Food & Drink | April 15, 2022 7:07 am

This Is the Rare NYC Bar Built for Great Conversation

Just opened in Greenpoint, Eavesdrop is both an audiophile’s dream and an ideal space for non-shouted tête-à-têtes

The back room at Eavesdrop, a new listening room/bar in Greenpoint
The back room at Eavesdrop, a new listening room/bar in Greenpoint
Peter Fisher

When is the last time you had a good conversation in a bar?

To clarify: Eavesdrop, just opened in Greenpoint, isn’t just a bar. But it’s also not a club, a listening room — more on this in a minute — or a traditional restaurant. 

The founders and owners of this cozy Manhattan Ave. venue call it a “wine bar meets izakaya,” but that’s not even quite right. Rather, it’s a shared space that puts an equal emphasis on sound, food, cocktails and ambiance. Capped at a modest 36-person capacity, all seated (admittedly, this number excludes the soon-to-open backyard), the 1,000-square-foot Eavesdrop achieves the seemingly impossible goal of being cozy, hip, inviting and sonically tolerable at all points during the day and night.

I dropped in on a Thursday at 6 p.m. with a reservation — as I was alone, I was seated at the bar (usually, reservations get tables and walk-ins get the bar space). Within 10 minutes, I had started two conversations with strangers while ordering and quickly receiving an array of small plates and a cocktail; in the background, a gently evolving mix of 80s synthpop and jazz soundtracked the night.

Not once did I ever have to raise my voice, struggle to hear the person next to me or get jostled by another patron. 

On their site, Eavesdrop describes the space as follows: “Eavesdrop serves up craft cocktails, natural wines, small plates, and music in a space designed for sound. Our mission is to bring Brooklyn’s community of listeners, artists, and curators together in a cozy neighborhood environment that lends itself more to listening than dancing. We believe that with the right DJ, sound system, and atmosphere, music of all kinds can be celebrated and experienced anew.”

A view of the backbar at Eavesdrop, which relies heavily on local spirits
A view of the back bar at Eavesdrop, which features a strong emphasis on New York spirits
Kirk Miller

“This was a passion project for us,” explains Max Dowaliby, a co-founder and Eavesdrop’s head of food and drink. “It came about during Covid. We had an idea for a listening bar, and while I’ve cooked in a couple of places, this is our first foray into operating something like this. And I’m still working my day job; this is the fun part.” 

Listening bars, as Eavesdrop designer Danny Taylor explains, got their start in Tokyo after World War II, when touring acts couldn’t make it to Japan. Instead, these bars (or tea shops or other spaces) would put on say, a jazz record, and people would sit quietly and appreciate it. Talking was considered rude.

“But how would that go over here?” Taylor asks. “New Yorkers, that whole rulebook is gonna be thrown away in five minutes. So we thought, how can we preserve a space or environment that encourages listening but doesn’t enforce it as rule?” In that sense, the designer compares the space more to a living room in a really nice house (that just happens to have an awesome sound system and vinyl collection — that and the guest DJs are overseen by Dan Wissinger, a co-founder and the venue’s head of booking and programming).

If you check out Eavesdrop, and you’re not alone and it’s after the 5 p.m. opening, you’ll want to make a reservation well in advance. Given the extremely limited space — and the desire to keep the overall atmosphere at a constantly chill level — Eavesdrop has recently started offering up to 80% of the bar seats for walk-ins.

“We didn’t expect to be this busy all the time — it’s been humbling and overwhelming,” says Dowaliby. “We had just reservations, but we’d be sold out at 5 p.m., and I felt awful about that. So that’s how we started allowing more walk-ins.”

The front room features an array of custom-built speakers, along with a concrete terrazzo bar top-lit overhead by curved rafters with inset lighting. But even with larger groups and the DJ in the back, all the spaces here have an acoustic treatment that’s been carefully tailored to allow talk and music to mingle.

A few of the cocktail choices at Eavesdrop
A few of the cocktail choices at Eavesdrop
Kirk Miller

Which it did on my Thursday visit, as I enjoyed OMD’s greatest hits (hadn’t heard “So In Love” in decades) while inhaling some bacon-scallion-mushroom sticky rice and a multitude of cocktails, the latter of which impeccably prepped by Emma Rubbins-Breen.

“I wanted the cocktails to match the beauty of the space, so they’re aesthetically pleasing and span a wide range of styles — but also incorporate a lot of New York and Brooklyn spirits,” she says. Her favorite drink (and mine) was the Moonstruck, featuring Mckenzie Empire Rye, Faccio Brutto Fernet, pineapple, lemon and mint. The bar also features a great natural wine selection; meanwhile, the small but impressive food selection is shared plates with a Japanese twist.

You can make a reservation for Eavesdrop here; the venue is open seven days a week, 5 pm.-midnight. And to get a good idea of the upcoming DJs and the overall vibe of the space, check out the Eavesdrop Soundcloud.