Swallow Cafe — 67.8 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

What a great place. From the “no cellphones at register” sign, to the genuinely serene vibe, Swallow Cafe is what a coffee shop should be. The stools at the window are designated a laptop-free zone.  According to the barista, Swallow is aiming for a friendly, convivial space. That said, laptops were deployed in the small upstairs loft space and the larger seating area in the back, and, as a consequence, it was blissfully quiet.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

There is a lot glass at Swallow Cafe, but there is a lot of unfinished wood flooring, too. And the very high ceilings had to help dissipate what little noise there was. Yes, there was music, but the volume was low and it was more than tolerable. You can read or work or chill or space out and have a really nice coffee as you do it.  This is the kind of coffee shop you’ll want to linger in.

Swallow Cafe offers breakfast options, toasts (of course), salads, sandwiches, and the usual tea and coffee options–we enjoyed a refreshing and tasty cold brew.  If you are looking for good coffee,  friendly service, and a calm space in Cobble Hill, check out Swallow Cafe. We will definitely visit again. It’s a perfect coffee shop, and we highly recommend it.

HOURS

7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. every day

LOCATION

nue (at the corner of Clinton Street), Brooklyn, NY 11201

WEBSITE

Swallow Cafe

Eataly Downtown– 74.2 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Eataly Downtown is an American take on an Italian food hall.  Gone are the stucco walls, thick wooden beams, and big bins of olives, instead this location of Eataly is located in a mall and has all the warmth and allure of a giant food court.  It’s a chaotic, often loud, tourist-filled space pockmarked with various stalls or displays–produce, cheese station, bread station, pastries, etc.–interspersed with restaurants and more casual eating options. We have recorded higher decibel readings before, but Eataly Downtown is uncomfortable in its own special way–not solely due to noise level–though it was loud in spots–but mostly due to the crowds.

It’s clear that Eataly would best be enjoyed during an off time (though we doubt that one exists) or if one is comfortably numb. If you are the type who likes to keep an emergency Xanas in your bag, take it and wait a half hour before entering. It may make things better.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We did a complete circuit of the space twice–yes, we forced ourselves round more than once just for you. The main restaurants, which are located closer to the entrance, are live, loud, and packed. Eataly is co-owned by Mario Batali, who, it is rumored, is responsible for the unforgivably loud music in New York City restaurants. Click the link in the previous sentence to find out why.  Even if we didn’t mind having our ear drums assaulted, that was not an option as just about every seat was taken in the restaurant dining spaces. Pressing on, we saw a better option.

I Ravioli is a stall offering three types of ravioli and the promise of a quieter meal. There is no dedicated seating space. Rather, there are two seating areas located within a short distance.  Avoid the seating immediately nearby and walk about 25 feet away to a dining area a near the display of packaged cookies. You will still hear the unnecessary music there, but the volume is much lower.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

As for the ravioli (we opted for ravioli made with peas in a butter and pecorino sauce), they were tasty. And the seating area we chose was fine. In fact, this relatively calm spot could have approached comfortable if the music was turned off, but that won’t happen. So recharge in this  relatively relaxing chunk of the space, and gird yourself for the run to the exit. The rest of Eataly is filled with slow-moving people, too much noise, and lots of lights and shiny things.  We were suffering sensory overload by the time we left.

Although we haven’t taken a decibel reading at the original Eataly location in the Flatiron district, we think Eataly Downtown matches it with regard to noise and crowd level. There is no question that the Eataly sites have almost anything you would want for your Italian pantry, but at a price.  Yes, there are few bargains at Eataly and fighting your way through the crowds is a chore. Still, the selection is pretty damn good and the food is well done.  So if you must go, know what to expect and be prepared for the crowds and noise.

We suggest that you proceed with caution with either Eataly space.  Aim for a less crowded time–perhaps at 7:00 a.m.?–and look for a quiet niche somewhere in the sea of people.

