Mix Tapes: Behind the Soundtrack at NYC’s Proletariat

The allure of a bar is never based solely on its drinks. Here, in Mix Tapes, Kenny Herzog sheds light on some of the best bar playlists and the philosophies behind them. First up: a glimpse of the hip-hop-centric sound at Proletariat Bar.

Hidden inside a blink-and-you-miss it corner of Manhattan’s East Village, Proletariat Bar remains a well-guarded gem. Opened by reputed Death & Co. proprietor Ravi DeRossi in 2012 as a haven for craft beer lovers, the space is something of an anomaly. It’s minimalist, but not dive-y; cheeky—consider the 40-ounce bottles repurposed as water jugs—without laying it on too thick. It’s also home to one of the best hip-hop soundtracks anywhere in New York, reliably bumping through the night starting at happy hour, all courtesy of its small but passionate staff.

That’s why we opted to speak to general manager and beer buyer Hilary Krishnan to kick off our new series on superlative (digital) bar soundtracks. Here, she shares a custom playlist, curated by the staff, along with some insight on how this hip-hop loving crew keeps regulars coming back for rare brews and head-nodders.

The Location: Proletariat Bar

What You’re Likely to Hear: Hip-hop, both mainstream and underground, new- and old-school. And a smattering of some classic soul and R&B.

The song on loop right now: Danny Brown, “Really Doe”

Who Controls the Music: General manager and beer buyer Hilary Krishnan, along with a small staff of five, channel Spotify through bookshelf speakers that had to be relocated from a spot near the ceiling on account of all that low end. “The one thing about playing rap music in a little bar underneath a bunch of residential units,” confesses Krishnan, “is it’s not necessarily agreeable with the bass.”

How They Choose What Gets Played: Krishnan and her colleagues trade frequent and fervent group texts about mixtapes they’re anticipating or songs they’ve observed riding a wave of populist appeal. “It’s definitely just based on what we’re listening to, what we’re talking about.”

Three Songs that Best Represent Their Sound: Krishnan points to Chance the Rapper’s “No Problems,” which she describes as a “song of the times” that “people get super-stoked on.” She also cites just about anything off the new Frank Ocean album, Blonde, whose secretive release was “a subject of daily conversation” at the bar. Ditto, a number of selections from Common if they’re “about afternoon chill vibe.”

The Key to Their Playlist Philosophy: In a word, it’s consistency. “People generally know what to expect when they come in, which is important to me,” says Krishnan. “I’m in a lucky position that I don’t need to police the stereo ’cause we all have the same taste and understand how important the atmosphere is to a place that has 22 seats and limited offerings.”

Perfect song to start the night: Childish Gambino, “Redbone”

Perfect song to end the night: 21 Savage, “X (feat. Future)”

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Kenny Herzog is a former editor for brands including CMJ and HEEB, and a present-day pop-culture writer currently contributing to Rolling Stone, Esquire, Vulture, Made Man and many more.