind of coffee or tea shop, some of which evolved over the decades into a place to listen to vinyl as well as score a cocktail. They date back to the early 1900s, designed mainly as a coffee shop at a time when coffee wasn't too common in Japan. The longest running kissaten in Japan is Cafe Paulista, which opened in Tokyo in 1911.

As records grew in popularity and coffee became more mainstream in Japan in the middle of the 20th century, some kissatens evolved into listening lounges. Getting coffee was no longer special, but records were, and at the time they were pricy in Japan, so some kissaten owners bought records to play in their shops, and they became music venues.

For Brock, a self-professed lover of music, Japanese culture, and Asian food, this idea was something he wanted to bring to Tennessee. He also wanted a place to showcase his own vast record collection. Bar Continental sports more than 5,000 of them, many from Brock's personal stash, and all curated by the chef. The genres vary from classic rock to honky- tonk to jazz, with most records spanning the time period between 1960 and 1980.

“Visiting Bar Continental is like attending a concert, you feel the music, its transcendent, similar to an experience on Lower Broadway[in Nashville], and my hope is that Bar Continental will bring that same kind of memories to this side of Broadway, with excellent service in mind," Brock said.

Aside from a great sound system and tunes, visitors to Bar Continental can indulge in simple, Japanese-inspired dishes with a focus on seafood. The menu will change frequently, but the first one includes bluefin tuna Caesar ($26), scallops with X.O. and sake ($9 each), spiced cashews ($9), French onion soup ($16), octopus with Calabrian chile ($16), a side of fries ($8), and, for dessert, passionfruit granita ($10). Guests order like one does at a sushi restaurant, by checking off boxes on a paper menu that gets handed to the server.

At the bar, expect classic and zero-proof cocktails, along with local beer and wines by the glass and bottle.

Another feature of Bar Continental that makes it stand out is how Brock split the space into three sections, with large, black acoustical curtains between rooms used to improve the sound quality of the audio system. On one end resides the Onken Bar, which seats up to 21 guests. The Wolf Bar accommodates 24 guests. Both bars feature bar seats and stools, leather banquets, comfortable tables and warm wood finishes. There's also a main dining room that seats 46 guests. Each night a section is also designated for those who prefer to listen to the records at lower volumes.

Though currently only open starting at 5 p.m. each day, Brock plans to open Bar Continental during the day for that old school kissaten experience with coffee, pastries, and a special Japanese tea service. Until then, dinner and music are the main affair.


TAGS: Chefs
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