The Digital Age has finally dawned in that darkest of places: the local bar. We don’t mean the high-tech speed dating that goes on at REMOTE (327 Bowery, 212-228-0228). Nor are we referring to DJ Andrew Andrew’s Tuesday-night iPod programming parties at APT (419 West 13th Street, 212-414-4245)—although we’re getting warmer. What we’re talking about is the digital jukebox. Yes, the magical musical machine Arthur Fonzarelli delighted you with in your youth has evolved to a higher plane, transmuting into something far greater than even the inventor of the diner tabletop jukebox could have dreamed.
When co-owner Mike Stuto decided to transform Brownies—the longtime East Village rock club—into a bar last summer, many were aghast. Avenue A did not need another lounge! Right? Wrong. HIFI (169 Avenue A, 212-420-8392) is an unqualified hit—and not just with a bunch of frat boys. The draw, of course, is “EL DJ,” a jukebox with more than 1600 albums’ worth of MP3s. It’s heavy on indie- and punk-rock selections, with local faves like the Rapture and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs well represented, which may explain why there’s an actual line of people waiting to stuff money into the thing (three plays cost $1). “People hog it more to look, really,” explains a bartender. Maybe, but the impatient may want to try the Wednesday-night “Played Out” party, where local bands like Ted Leo/Pharmacists personally program HAL, we mean EL DJ. Or just kick back and enjoy the weekday two-for-one happy hour till 8 p.m. and the VH1 Classics playing on the TV. Truly a rock critic’s wet dream: We’ve even spied a few Spin journos hanging here.
The Rowe NetStar Internet jukebox over at terrific tapas joint CAFÉ ANDALUCIA (533 Ninth Avenue, 212-736-9411) doesn’t try so hard. This baby boasts over 100,000 songs (two for $1; five for $2) and even takes credit cards (sadly, the bar does not). No wonder it creepily brags: “Hey you. Come here. I’m the coolest jukebox in the world.” There’s only one catch: If your song’s not on the 200 mostly r&b and Spanish albums already programmed in, you have to pay double to download it off the Internet. And if you’ve got even more money to burn—or you’re just really drunk—you can skip your selections to the front of the line for an extra five song credits. But such a drastic measure rarely needs to be taken, since most people come to Café Andalucia to catch a buzz or to make a late-night meal out of intensely flavorful tapas like the Galician-style octopus ($9). Yet with such deceptively strong sangria ($18 pitchers), deliciously offbeat clientele, and gracious service, it’s not like you’d mind waiting.
Unfortunately, not all technology is being used for good. Take DEMPSEY’S PUB (61 Second Avenue, 212-388-0662), where the TouchTunes digital jukebox with Bose speakers has two disturbing qualities: (1) It plays “clean” versions of albums and (2) those “albums” are really just a handful of songs. To wit: They offer an abridged version of Bob Marley’s Legend—a greatest hits of a greatest hits! Which is really too bad, since this sizable Irish pub is one of the few places in the East Village where your posse is guaranteed a table. But if you can’t get drunk and sing “Buffalo Soldier,” does it really matter?