HOURS

7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. every day

LOCATION

4 World Trade Tower, 3rd Floor (Street at Church Street), New York, NY 10007

WEBSITE

Eataly NYC Downtown

East One Coffee Roaster — 73.3 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We stopped by East One Coffee Roaster one Sunday afternoon as we meandered around Carroll Gardens, one of our favorite parts of Brooklyn. Despite the relatively quiet streets, the place was bustling. East One Coffee Roaster, the Brooklyn outpost of a London coffee shop, sits on the corner of Court and Carroll Streets. It has a large coffee shop in the front of its space and an even larger dining room in the back. Although the coffee shop was pretty packed when we arrived, there were a few seats available.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We’ve noticed recently that some coffee shops are designating various areas within their space as “no laptop zones.”  East One is no exception. In fact, we sat in one of the two laptop-free  zones (and must confess that we occasionally looked furtively at a smart phone, which may have violated the spirit of the zone but not the directive). Essentially, East One, like other coffee spots, doesn’t want to become a caffeinated version of WeWork.  That said, laptops were visible, but the laptoppers were outnumbered by the couples or groups engaging in conversation.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

The doors and windows of the place were open to the street, but since this part of Court Street doesn’t get a lot of traffic, it was fine.  Music was playing and it was a bit louder than we liked, but it was manageable.  We liked the space, finding it comfortable.  Except for waiting a little longer than expected for our coffee–the  sole barista was distracted–our visit was perfectly pleasant.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Given the heavy embrace of industrial design elements (e.g., lots of glass, a cement floor, etc.), we had expected an echo chamber but were pleasantly surprised that the room didn’t feel live. The ceiling of rough-hewn, though painted, wooden boards probably helped to diffuse the sound. Our guess is that the designer opted to paint the ceiling joists rather than cover them with wall board. It looked attractive and no doubt helps to control the sound level, so kudos for the clever design.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We checked out the back dining space and saw that it looked roomy and had a slightly quieter soundscape.  It was, however, mostly empty.  It too was heavy on the usual design elements, so proceed with caution if crowded.

Overall, we highly recommend a visit to East One Coffee Roaster. The space was attractive, and we enjoyed our coffees.  And while we wouldn’t say no to turning down the music, the soundscape was perfectly respectable despite being a very crowded space.

HOURS

Monday through Thursday: 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Friday: 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Saturday:  9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Sunday: 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

(Hours are for coffee shop. Dining space opens at 8:00 a.m. Monday through Friday.)

LOCATION

Street (at the corner of Carroll Street), Brooklyn, NY 11231

WEBSITE

East One Coffee Roaster

Cafe Himalaya — 72.9 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We were wandering around the southern fringe of the East Village when we spied Cafe Himalaya, a restaurant offering Tibetan and Nepali home cooking.  We’ve walked past the place many times but never went in (though we’ve been meaning to). Checking Google Maps we saw that the place had really good reviews and thought we would try it for a quick nosh.  We were not disappointed.

What a calm experience. The meter reading was higher than expected, because we felt absolutely comfortable in the space.  A couple of casement windows were opened to allow for cross ventilation, but they also allowed some street noise to enter.  Fortunately, the restaurant fronts not very busy 1st Street, though East Houston is nearby.  Perhaps it was luck, but we didn’t hear much traffic noise during our visit. We suspect the reading was higher because of a low hum coming from some unseen mechanical device–perhaps a neighbor’s air conditioning unit?  In any event, the hum was the only potentially annoying sound in the space.  We say potentially because we weren’t actually annoyed by it–it sounded like white noise and we could easily ignore it.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Cafe Himalaya is a small place with about 25 seats, half of which were taken during our visit. Despite chatter, it was really relaxing.  Music played very softly in the background and didn’t  intrude.  In fact, you would have to really focus to hear it , at times, and we suspect it probably was coming from a radio in the kitchen for the benefit of the cooks.

Service was straightforward, and we enjoyed an Inexpensive lunch.  Cafe Himalaya offers five lunch options for only $7.50. We tried the Gyathuk Ngopa, which was delicious but had some unadvertised heat.  So if you aren’t a fan of spicy food, be sure to ask your server whether your meal packs some heat.

Cafe Himalaya was a happy find and we will be sure to return.  It’s not often that you can find a tasty and inexpensive meal in a comfortable space.  We enthusiastically recommend a visit.

HOURS

Tuesday through Saturday: 12:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Sunday: 12:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Closed Monday

LOCATION

Street (betw. 1st Avenue and Avenue A), New York, NY 10009

WEBSITE

Cafe Himalaya

Aux Epices — 75.2 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We stopped by Aux Epices, a popular French Malaysian restaurant located on the Lower East Side, for a relaxed lunch on a lazy summer day. The place has a nice, casual vibe.  Despite all the hard surfaces–tile floor, tin ceiling, open kitchen, brick wall, and a glassed front wall–the narrow space didn’t feel live, and although it was open to the dining room, the kitchen was subdued and added very little noise to the soundscape.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We don’t know why the space didn’t wasn’t louder than it was–perhaps the narrowness helped?–but it wasn’t. Even with music playing–bossa Nova and lite Euro jazz which felt appropriate if unnecessary–the soundscape was manageable.  Checking the meter mid-visit we saw that the reading was a hair under 76 dBC, which surprised us because  we would have guessed that the reading was at least a few decibels lower.

