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A visit to Sherman Heights’ Longplay

High-fidelity listening club is inspired by Japanese kissa cafes

Longplay seating: custom-built for attentiveness.; Stark interiors and a serious DJ help put you in a listening mood.
Longplay seating: custom-built for attentiveness.; Stark interiors and a serious DJ help put you in a listening mood.

I am driving slowly down Imperial Avenue, looking for parking. My van’s windows are down, and I can hear the buzz of morning activity. Some barbers are opening their shop, joking about something. Across the way, I hear the whirr and thud of tires being removed and replaced at an auto shop. After I park and begin walking toward 2547, the sounds are joined by smells: tortillas from Gabriel’s Mercadito, breakfast meats from La Paisa, marijuana from both a homeless guy and a Nail Addictionz employee on a smoke break.

Place

Longplay Studio

2547 Imperial Avenue, San Diego

I am here to spend some time at Longplay: “a High Fidelity Listening Club” that is “inspired by the Music Bars + Jazz Kissa cafés of Japan,” according to its website. I’ve booked one of their time slots, which are always three hours; my seating is at 10 am. I get there a few minutes late, then stand confused outside for a moment: the windows are mostly covered up, and the door’s barred window is obscured by newspaper. I don’t see how to ring the doorbell, which I mistake for a camera, but after peeking in an open section of the window and waving for attention, my host comes to the door and lets me into clean and bright space. It is immediately apparent that this is not meant to be just a faithful replica of a Japanese kissa. There are Japanese touches in the decor — some small toys, a fish banner hanging over a doorway — but it’s starkly minimal inside, all clean white walls, sharp lines, and modern furnishings. Rather unlike the smoky, dark, memorabilia-filled dens that I have in mind from pictures of typical kissaten.

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Guests sit with their backs against the wall, or in my case, the window. My seat is a low, hard stool that feels purpose-built for attentiveness. A glass of water rests on the compact table next to the seat. Besides my host and the DJ, there are two guys here on their own, and a man and woman talking together. The maximum for a given seating is 10.

“Nice to meet you, I’m G,” says the host. His friendliness is clear, even though a mask hides his smile. “First time here, right?” I guess G knows his regulars. He encourages me to take my time. “Seatings happen one time a day, so there’s no rush.” To me, this is what is distinctively cool about Longplay — the invitation for its guests to linger, and to listen to music in a more focused way than is customary in a cafe. This attentive appreciation of music played on high quality sound equipment (please see the inventory of hi-fi gear on the spot’s website) is part of the Japanese jazz cafe concept that Longplay is embodying.

As I settle in with my notebook, it is not jazz, but The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues” that is playing loudly and clearly from a turntable presided over by the serious-looking DJ. But even if I won’t hear any jazz until we get through some Creedence Clearwater Revival and a few pieces of soul music, it all sounds good, especially when accompanied by the strong Mexican coffee included with the price of admission.

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Longplay seating: custom-built for attentiveness.; Stark interiors and a serious DJ help put you in a listening mood.
Longplay seating: custom-built for attentiveness.; Stark interiors and a serious DJ help put you in a listening mood.

I am driving slowly down Imperial Avenue, looking for parking. My van’s windows are down, and I can hear the buzz of morning activity. Some barbers are opening their shop, joking about something. Across the way, I hear the whirr and thud of tires being removed and replaced at an auto shop. After I park and begin walking toward 2547, the sounds are joined by smells: tortillas from Gabriel’s Mercadito, breakfast meats from La Paisa, marijuana from both a homeless guy and a Nail Addictionz employee on a smoke break.

Place

Longplay Studio

2547 Imperial Avenue, San Diego

I am here to spend some time at Longplay: “a High Fidelity Listening Club” that is “inspired by the Music Bars + Jazz Kissa cafés of Japan,” according to its website. I’ve booked one of their time slots, which are always three hours; my seating is at 10 am. I get there a few minutes late, then stand confused outside for a moment: the windows are mostly covered up, and the door’s barred window is obscured by newspaper. I don’t see how to ring the doorbell, which I mistake for a camera, but after peeking in an open section of the window and waving for attention, my host comes to the door and lets me into clean and bright space. It is immediately apparent that this is not meant to be just a faithful replica of a Japanese kissa. There are Japanese touches in the decor — some small toys, a fish banner hanging over a doorway — but it’s starkly minimal inside, all clean white walls, sharp lines, and modern furnishings. Rather unlike the smoky, dark, memorabilia-filled dens that I have in mind from pictures of typical kissaten.

Sponsored
Sponsored

Guests sit with their backs against the wall, or in my case, the window. My seat is a low, hard stool that feels purpose-built for attentiveness. A glass of water rests on the compact table next to the seat. Besides my host and the DJ, there are two guys here on their own, and a man and woman talking together. The maximum for a given seating is 10.

“Nice to meet you, I’m G,” says the host. His friendliness is clear, even though a mask hides his smile. “First time here, right?” I guess G knows his regulars. He encourages me to take my time. “Seatings happen one time a day, so there’s no rush.” To me, this is what is distinctively cool about Longplay — the invitation for its guests to linger, and to listen to music in a more focused way than is customary in a cafe. This attentive appreciation of music played on high quality sound equipment (please see the inventory of hi-fi gear on the spot’s website) is part of the Japanese jazz cafe concept that Longplay is embodying.

As I settle in with my notebook, it is not jazz, but The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues” that is playing loudly and clearly from a turntable presided over by the serious-looking DJ. But even if I won’t hear any jazz until we get through some Creedence Clearwater Revival and a few pieces of soul music, it all sounds good, especially when accompanied by the strong Mexican coffee included with the price of admission.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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