On a grey (supposedly) summer day in Amsterdam, a trio of Steppin' Into Tomorrow's music nerds headed to Amsterdam Noord to meet and interview Bob Nagel, co-owner of Cornerstore - a fresh, in all senses of the word, restaurant with an appreciation for Hi-Fi sound & music.
The past year and a half have been weird, to say the least, but even in pandemic times, Amsterdam's music scene is forever evolving with the weirdness. A plethora of new music-focused places has now popped up all over the city. This is the first interview in a new series called 'Sonic Spaces' where we take a look and have a listen into these new venues.
After introducing ourselves and Steppin' into Tomorrow, we kick off the interview with the first question:
Can you tell us a bit about yourself? What's your connection to this place and to the music?
I moved to Amsterdam about 11 years ago and got into music pretty quickly. It initially started with Free Your Mind festival in Arnhem where I found a few new friendships through the crowds. I frequented Doornroosje in Nijmegen a lot as well. I got deeper and deeper into music the more I went out. It was dominated mainly by House and Techno at the time. Even though the whole Traktor thing started around 9 years ago, I stubbornly started collecting vinyl and went digging at Rush Hour a lot. Dekmantel started around that time too and I got to know Maarten (my party buddy/now business partner), who was tight with the Dekmantel crew.
What music did you listen to back then?
Moodymann & Theo Parrish come to mind. Theo's First Floor was on heavy rotation back in the days.
We were mostly having fun alongside our studies, hosting the basement at Dekmantel's 2 year anniversary with lots of deep Detroit House. Later we organized a little festival on Queensday - that's when I came to the realization that I'm an entrepreneur. We grew from 1500 attendees to 15 000 in 5 years.
One of my dreams was to start a restaurant. We opened that dream on the Bilderdijkstraat and called it Binnenvisser. It was a dive bar with a fresh feel, a new Klipsch sound system, and a hip-hop vibe. People thought I was crazy! It started off as a wine bar with food on the side, but then food became the full focus.
As Binnenvisser grew, the idea for Cornerstore kept brewing on the side. We were really into natural wines and Maarten was ready to start something. We went to this wine fair, visited Jaja in Berlin and we were inspired.
What were your other inspirations to start this place?
There's been a couple. Bambino in Paris, Japan also has a lot of listening bars like Jazz Blue Soul. We thought it would be cool to do something similar in Amsterdam but most buildings are pretty old here which equals bad sound insulation - and since the rent in the city center is sky high, we quickly landed on the Noord location. Here, it's still possible to do things without having to pay crazy rent. We found the place during the lockdown and put a lot of labor and love into it, doing the woodwork ourselves and even crafting the sound insulation panels on the ceiling and walls. My business partner worked at Choux so he had some previous experience with fine dining. That finesse helped immensely.
Can you tell us a bit about the sound system & DJ setup for the music nerds out there?
It's a vintage Tannoy system: 2x SRM 15X, 2x SRM 12X with a parasound a21 sub, and additional Tannoy subs. The mixer is an E&S DJR400. There are also some CDJ's but they haven't been used much. Vinyl has its charm in a place like this. If you play a full album there's some silence in between tracks as well as when you flip the record which adds to the ambiance.
Our patrons are very open-minded so it's fun for the DJs to be able to do whatever they want. We have a license 'til 3 am so hopefully we're gonna be able to do some fun after-dinner stuff once the regulations relax a bit. Our aim is not to be a club, we just want everyone to be comfortable. 'Gezellig' might be the right word to use here.
What's on the menu?
The focus is on vegetarian food and sharing and we use local and seasonal ingredients. Our chef Guus is a big fan of Japanese & Asian food so you'll definitely feel that influence in the dishes.
Two of our favorite dishes are the Tomato and Zucchini:
We have a big selection of natural wines with a focus on light red and rose because that suits the food.
What does the name Cornerstore mean?
It's a nod to the corner stores you see everywhere in the UK and the US. Your local meeting spot where people come together and hang out.
Lastly, is there anything special about the space you'd like to mention that we didn't touch upon yet?
Nikki Hock did an exquisite job on the design of the lighting on the ceiling and around the framing of the restaurant. It truly brings everything together, especially when the night sky kicks in.
After the interview, Bob asked us to come back another day so we can DJ and taste the food. It was a fun 5hr b2b2b session and personally, I've never said 'wow' so often while eating a meal. Below you can find a playlist with a selection of the tracks we played and some more photos of the night.
Cornerstore is located in Amsterdam Noord, a 20 minute walk from the Buiksloterweg ferry. It's open Tuesday 'til Saturday from 5pm 'til 12am. Fridays and Saturdays are walk-in only.