One of the hardest things about running a wine bar is finding good music to play. A good bar needs music as much as it needs wine, unless you’re going for the silent church of wine appreciation vibe, which doesn’t sound very fun. You need to fill a shift of seven to nine hours daily with good music, and new music gets old very fast. Sadly, I’ve already killed off some great albums from the last year (I miss you Arctic Monkeys, but I’m just not ready yet).
You can’t always fall back on the classic stuff when you’re lazy, but though that Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time is a must-have and we’ve been known to just throw it on Black Keys’ albums all night, regular guests will soon catch onto your poor habit and if you know anything about the bar world, regular guests are undoubtedly the most important.
A good friend who owns a bar has made a study of music, spending much time finding new music to play, even creating a “music club” where music-loving friends gather monthly to share new finds, a quite genius idea. You could also pay for the services of some muso to fill your iPod each month, but unless you’re lucky enough to know someone who understands exactly what your place needs, it’s going to be a slippery slope down to Café del Mar Vol. 7, the most overplayed album of all time.
Thankfully we at Publik are lucky enough to have three assets that help enormously: the first being a handful of hip young staff with their finger on the cool-music pulse; the second being streaming audio. The third is the fact that people are generally open to listen to anything that is well-made, pleasant and not too whacky – so no trance, dubstep or heavy metal, thank goodness.
That last point is quite interesting when you apply it to wine drinking habits. Consumers will usually stick with what they know, but forced to try something new they’re more open to it than even they realise. Those after Sauvignon Blanc will happily drink Clairette Blanche or a dry Riesling. The devout Chardonnay drinker ends up sipping on a full-bodied Roussanne-based blend, the Pinot lover drinks Grenache and the loyal Cabernet imbiber gets stuck into a bottle of Touriga Nacional.
With the music, guests enjoying it will ask who’s playing (or you’ll spot them sticking their phones at the speaker Shazam-ing it), so with the wines they’ll request more information about the producer, the variety and why on earth nobody has poured it to them before it tastes so good. Guests learn far more than if they drank the same wine they always do. And to me, visiting a wine bar that pours the same wines every evening must be the same as being in one that plays the same music every evening.
- David Cope owns and runs Publik wine bar in Cape Town which focuses on unusual and interesting wines. When he’s not pouring the stuff he attempts to make wine more fun and approachable as a contributing writer to various local magazines.