Once grimy, Granary Square in London’s King’s Cross is now populated by students from Central Saint Martins art college, as well as a steady stream of patrons for its many new shops and restaurants. Lately, a new crowd has been drawn to an idiosyncratic venture here: groupies of Spiritland, opened in 2016.
Nominally this is a restaurant but it’s also a bar and a retailer, with a newly opened off-site headphones shop in Mayfair. On weekend mornings the original space is known for turning out plates of salt-beef hash and cracking coffee, while evenings hail the arrival of a vibrant bar offering small plates, cocktails and a brief-but-smart wine list. So far, so simple. But there are events that just don’t fit the regular tropes expected of a bar, restaurant or shop. One night you’ll find a Japanese whiskey-tasting session, another a discussion with the likes of actor Bill Nighy or novelist Nick Hornby. Then there are DJ sets from techno maestro Andrew Weatherall or New York nightclub veteran Justin Strauss. Not to mention the high-end shop peddling headphones from Audeze, synthesisers from Stockholm-based Teenage Engineering and amplifiers from Bryston. The string that holds the outfit together? A feeling that something had to be done about the dearth and disappearance of spaces in which to appreciate music.
“The care and attention that people put into listening to music has evaporated,” says co-founder Paul Noble, a former monocle parishioner, bbc radio producer and all-round sound guy. “We wanted to turn that around and re-engage music but in a hospitable setting.” Along with co-founders Patrick Clayton-Malone and Dominic Lake (the duo behind hit London restaurants Canteen and Merchant’s Tavern), the team met three years ago and began hatching a plan.
The warmly lit, wood-panelled space is a nod to Tokyo’s vinyl-only sanctuaries (known as jazz kissaten), with a choice of cosy booths, casual bar or intimate two-seater tables amid the piled-high audio equipment. The bespoke audio set-up is a joint effort between Spiritland and UK-based loudspeaker manufacturer Living Voice. The result is a space that hits just the right note, while the thermo-treated oak and Sapele – an African hardwood – is easy on the eye, to boot. “We were asking how we could build the best sound system in the world,” says Noble. “That means the speakers, the amps, the source material, the mixer and all the elements feeding into the whole – this is not like anything else you will hear in a public space.”
There’s also a collaboration under way with Japanese brand Bedwin & The Heartbreakers to create a clothing line. But the long-term ambition includes plans to open a group of larger members’ clubs around the world with workspaces, bars, restaurants and dedicated listening rooms. Nothing is set in stone yet, says Noble knowingly, but one senses that the tempo is building.
An indication of the company’s future ambitions can be found in the Spiritland Headphone Bar, its small-line audio-equipment shop opened in well-heeled Mayfair in 2017. “The hi-fi industry is pretty stale and these are products that should be sold in the same way you would buy a luxury watch,” says Noble. Products on offer include the LCD-4 Audeze headphones – a snip, we’re told, at £3,599 (€4,100) – and classics from Sennheiser or Audio-Technica that can be road-tested over a glass of good whiskey.
Whether in repositioning hi-fi equipment sales away from the usual airless, strip-lit emporiums and review-driven e-retailers or creating a space for DJs to perform in front of a more sedate (and well-fed) audience, Spiritland is bucking the trend. As more London venues struggle and some close altogether, it’s heartening to see that there’s a burgeoning market in people willing to sit down, pipe down and pay to listen.
Mojoby Chord Electronics
A handy headphone amplifier that makes the most of compressed audio files.
A&ultima SP1000 by Astell & Kern
A high-resolution portable music player to shame your iPhone.
LCD-XC by Audeze
Closed-back headphones with African Bubinga-wood earcups.
iSine20 in-ear headphone by Audeze
For those seeking a lighter in-ear option without compromising on the quality, from California’s Audeze.
Mu-so Qb speaker system by Naim
Spiritland’s favourite wireless speaker, featuring bass radiators that master the lower frequencies.
The steep rise in London’s property prices has made it more expensive than ever to run a decent pub or set up a venue that plays music loudly or into the early hours. However, the beauty of Spiritland is that it shows that it’s still possible to draw a crowd and generate a buzz.
Co-founders Paul Noble (pictured), Patrick Clayton-Malone and Dominic Lake run Spiritland.
9-10 Stable Street, n1c 4ab; Spiritland Headphone Bar is at 3 New Burlington Street, W1S 2JF.
A charming sound set-up, the best sets in town, plus top-notch nosh and an appealing drinks list.