There were, of course, some empty tables–the place was more than half full when we arrived but emptied over time–and the space will inevitably get louder if every seat is taken. That said, at more than half full, Aux Epices was surprisingly manageable.

Aux Epices offers very tasty food and attentive service in a relaxed space.  We recommend a visit.

HOURS

Open 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. every day

LOCATION

Street (betw. Hester and Canal Streets), New York, NY 10013

WEBSITE

Aux Epices

Duke’s (Murray Hill) — 79.3 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Yes, we went to Duke’s in Murray Hill for lunch on purpose.  What were we thinking? In our defense, we were very hungry and entered Duke’s dripping with trepidation. On entering it was immediately clear that the decor was as loud and as the soundscape, but we were hungry, it was there, and our attempt to get a seat at nearby Sarge’s Deli, our first option, was thwarted when no one could be bothered to show us to a table.  Yes, we knew what we were getting into from the get go, but hunger won over common sense–and despite everything, we wanted to believe that we might be pleasantly surprised.  Unsurprisingly, our visit was far from pleasant.

Just four flat screen tvs over the bar?

If you look at the photos, you’ll see at least seven flat screen tvs.  There are more, of course.  All tuned to sports or cable news channels.  If an important game was playing on the tvs, there would, no doubt, have been screaming.  But there wasn’t, thank goodness, because that would have made the loud space even louder.  Mind you, there was no one noise source that stood out. It was the whole package–this sparsely populated space clocked in at 79.3 decibels and it was clear that there was nowhere to go but up.

So how was our meal? The food at Duke’s is ok for what it is, but face facts, no one really comes here for the food. It feels like a frat bar–all beers and burgers (though it is allegedly”southern,” hence food items called “The Old Kentucky Club” and “Billy Bob’s BBQ’D Brisket Sliders”). For people who like this sort of thing–drinking in a crowded bar, watching a game, and screaming at a large flat screen tv–this is the sort of thing they like.  And they should be happy to know that there are plenty of options as to where to direct their screams.

No worries, there are three larger tvs on the opposite wall!

We’re sure that Duke’s is absolutely intolerable at happy hour, late week evenings, and during their “boozy Brunch.” We could barely tolerate it at a fairly empty lunch. The only saving grace were the wait staff, who couldn’t have been lovelier.  Still, that’s hardly a reason to trek to Duke’s.  In short, there is absolutely no reason to go there unless you like to get drunk while watching sports in an uncomfortably loud space. In a word, avoid.

HOURS

Monday through Wednesday: 12:00 pm. to 1:00 a.m.

Thursday through Saturday: 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m.

Sunday: 11:30 a.m. to 12:00 a.m.

Last call for food is two hours before closing

LOCATION

(betw. 37th and 38th Streets), New York, NY 10016

WEBSITE

Duke’s (Murray Hill)

Grade Coffee — 73.4 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Grade coffee is a very small coffee shop next to an apparently unrelated barbershop, Fellow Barber.  Despite being two distinct businesses, a door is open between the spaces.  Grade Coffee space takes up very little real estate.  We didn’t have our tape measure with us, but it felt like it was well under 200 square feet.  Which was fine, as we were there for a coffee, not a nosh.

Because the space is so small, it’s quiet by default. There was music playing and it was a bit louder than we would like, but it wasn’t loud. We must note that the meter reading would have been lower but the door and window were open to the street and about halfway through our visit a large truck came by to deliver construction materials to a nearby site that will no doubt become a collection of condos owned by shell LLCs used by absentee foreign owners to park disposable cash. If the truck kept moving, the space would have been pretty darn nice. Even with it, we were fine.

Grade Coffee isn’t a place you can use as your office.  Seating consists of three small stools, and there are no tables.  One tiny ledge could barely hold a small tablet, certainly not a laptop.  So you can’t come here to work or linger.  Grade Coffee it the place you go to order, drink, and leave. Unlike most small coffee shops, Grade Coffee has a restroom available for customers.

