Han Dynasty (East Village) — 75.9 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

The East Village location of Han Dynasty was less than half full when we arrived for lunch, but it quickly filled up and was at least half full by the time we left.  Overall we found the space merely tolerable, which raises concerns for the noise levels when the space is packed.  Han Dynasty has lots of hard surfaces with few few elements that could absorb sound, though unframed art work may have mitigated noise a hair.  Once again there was one overarching factor for the less than optimal soundscape: the music was too loud.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Yes, it could have been worse–our ears weren’t bleeding, after all–but we found the space to be  rather live, and the music (odd choices, by the way) just dominated the soundscape.  There were lots of work groups in the place and they were chatty, but their voices were manageable.  If the music were lowered a couple of notches, the space could have been comfortable.  It was, instead, merely tolerable, and that depended, more on less, on the song that was playing at any given time.

Han Dynasty offers very reasonable and tasty lunch specials.  If the place is packed and the music volume is as loud as it is at lunch, the noise level  probably will be intolerable.  That said, we tolerated the noise level during our visit, but wish it was better.  Why not aim for comfortable?  We suggest that you proceed with caution.

HOURS

Sunday through Wednesday: 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Thursday through Saturday: 11:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.

LOCATION

Avenue (betw. 12th and 13th Streets), New York, NY 10003

WEBSITE

Han Dynasty–East Village

Veselka — 72.4 to 78.7 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Our first lunch time visit to the always crowded Veselka clocked in at 78.7 decibels.  The reading was higher than expected (we would have guessed that the sound level was in the lower 70s), but we were seated at the counter within a few feet of the open kitchen and our decibel meter obviously picked up all of the nearby sounds (staff chatter, occasional china noises, and a cook singing softly to himself).  We were also right next to the area where the waitstaff pick up dishes to deliver to their customers.

Even being in the worst possible seat in the house, the sound level wasn’t that bad. The fact that Veselka does not play background music really helps.  On our way out,  we quickly recorded the sound level in the nearby dining room.  It was 72.4 decibels, which was more than acceptable.  The lesson here is that at Veselka you must balance your desire to be seated quickly (counter seats are easier to get) against your desire for a quieter meal.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

On our second lunch time visit, the meter registered 75.9 decibels, which again was higher than we would have guessed.  There are a lot of hard surfaces in the restaurant, including big windows looking out on 9th street, but the absence of background music makes a huge difference because the space was mostly comfortable.  If background music had been playing we think the reading would have easily been ten points higher.   With music, the crowded room–there was a wait when we arrived–would have been unbearable.  Without music, the noise level was mostly manageable, with the bulk of the sound coming from the many conversations throughout the room that were conducted at reasonable levels (i.e., no screamers).

One other plus: No electric hand dryers at Veselka; only paper towels are provided in the restrooms.

And finally, although we focus on sound levels and comfortability, we would be remiss is we didn’t note that Veselka offers one of the finest bowls of borscht in the city.  They are also noted for their tasty and filling pierogis.

Attention restauranteurs, this is how you run a busy but comfortable space: kill or aggressively reduce the volume of background music.  It’s an easy thing to do and it offers immediate relief.

HOURS

Open 24 hours a day

LOCATION

WEBSITE

Veselka

Karczma — 71.9 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Karczma is a lovely Polish restaurant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, a neighborhood that still has a large Polish population.  There is a bar in the front with a few tables on the opposite wall, and further back there is a dining room.   Unsurprisingly, the menu offers Polish home cooking served by women in traditional dress.

All of the booths in the dining room were taken during our lunch time visit, and there were only a few tables free.  Most tables were occupied by couples or groups, so there was plenty of conversation (and beer).  Polish music played softly in the background, yet the dining room was perfectly pleasant.  No doubt the decor helped, as it featured a fair amount of unfinished wood and was decidedly old school–the antithesis of the Industrial look responsible for much of the loudness at most restaurants today.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

If the place is packed it will, of course, be louder.  That said, the dining room was over half full during our visit, plus a handful of people at the bar, and it was perfectly fine.

Our lunch was big, fresh, and tasty.  Filling doesn’t come close to describe it.  Somehow we managed to finish it, convinced that we wouldn’t have to eat until the next day (and we were right).  Note that it’s a meaty menu, so it’s not the place to bring your vegan friend.

HOURS

Sunday: 12:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Monday through Thursday: 12:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Friday and Saturday: 12:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.

LOCATION

Avenue (betw. Manhattan and Franklin Streets), Brooklyn, NY 11222

WEBSITE

Karczma

Paul’s Da Burger Joint — 74.6 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We stopped by Paul’s Da Burger Joint despite its name because we read that it had been around for at least 25 years, which is starting to be a real milestone for New York City restaurants.  We assumed that the good reviews on various restaurant sites, coupled with the 25+ year history meant we were going to have some pretty fabulous burgers.  But we were wrong.  There’s no compelling reason to come here.

