For 15 years, Ponsonby Social Club has been a partygoer’s fixture on Ponsonby Road, with its alleyway-shaped front courtyard usually heaving late into the night.

Six years ago directors Bobby Mukai and Sharr Berzati commandeered the adjoining space, dubbing it Ante Social – PSC’s more under-the-radar sibling bar for intimate DJ sets and live gigs played to smaller crowds.

Now, it’s been given a refresh with a new concept that pays homage to Mukai’s roots – one they’re billing as “Brooklyn bohemian speak-easy meets Shibuya audiophile music room”.

Music rooms, or listening bars – which offer a relaxed ambience to sit and enjoy vinyl played through high-quality sound equipment – first rose to popularity in Japan in the 1950s, when “kissaten”, or small coffee shops devoted to particular styles of music, sprang up. Nowadays, you’ll find them around the world, from the UK to Europe and the US, and in Australia at places like Waxflower and Music Room in Melbourne.

They’re not yet common in New Zealand, though, so there’s space to fill.

“I wanted to do this because I’m part Japanese – Brazilian Japanese – and I wanted to bring this concept to New Zealand,” Mukai tells Broadsheet. “I’d love to go to sit down in a bar for a few hours and listen to some nice vinyl, sipping some nice cocktails – and that’s what I want to provide to Auckland.”

He’s keen to harness Ante Social’s “hidden gem” appeal and offer a more low-key space than PSC. “Some people walk past and don’t even know of its existence,” he says – which is part of the charm.

Records – including some of Mukai’s 2500-strong personal collection – are displayed on new bespoke shelving behind the counter. Long-time Auckland DJ Manuel Bundy is on board as musical programmer; he’ll be curating sets along with musician (and regular PSC performer) Nathan Haines, who oversaw the sound-system installation.

The music now plays through a vintage British hi-fi system, with Quad and Spendor speakers. Dark velvet curtains still line the bar’s walls, but the small stage has been taken away to make room for more compact cocktail tables.

There’s a new house cocktail menu, developed by bartender Sahil Patel. They’re just inventive enough without being kitsch. The Aiko (named after Mukai’s daughter) is a refreshing gin, strawberry, rhubarb and lemon cocktail, while False Charges blends tequila, mezcal, Cointreau, beetroot, dill and lime for a slightly savoury alternative to a Margarita.

Food-wise, there will be a rotating cast of pop-up operators including Sean Yarborough of Broke Boy Taco and Ethiopian chef Yeshi Desta, who founded My Mother’s Kitchen. As with his music selections and gig line-ups, Mukai is keen to have good representation from around the globe.

“We’ll keep it interesting with food and drinks and music.”

Ante Social
152 Ponsonby Road, Ponsonby, Auckland

Fri & Sat 6.30pm–late