Perhaps the best dining room playlist is one that you barely notice. Like the right lighting or room temperature, it blends in with the atmosphere as much as it enhances it. This doesn’t mean music doesn’t matter, though—quite the opposite, in fact, and the city’s general managers would know. They’re mood-setting masters, which is a particularly useful skill during the holiday entertaining season.
We decided to reach out to these experts while curating our own holiday sounds this year. They recommended everything from classic pop and gospel to jazz and hip-hop, somehow making a cohesive playlist without knowing each other’s selections. Read more some of the picks below and stream the full compilation here.
Eleven Madison Park‘s Will Guidara: “Little Christmas Tree” by Michael Jackson
“My first concert was Michael Jackson, during the Thriller tour. I still have a picture album from that show hanging in my apartment today. His music makes me smile, all of it, even the earlier stuff from the Jackson 5. It just makes me happy. And that’s how everyone should get to feel during the holidays.”
The Four Horsemen‘s Randy Moon: “Stand on the Word” by The Joubert Singers
“The music during our dinner service goes from full albums by the Buzzcocks to Neil Young to Black Sabbath, but I (and the staff) love playing this gospel/dance track right around 11:00 p.m. after the last food orders for the night go in (we stay open till 1:00 a.m. for drinkers). It just makes you happy; I’m always good for another glass or bottle after it comes on.”
Annisa‘s Michael Cherry: “My Favorite Things” by Betty Carter
“We pretty much stick to vocal and instrumental jazz standards at Annisa, but we do play this recording of Betty Carter improvising ‘My Favorite Things’ from The Sound of Music that always puts me in mind of a swinging holiday cocktail party! It’s got sleigh bells, silver white winters and brown paper packages tied up in a crazy up-tempo version that really keeps the room humming along.”
Threes Brewing‘s Joshua Styleman: “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight” by Richard and Linda Thompson
“This might change depending on which minute of which day you’re asking, but this song is festive and captures the celebratory and exhaustive nature of the holiday season without being cheesy or overtly religious. Feels about right for us.”
Gramercy Tavern‘s Kim DiPalo: “Merry Christmas Baby” by Otis Redding and “Pennies from Heaven” by Billie Holiday
“Music is one of the most soulful things in the world and it is perfect pairing for cooking or dining. Gramercy Tavern in the fall and winter, and especially during the holiday season, is one of my favorite places and these artists are the perfect addition to the festive and warm feeling that we love about the restaurant.”
NIX‘s James Truman: “Beautiful Tango” by Hindi Zahra (not on Spotify)
“Hindi is a Moroccan Berber lady from France who we discovered on Robert Glasper’s ‘Black Radio’ album. Gorgeous vocal timbre, spare arrangement, joyous spirit: our sound for brunch.”
Mimi Cheng’s Hannah and Marian Cheng: “Agua de Beber” by Astrud Gilberto
“Brazilian jazz is the perfect happy, upbeat background music.”
Pizza Loves Emily‘s Thea Goldberg: “Int’l Players Anthem” by UGK feat. Outkast
“This song starts off with a great Andre 3000 verse over a beautiful sample from Willie Hutch’s ‘I Choose You’ and then the drums break and it turns into this amazing, feel good, party record. It’s kind of emblematic of how we like a night to go, starting off nice and chill and turning into a party.”
Illustrations by Adriana Gallo.