Background music was playing softly when we entered, which was encouraging. There’s an open kitchen, so you’ll hear the annoying grill sounds along with the cooks and staff chatting but it’s manageable.  Shortly after we were seated the waitress took our order. Then, inexplicably, someone raised the volume of the music–a classic rock radio station–when a song by Meatloaf came on.  On purpose.  Just our luck, it turns out it was a block of Meatloaf.  While the volume wasn’t set at 11, it was too loud.  And it was Meatloaf.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

A really tasty burger could have made up a bit for the soundscape, but what we got was just meh.  The burger looked good but it had an odd taste, or, more accurately, not much taste–it was more like a chopped steak than a burger, and not in a good way.  The space smells of beef fat and whatever oil they use to fry their french fries, and it didn’t smell fresh.  So we thought to ourselves, why come here? Streecha is around the corner, Veselka is nearby, and if you want a good old-fashioned burger, walk nine short blocks to Joe Jr. to taste what a great diner burger should taste like.

In short, there’s no reason to eat here: the place smells of stale fried beef fat, the burger is fairly tasteless, and the music is too loud.  Ok, one reason to eat here would be that you’ve completed an East Village bar crawl, you drank way too much, and you need to put something–anything–in your stomach right this minute.  Otherwise, avoid.

HOURS

Sunday through Thursday: 11:00 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.

Friday and Saturday: 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m.

LOCATION

Avenue (betw. 7th and 8th Streets), New York, NY 10003

WEBSITE

Paul’s Da Burger Joint

Wasan — 64.2 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We stopped by Wasan for a Monday lunch and found it surprisingly busy.  Perhaps it shouldn’t have been surprising, as this small space was perfectly comfortable–despite one boomy and animated customer who spoke nonstop.  Jazz played softly in the background throughout our lunch, and the other guests either tuned in to their laptops or chatted very softly to each other. The soundscape was exactly what we like. Not silent, but the sound from chatter and music was in the background and wafted around, never dominating or intruding into our space.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

There is a large window in the front of the restaurant, but fabric drapes the bottom half and a heavy curtain hangs by the front door.  No doubt the drapery helped absorb sound. The seats have fabric covers and that may have helped too. Mostly, the space works because the atmosphere is serene and most people respect it by speaking softly.

At least half the tables were taken during our visit, so even if full the space should be at least tolerable.  Wasan offers lunch specials, including fabulous bento boxes.  We really enjoyed our meal and highly recommend a visit.

HOURS

Monday through Friday: 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. | 6:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Saturday and Sunday: 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

LOCATION

Street (at 5th Avenue), Brooklyn, NY 11217

WEBSITE

Wasan-NY

 

 

Taiwan Bear House — 70.4 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We stopped by Taiwan Bear House for a quick lunch on the July 4th holiday.  Many restaurants in Manhattan close on the 4th, but not in Chinatown.  Still, while Chinatown was generally crowded, the place wasn’t busy–only one other table was occupied. But we think our visit was pretty representative of what you can expect even if every seat is taken, because it’s a small space–there are only five tables for two and six stools–and Taiwan Bear House does not play music.  Together, these two factors ensure that eating in should be relatively pleasant.

And it was pleasant.  We were absolutely comfortable. The design elements, standing alone,  would lead one to expect a livelier soundscape, but the place was very quiet. In fact, we were surprised that the reading was over 70 decibels, but suspect that it’s due to a mechanical hum coming from the kitchen.  The hum didn’t bother us, to be frank–it sounded like white noise, and was neither annoying or distracting.

Taiwan Bear House isn’t a destination spot.  It’s a place that you order food to go or eat in and run.  The menu consists of a series of “bento boxes,” which are round containers that look like steamers that are filled with rice, vegetables (cabbage), a piece of firm tofu, some ground meat (pork?), and a protein (mostly pork or chicken).  The food was filling and tasty, and our meal was quick and quiet.  We recommend it.

HOURS

11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. every day

LOCATION

Street (betw. Bowery and Mott Streets), New York, NY 10013

WEBSITE

Taiwan Bear House

Hector’s Cafe & Diner — 71.8 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Hector’s Cafe & Diner is another long-time New York City diner, but this one is in the pricey Highline neighborhood–right under it in fact–and one of the few reminders that the heavily-touristed Meatpacking District actually was a meatpacking district in the not-so-distant past.  Hector’s was a place where the butchers and truck drivers could go after a shift or delivery, followed by the club kids and sex workers after midnight.

