Popping a few CDs into a sound system isn’t good enough for the best restaurants anymore. These days, playlists are expected to show as much creativity as menus. Restaurateur Stephen Starr personally approves the playlists at all his places, including Striped Bass in Philadelphia and Buddakan in New York City. A former club owner and music promoter, he has wide-ranging tastes that veer from punk (the Ramones) to folk (Joni Mitchell). Alain Ducasse even enlisted ambient composer Mathieu Leguern to write a score played at all six outposts of his Spoon restaurants. At B.R. Guest restaurant group, Todd Mallis has a music junkie’s dream job: He oversees the playlists at each of the group’s 16 venues, such as Fiamma Trattoria in Las Vegas. "Being music director is about creating an atmosphere," says Mallis. "You want songs to be familiar but not too recognizable," like the catchy music by French indie rock band Phoenix featured in Sofia Coppola’s movie Marie Antoinette. Chefs Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud work with Audiostiles, a company that also counts the Four Seasons hotels as a client. "We’re like personal shoppers," says Jeremy Abrams, who worked at VH1 before he helped launch Audiostiles in 2004. Since most of Abrams’s customers favor mellow music that won’t distract diners from their food, he turns to jazz artists like Madeleine Peyroux. Here, three iPod pros share restaurant-inspired playlists worth stealing for holiday parties at home.
International Lounge Music
TODD MALLIS, the music director for B.R. Guest restaurants, likes weaving different voices, eras and genres into his playlists. "Keep it moving," he says. "Never stick to just one tempo." At Level V, located underneath the restaurant Vento in Manhattan, he picks eclectic music that has enough kick to keep the energy up through the night.
Rock Meets Folk
STEPHEN STARR, the restaurateur, swears by a mix of rock and folk—like the playlist below—for his own parties. "When I first opened restaurants, I played crazy stuff," he says. "But people didn’t want to hear vocals, so we had to change it." At Morimoto in Manhattan, for example, he sticks to upbeat global music.
JEREMY ABRAMS of Audiostiles combines jazz and bossa nova with a selection of covers of more-familiar songs at Bouchon in Las Vegas. Audiostiles also creates custom iPod playlists for individuals ($50 for an hour of music; 212-964-1232 or audiostiles.com).