Casual, colorful and peppered with many original ideas, OWLs in Bielefeld presents a mix of jazz kissa sound, restaurant and retailer. We ordered the “cocktail recommendation of the day” on a hot summer evening.
“Can you see that? Very typical behavior,” whispers Laurin Schafhausen. Like behavioral scientists, we sit in a corner of the “big salon” and observe the other guests. “They’re here for the first time and have chosen a secluded spot, well away from the sound system. Now they’re eavesdropping, and next time they’ll dare to move one table further forward.” The couple seem to like what they hear. The room is lit up by golden sunlight – and by gentle impulses: loungey jazz with a gentle reggae touch is playing, floating through the room in a wonderfully relaxed manner. OWLs Bar & Restaurant is surprisingly well received, the co-owner explains to me, but the common Westphalian is a skeptical species. And so he and his partner, Managing Director Kai Mosdzen, repeatedly observe behavior that is reminiscent of shy deer: the bar’s impressive hi-fi system is perceived as a foreign object – so you have to carefully sniff at it a bit at first …
The scene takes place on a hot summer’s day. I’m in the center of Bielefeld, less than a five-minute walk from the train station. A tip from the IAD sales team brought us to “OWLs Bar & Restaurant”, a stylish and relaxed variation on the Jazz Kissa concept. Once through the door, we find ourselves in an inconspicuous restaurant area. The well-stocked bar is framed by a bright, uncluttered ambience that, with its white stucco ceilings, could fit in perfectly with a coffee house. However, a glance at the walls and the corners of the room suggests that the clocks tick differently here. While an arrangement of colorful KEF LS50 Wireless hangs on the wall opposite the entrance, there are display cases here and there with record players and other hi-fi devices, all of which are marked with prices.
I learn that the founding of OWLs was an attempt by the two business partners to establish a second pillar for the actual company, which also pursues a passionate approach: Mosdzen and Schafhausen are veterans of the professional audio sector. They have been equipping restaurants, event halls and clubs with acoustic concepts for many years and know how to make rooms sing. They used this expertise to realize a concept based on the Japanese Jazz Kissa culture – to enable guests to enjoy listening to top-class music albums (either over a coffee, beer or cocktail) in front of a sound system that is not available at home. Of course, the two were aware that Japanese culture can only be partially translated into German. Some might perceive the Far Eastern seriousness in dealing with high-class music as a bit uptight here – no offense to the Japanese. Anyone who goes to a bar or restaurant in this country probably appreciates the experience of a good sound system, but also wants to be able to chat freely with their companions. “Going out” comes first. Mosdzen and Schafhausen handle this with two simple tricks …
Firstly, listening to music the Kissa way only takes place on Wednesdays and even then doesn’t take up the whole evening. On several occasions, I watch as one of the staff members appears in the large lounge after a long break to play a new album from the jazz and fusion genres. This happens discreetly, almost casually. The LP then plays at a volume that is present, but not too dominant, at which you can still have a conversation – the performance is so sublime and present that the considerate silence among the visitors sets in all by itself. The massive setup could do even more, it would probably even be capable of providing sound for club concerts. The two PA professionals had KV2 Audio customize a speaker combination with horn tweeters, horn midrange drivers and four twelve-inch drivers each, which are supported down low by woofers with two fifteen-inch drivers each. Separate power amplifiers from the same supplier (SL2000/SL3000) were chosen to drive the speakers, supplying each of the two speaker towers with well over 1000 watts.
Secondly: spatial separation. The bar and restaurant in the entrance area are separated from the actual “listening room” by a short corridor. Acoustic insulation not only makes this tunnel look interesting, it also ensures that you can still have a good conversation in the front when the next room is buzzing – and vice versa. The attention to detail can also be seen in the listening room. The large absorbers on the ceilings and walls harmonize amazingly well with the classic stucco decoration and the colourful “chandeliers”, which look a little like lucky flea market finds. You have to look a little closer to see that the walls are also part of the acoustic room design. These are suspended wooden panels that conceal other absorbers, but also act as resonators themselves. The panels were actually supposed to be clad, but the two managing directors felt that the raw wooden surfaces added to the charm of the room.
Another special feature of OWLs Bar was the fact that the music bar was founded at the most inopportune time imaginable. It had barely been launched when Schafhausen and Mosdzen’s “second mainstay” had to close again due to the pandemic. However, the two creative minds capitalized on this hardship. As the first floor of the large building (next to a bowling alley) offered further unused space, they set up an additional listening room and opened a hi-fi store there. Apart from the bespoke PA in the Listening Room, you can buy everything on display at OWLs. During my visit – and here it all comes full circle – IAD organized the presentation of the new Audiolab streamer 9000N in the rear “sales room”.
The interesting combination of PA specialist, listening bar and dealer is also the reason why I talked about amplification and speakers in the main room above, but not about the sources. These are as variable as the entire system: on that cozy summer evening, a Thorens TD 1600 played via a Line Magnetic LM-845 IA and a pair of Wharfedale Linton Heritage. The KV2 combo was off the air on this particular occasion. If necessary, an RT-707 tape machine from Pioneer was also available.
Of course, the owners’ creativity does not end with the ever-changing design of their system and music selection. OWLs also organizes small concerts, Thursdays are chess nights, and there are special “goodies” on the cocktail and food menu to go with such events. In keeping with the summer weather, on my visit this was a cold yet all the more spicy tomato soup with prawns and a refreshingly fruity cocktail. You can find out about events and gastronomy on the homepage. There you can find out, for example, that the bar has had an outdoor dining area since August, and tables can also be reserved there. And while we’re online: OWLs has channels on YouTube (Auftrag Sound!) and Instagram (owls.bielefeld), where Laurin Schafhausen talks about innovations such as the “acoustic tunnel” or explains acoustic basics. So you can visit OWLs even if you don’t happen to be in East Westphalia.