Vinyl is King at Jamaica Plain's Tres Gatos

The combination tapas restaurant, book shop, and record store is a great place to build up your album collection

There are likely no places other than where you can order sheep’s milk cheese, confit of chicken thigh, and a nice glass of sherry, peruse a collection of books by Charles Bukowski, and flip through a chaotically arranged selection of new and used vinyl albums.

A recent visit to the record bins at the back of the restaurant-book-music one-stop revealed plenty of gems, in the order they’re listed here:

“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” soundtrack, “Best of Emmy Lou Harris,” “Listen” by A Flock of Seagulls, “Caught in the Act” by Grand Funk Railroad, “Frank Sinatra Sings Only for the Lonely,” and “Gaucho” by Steely Dan. And that’s just one small section of just one bin in the used section.

Brand new releases – make that reissues of old ones – included “Electric Warrior” by T. Rex, “Sex Machine” by James Brown, “Rocket to Russia” by the Ramones, and the “Pretty in Pink” soundtrack.

Phil Wilcox, the 24-year-old JP resident who’s been Tres Gatos’ self-proclaimed music and literary guide since the place opened in February 2011, orders and buys those records.

“I’ve always loved music. I obsessively listen to music,” said the former singer for the band The Near Escape, who now reigns over the back section of Tres Gatos. “I got my education in music by hanging out in record stores, hanging out with bands, and going to shows.”

Tres Gatos sits in the spot that used to be the book and record shop Rhythm & Muse, and before that, Roseway Books.

These days, the place has a special feel to it. According to Wilcox, “It’s like going to somebody’s house, having dinner, walking round with a glass of wine after the dinner party, and looking at the record collection and their bookshelf. And people can pick out what they want to hear while they eat.”

Time for another look at another bin:

“Land of Make Believe” by Chuck Mangione, “Hot Tuna” by Hot Tuna, “The Weavers at Carnegie Hall,” “Tumbleweed Connection” by Elton John, “Mom Always Liked You Best” by the Smothers Brothers, “Yessongs” by Yes.

Oh, there are also lots of CDs in the store, but Wilcox is proud of the plentiful vinyl supply.

“Audiophiles would tell you that the resurgence in vinyl’s popularity is the sound quality, and maybe it is,” he said, then aiming a softball barb at iPod users added, “Having any song you ever wanted at your fingertips at any time is really convenient. But at some point you kind of lose the quirkiness, the fun of having something you own that you can show off to your friends, like the album artwork and the lyric sheets.”

Wilcox deals with a handful of record distributors for new titles or albums that customers request. Used stock comes in differently.

“When we first opened we were buying collections off eBay – record stores that went out of business, estate sales,” he said. “But lately, people from the neighborhood come in with records, and if they have really good ones, we trade for store and restaurant credit.”

He loves watching, helping, mixing with the diverse shoppers who stop by.

“On a busy night, everybody’s back here drinking beer or wine. You’ve got a couple of people out on a date, you’ve got a business group who’s in town for a meeting, so they’re all in suits. But then you’ve got some kid with cut-off sleeves and tattoos and piercings. And they’re all talking with each other about the music. That’s really cool.”

OK, one more peek through one more bin:

“The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart,” “Breakout” by Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, “Alive 2” by KISS, “The Last Puff” by Spooky Tooth, “Watch Out!” by Holly Near, “Having a Wild Weekend” by the Dave Clark Five.

is at 470 Centre St., and is open for dinner. For restaurant hours, please call 617-477-4851. For record and book store info, call 617-477-9209. If you "like" Tres Gatos on Facebook, they highlight vinyl in their collection nearly every day.


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