HOURS

Monday through Friday: 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Saturday and Sunday: 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

LOCATION

Street (betw. Wythe Avenue and Berry Street), Brooklyn, NY 11249

WEBSITE

Grade Coffee

Square Diner — 75.3 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Located in Tribeca, Square Diner is a “classic a train-car diner” with a roof plopped on top.  Once inside, you can see its classic shape by looking up at the curved wooden ceiling.  Not only is the ceiling attractive, but we think its shape helps to diffuse sound.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

The interior is fairly small and narrow, and every square inch is used. With the exception of the ceiling, most of the other materials in the space are hard, reflective surfaces–glass, tile, and metal. The kitchen is somewhat exposed to the dining space, as there is a short order window behind the counter and a door to kitchen was propped open.  Fortunately kitchen sounds weren’t a problem during our visit. Unfortunately, background music was playing which served no purpose other than to annoy. Featuring 80’s hits–a perennial favorite–all it did was add an unnecessary layer of noise. If the music was turned off, we think the reading would have been below 73 dBC.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Still, the soundscape was definitely manageable, even with a fairly full house of chatty customers.  Without the music, we think it could have been close to comfortable. That said, the space didn’t feel too live, but since Square Diner is small, be advised that one or two loud people could easily dominate the soundscape.

No surprise that Square Diner offers a long menu of diner classics. The food is fine for what it is–Joe Jr’s has the city’s best diner burger, while this one was perfectly acceptable. Diners, particularly standalone diners, are a dying breed in New York City, so if you enjoy them, this one should be on your short list. Square Diner is a good inexpensive option in otherwise expensive and loud Tribeca.

HOURS

Monday through Friday: 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Saturday and Sunday: 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

LOCATION

Street (at the corner of Varick Street), New York, NY 10013

WEBSITE

Square Diner

Louis Valentino, Jr. Park and Pier — 71.9 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Louis Valentino, Jr. Park and Pier is located in Red Hook, Brooklyn, just a few blocks away from the ferry station for the new South Brooklyn ferry route.  The park includes a fairly large expanse of grass at the water’s edge, perfect for a picnic (grab a small key lime pie at Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies next door), an afternoon nap, or to catch some sun.  Or you could you could enjoy some free kayaking courtesy of the Red Hook Boaters (it’s free, but they do ask that you help with a little beach clean up afterwards).

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We won’t say that the park is totally quiet, because it isn’t–you’ll hear the occasional airplane flying overhead and ferries and other motorized boats pass by–but most of the sound you’ll hear is the wind and water lapping against the jetties coupled with occasional snippets of conversation from people nearby.  A space doesn’t need to be totally quiet to be serene.

Louis Valentino Jr. Park and Pier is lovely and comfortable place. No doubt the park is busier on weekends, and an increase in human activity will mean a concomitant increase in sound, but during the week the park is perfect. We recommend it.

HOURS

Dawn to dusk, everyday

LOCATION

(betw. Coffey and Van Dyke Streets), Brooklyn, NY 11231

WEBSITE

Louis Valentino, Jr. Park and Pier

Maman (Tribeca) — 76 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We stopped by Maman’s Tribeca location for a quick nosh one Friday afternoon. This location of the Maman mini-chain is open for breakfast and lunch only.  It’s a pretty space, but we got the worse seat in the house–at the counter looking into the kitchen. We understand the aesthetic reasons for an open kitchen–there is a bit of spectacle in watching the chefs prepare your meal–but it also is a really efficient way to introduce high-pitched china-meeting-stainless countertop and mechanical sounds into the dining space.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Fortunately, the kitchen sounds were the only obvious source of unpleasant noise.  Otherwise the space, which was half full during our visit, was fine, despite the competing conversations. There was background music, which, though unnecessary, was playing at a volume low enough so as not to affect the soundscape.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

The space is pretty, and the Maman name is well regarded, so we were surprised by the less than fabulous Croque “Maman,” the predominant ingredient of which was the bechamel sauce.  No one likes a dry Croque Monsieur, of course, but this was drowning in sauce. Because of their reputation and user reivews, we chalked it up to an off day.  Given that quiet places are hard to find in Tribeca, Maman is an acceptable option.

HOURS

Monday through Friday: 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Saturday and Sunday: 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Can purchase items to go an hour earlier each day and until 6:00 p.m.

LOCATION

(betw. Franklin and White Streets), New York, NY 10013

WEBSITE

Maman