Tony Lopez would like to hang out and listen to his record collection with you, and match you to a perfect beer while he's at it. A Durham native and longtime d.j. and bartender, he opened Volume in Hillsborough in October with Nathan Andrews, a friend since high school. It's a record store with a bar, or perhaps a bar with records.
Arriving in Orange County with relatively little fanfare, Volume has so far been met with a steady audience who didn't know they were lacking a record store bar. When Triangle Vinyl left Mebane for Florida last year, Lopez felt it created a void for a music shop on the western side of the Triangle (Durham's Bull City Records and Carrboro's All Day Records are each at least a twenty-minute drive away) and Andrews hoped for a hangout spot in his town.
Opened in a rare stand-alone building—no shared walls means fewer noise complaints if music gets loud—on Churton Street next to Weaver Street Market, the space is big enough for a narrow bar and stools, a vintage sofa and chair for conversation or perusing a book of terrible album covers, and a few bins of records. The design aesthetic?
"My teenage bedroom, minus the [beer] taps," says Lopez.
Different bathroom-themed cover art is rotated out weekly in the restroom, like Foreigner's slightly scandalous Head Games, with a scantily clad young woman posing in a urinal. Volume's business cards are labels overlaid on an assortment of trading cards; you can choose from New Kids on the Block, Menudo, or Yo! MTV Raps.
While you flip through records, you can set your pint down on a mic-stand drink holder, a detail carefully chosen to protect the merchandise from spills and moisture rings. There's no space for a listening booth, but Lopez is happy to throw on a record for you to try, even if it's not part of his inventory. He's had customers come in just to play their old vinyl, no purchase required.
Lopez is the music lover's music fan, unpretentious and nonjudgmental in his adoration of music. From his perspective, he sees the vinyl resurgence as a result of the digital download included with many new album pressings.
"It lets you take the music with you while still enjoying the physical record and cover art. It changed the game," he says.
He grew up going to shows at Cat's Cradle, spinning eighties theme nights in Chapel Hill, and buying albums at stores like Durham's late, lamented Poindexter Records. ("I was buying whatever they were playing," Lopez says.) Several customers at the bar remember him from Tyler's Taproom, both for his pouring skills and his music recommendations.
Lopez takes the same approach to curating the bar's beer and wine list as he does with his vinyl: each is chosen to represent the best of its genre. Some selections have a music theme, like the Terrapin Sound Czech Pilsner or First Press Chardonnay. A few other brews are local, like the Lynwood IPA, or chosen for a tie-in, like the Big Boss Autumn Amber, a collaboration with the band Chatham County Line. Further drink-and-album specials are planned, as well as theme nights and listening parties.
Volume seems to fits hand in glove with Hillsborough, already home to the venerable Yep Roc Records and WHUP, an independent radio station with low power and high community impact. It's a small, creative town where you are likely to see Mayor Tom Stevens getting a cup of coffee at Cup of Joe or a pint at Wooden Nickel Pub (especially if it's Tuesday, wings night) before opening up his art gallery. And the shop's new neighbors are happy to have it around, too.
"Record store people are always going to seek out and find record stores. This combines two local favorites: beer and music," says Bob Burtman, WHUP's founder.
While Hillsborough has no shortage of drinking options, Volume is inviting both for locals wanting to relax with a round after work and weekend visitors wanting to sip and shop.