Before the idea came to Ridgewood, it started in Prospect Heights. And before then, the concept animated a small Tokyo bar called JBS – that’s Jazz, Blues and Soul – where Kobayashi Kazuhiro’s nearly 12,000 vinyl records have lined the walls for generations of American tourists to appreciate. The number is perhaps a few thousand fewer than you will find at Bierwax Queens, a vinyl themed-bar that takes after Kazuhiro’s idea, and that opened recently inside a former movie theater in Queens.
“The last movie I watched there was the Omen. I remember the whole roll-out,” says Rudy Manzur, who grew up around the neighborhood before returning to open a bar there. He’s short and self-possessed; and dons a Fantasy Explosion baseball cap in seeming mint condition. His memory of the neighborhood is vivid in its casual detail. After he tells me about watching the Liev Schreiber exploitation movie, he points at an indiscrete taco shop, packed between two others. “Fresh Taco,” he says, “it’s been there since, oh, 2002.”
Before he started working in bars, Manzur worked at LIDS, the headwear brand. The job ended when the pandemic began. Manzur decided to do something else. He scored a gig working the bar at Aura Cocina in East Williamsburg, where he was cousins with the owner. Now, he’s here, a bar he opened with another cousin, named Ariel. The pair, Manzur says, followed the “beautiful blueprint” outlined by Chris Maestro, who had opened the bar in Prospect Heights called BeerWax, in 2018. A former DJ, Maestro identifies on his LinkedIn profile as a “hip-hop archivist [and] indie-rap crusader.”
More notably, he used to run the taproom at Finback, over in Glendale, which was where he first started running into Manzur. The dream, Maestro would tell him, was to have a craft beer taproom like that one, but that also had lots of his records too. He had seen it in Japan and wanted to see it here too. About eighty percent, Manzur tells me, of the records that sit in Bierwax’s second location are from Maestro’s own personal collection. Throughout the bar, little colorful letters read: NO REQUESTS PLEASE.
On the menu, largely, are beers, many of them sour. A “Key Lime Tart” from a Staten Island brewer, something called “Drippy Popsicle” from one in Connecticut. There are also cocktails, which Manzur put together himself, e.g. the “Thank You, Kobayashi!,” named after the Japanese bartender who had the whole records-in-bar idea. (it features Suntory.) Somewhat irrelevantly, the bar also puts out one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches in the neighborhood, which admittedly has very few others. The secret is the texas toast, wrapped around melted havarti cheese like dirt-colored clouds.
In addition to being displayed around the bar, records are also constantly played. The soundsystem reaches high into the ceilings of what was once the Ridgewood Theatre, a remarkably well-chiseled creation of Thomas Lamb in 1916 that was named a historic landmark over a decade ago. Shortly afterward, the bulk of it was rented out to a discount fitness chain. Manzur fell in love with the spot the moment he saw it. To avail themselves to the local community, the bar offers its hookup to local DJs, some fifty of which have already spun the tables since the bar opened in the beginning of the summer. The application form demonstrates the bar’s analog biases. (“actual records, not Serato.”)
When DJs aren’t in the booth, the bar spins from its own growing collection of records. “We play everything, everything,” Manzur insists. From salsa to Pink Floyd to rap; Tyler, the Creator, Benny the Butcher, et. al. But, Manzur also gets emotional when he starts talking about ‘the classics.’ A Willie Colón salsa album from 1983. “One of those classic albums,” he says expansively. “We typically play that on Sundays – there’s a whole tradition in Spanish culture is to play classic music on Sundays while cleaning up.”
BierWax Queens is located at 16-80 Madison Street in Ridgewood. Keep in touch with their hours here.
All images taken by Andrew Karpan for Bushwick Daily.
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