The neighborhood has since became popular, but it used to stink of beef blood in the summers.  We remember driving in a convertible one hot, sticky August afternoon years ago–it was something we never attempted again. Not that it would be possible today. According to the Meatpacking District Improvement Association website, only five meatpacking businesses remain (where there once had been 250), so Hector’s serves as a reminder of the past while satisfying a real need by offering inexpensive and quick diner classics in an increasingly over-marketed, over-developed, and over-priced part of downtown Manhattan.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

If it seems like we favor diners, there’s a reason. First, most diners tend to play no music or set the music volume on low.  Second, although New York City appears to be teeming with diners, truth is, they are disappearing, and as they die off so too dies the possibility of securing a (relatively) inexpensive meal in a (generally) comfortable space.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

So, how is the soundscape at Hector’s? Pretty good. There is unnecessary background music, sadly, but the volume was really low. Why places insist on doing this is beyond us, as you can’t really hear the music but you can’t entirely ignore it. Still, at the end of the day the space wasn’t live despite lots of glass and tiled floors (perhaps due to the drop ceiling?), and as the meter reading shows, the sound level was in a good range.

We concede that it wasn’t very crowded when we visited for a late morning breakfast, but it was obvious that Hector’s is a relaxed place with a subdued crowd. That said, early morning hours may be quite different, especially when the partying crowd comes in for something to soak up all the booze.  So if you are visiting the Meatpacking District during the day or early evening hours, stop by for a quick, inexpensive, and mostly comfortable meal.  Proceed with caution after midnight.

HOURS

Sunday: 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Monday and Tuesday: 2:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.

Wednesday through Saturday open 24 hours

LOCATION

Street (at Washington Street), New York, NY 10014

WEBSITE

Hector’s Cafe & Diner

Pinkerton Wine Bar — 76.7 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Pinkerton Wine Bar is a live space filled with loud, trebly music.  It’s located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where we were wandering around early one evening. It looked inviting, but shortly after we entered we contemplated leaving because the soundscape was dominated by one very loud guy who was shouting over the unnecessary music. It seemed clear to us that he had early signs of hearing loss.  Well, we all do now.

It’s a shame that the space is so uncomfortable, because the place looks like a great neighborhood bar, the bartender was attentive, and there are $1 oysters all night long (you have to buy a drink for the oyster deal).  But it’s a live loud box.  The bar is just one small open room with lots of windows and a tiled floor.  The only way they could make the space comfortable would require shutting off the music, which we assume is not an option.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Even though the decibel reading was under 80 decibels, we were leaning towards recommending that you avoid Pinkerton Wine Bar. But there is another option–you could aim for an outdoor table. Pinkerton Wine Bar has outdoor seating ringing the place, and the street traffic wasn’t that bad. In fact, outside seating was a lot calmer and quieter than inside.

So our recommendation is that Pinkerton Wine Bar should be tolerable, perhaps better, if and only if you get an outside table. Inside seating should be avoided because the place is too live to be comfortable, particularly if music is playing (and it will be).

HOURS

Monday through Thursday: 5:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.

Friday: 5:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m.

Saturday: 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m.

Sunday: 1:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.

LOCATION

Street (at the corner of Havermeyer Street), Brooklyn, NY 11211

WEBSITE

Pinkerton Wine Bar

Shorty Tang Noodles — 76.3 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Short Tang Noodles is an homage to its namesake, who is credited with introducing cold sesame noodles to New York City.  According to Grub Street, Shorty Tang’s cold sesame noodles were considered the best, and his son and grandson have opened a place as a tribute to him using his original recipe.  So of course we ordered the cold sesame noodles when we visited Short Tang’s for a lunch time nosh.

There are lots of hard surfaces at Shorty Tang’s–tile floors, a wall of glass in the front, tiled back wall, and a semi-open kitchen–but the place was tolerable because background music, though unnecessary, was playing at a low volume. Even though one front window was open to 8th Avenue, street noise didn’t contribute much to the soundscape. Maybe it was dumb luck, but 8th Avenue was surprisingly calm during our visit–there were no sirens or honking.  We must note that the restaurant wasn’t full while we were there, and it will naturally be louder if packed, but for a half full lunchtime visit it was perfectly fine.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

So how was the signature dish?  Pretty good, but not life changing.

Overall, the room leans toward live, with competing layers of noise, but it was tolerable at lunch time.  If crowded, it’s likely that the live space will be overwhelmed.  And be aware that voices carry here, so if there’s a screamer among the other patrons, you will hear them loud and clear.

HOURS

Sunday through Thursday: 11:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Friday and Saturday: 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.

LOCATION

Avenue (betw. 14th and 15th Street), New York, NY 10011

WEBSITE

Shorty Tang Noodles

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