Checking in with… Tai Nalewajko and Paul Fullerton of Takashima Records

In our new column, Checking in with…, we’re catching up with local food industry employees to find out how they’ve been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Although Takashima Records has only been open in The Grove since February, it’s already established itself as one of St. Louis’ most original and exciting spaces. A single neon red sign illuminates a balcony full of wood and shadows; thousands of records line the towering walls behind the bar. Vintage stereo equipment delivers soulful tunes while hip servers distribute Japanese whisky, sake and shōchū drinks. The mood is strong, but with the restaurant now closed, customers are going to have to wait a while to experience it again. With that temporary loss in mind, we talked to music director Paul Fullerton and general manager Tai Nalewajko about what tunes they’ve been spinning, what drinks they’ve been sipping, and how they’re keeping the vibes powerful while at home. We also asked them to make us an original playlist, which can be found at the end of the interview. Spoiler alert: It’s dope. 

How did Takashima Records decide to close? 
Tai Nalewajko: We just came to the decision because it was the safest thing for our employees. While it’s a financial bust for them, we want everybody to be healthy. We’re moving toward doing to-go cocktail kits, so that we can still make a little bit.

Let’s get into what you guys do best at Takashima: music and drinks. Can you tell me about what you’ve been listening to while you’ve been at home? 
Paul Fullerton: Right before the world shut down, I got the new Monophonics record. I put one of the songs on the mix I made you. Me and my 73-year-old dad, who lives in Madison, Wisconsin, we’ve been really getting into Grant Green. He’s a blues and jazz guitarist from St. Louis. My dad actually sent me Grant Green’s Slick! Live at Oil Can Harry’s record as a congratulatory present for opening Takashima. I’ve been really digging on that. 

TN: I’ve been listening to a lot of friends’ live streams. My friend Mark Plant just started a really cool dance-punk band called the Mall, and he did a live stream concert the other night. Besides doing that, I’ve just been doing tons of reading. When I’m busy at a restaurant, I just go go go go go, so it’s been cool to sit back and think about what I’m reading and think about where I’m at in my life – to reconnect with books on sake and whisky when I don’t have 20 other things to do during the day. I’ve been reading this sake compendium that goes through like 30 different sake breweries in Japan. It’s been a cool, reflective time. 

courtesy of Tai Nalewajko

Tell me about this playlist that you’ve put together.
PF: That’s just a lot of stuff that Tai and Michael Franco and I have really been digging on during the quarantine, as well as some old St. Louis stuff that we really like featuring. Just a bunch of our favorite tunes right now. 

TN: A lot of those songs on there, we geek out about at Takashima. Some of the old St. Louis music. The top two songs on there, Paul and I love and listen to every day of our lives. When you have friends and you have feel-good music like that, it’s a special thing to share. 

PF: Luckily, we’ve recorded all of the sets we’ve done so far at Takashima. On our website, we have an internet radio station that’s streaming all the time. It’s populated with a lot of mixes from the bar, a lot of local St. Louis DJs that we’ve featured, like DJ Crucial and Agile One. Crim Dolla Cray. Mario Martinez has a mix on there. A few weeks ago, we got the band Durand Jones & The Indications to come do a set, and we have their set on our radio station as well. 

What have you been drinking lately?
PF: I’ve been getting really into different Japanese beers, so I’ve been drinking a lot of Japanese beer. I’ve been drinking a lot of Asahi, since it’s readily available. 

TN: I’ve just been going through the rotation of whiskys and sake. Whenever I have to actually sit down and think about a beer, I’ll go to Gezellig or Craft Beer Cellar. I went and stocked up on like 20 different IPAs and sours, which unfortunately I’ve now gotten completely through. A bunch of Evil Twin and Fat Orange Cat stuff. Public Access Liquids is a cool brewery that I found out about recently. A bunch of different weird sours, DIPAs. And the usual Maker’s Mark whiskey between them. 

One of the special things about Takashima is that the whole place feels like a cohesive idea, a feeling that’s really nice to inhabit. Do you have any tips for creating a good vibe at home?
PF: I would suggest supporting local record stores, while they’re still doing mail order stuff. Having a record in your hands is really powerful, being able to look at the liner notes and any inserts. Now’s a really good time, since people have nothing but time in their house, to get some records they really appreciate and learn about them. 

TN: First things first: You gotta dim the lights down low. Maybe light some candles, get a good feeling going. Make sure your music’s at a good volume where you can hear it and you can feel it. If you have a house, crank that all the way up. Do new things. I think that’s really what it’s about. It’s about discovering new things. Being in a comfortable scenario to discover new things, where you can really focus on enjoying the discovery. Enjoying the adventure. You just gotta do a few things differently in your own house to put you out into that, you know? 


  1. On The Hill - Oliver Sain (Upcoming Takashima Records Release) 
  2. Does Your Mother Know? - Earles Inc. (A gift from Jake of Deadwax)
  3. Extremely Bad Man - Shintaro Sakamoto 
  4. Where Are We Going - Donald Byrd 
  5. Can We Smile - Johnny “Hammond” Smith 
  6. Better Days Ahead - Gil Scott-Heron 
  7. It’s Only Us - Monophonics 
  8. Liquid Love - Roy Ayers 
  9. Please Set Me At Ease - Bobbi Humphrey 
  10. Drifting - Charles Earland 
  11. Spirts Flow - T. Honda 
  12. Cease The Bombing - Grant Green
  13. C-side - Leon Bridges, Khruangbin 
  14. Space Dance - Oliver Sain 
  15. Dreaming’s Out Of Season - The Montclair’s
  16. Wholy Holy - Aretha Franklin
  17. Just Me, Just You - The Counts
  18. Close The Door - Teddy Pendergrass
  19. Glad You’re Mine (Al Green Cover) - D’Angelo
  20. Skyy Can You Feel Me? - Raphael Saadiq
  21. Searching -Erykah Badu 
  22. Sweeter Than Honey - People’s Choice
  23. Jealous Guy (Live) - Donny Hathaway
  24. Dancer  - Tatsuro Yamashita 
  25. Been Such A Long Time Gone - Hugh Masekela
  26. Gat Damn - Freddie Gibbs & Madlib
  27. Gobstopper - J Dilla
  28. Look Into The Sky - Ramp
  29. Don’t Stop - One way 
  30. I’ll Take Care Of You - East St.Louis Gospelettes

Adam Rothbarth is the staff writer at Sauce Magazine.