Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop — 72.6 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We only visited Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop in Greenpoint, Brooklyn to get a few donuts to go.  Once we walked in, we wished we had time to stay and have a coffee and donut. Peter Pan is an old-school bakery with a service counter, and at least half of the seats were taken while we were there.  And with good reason. Peter Pan has long been ranked as one of the best–if not the best–donut shop in the city.  It’s been around for over 60 years, and nothing about the place has changed.

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If you want to experience a real New York City neighborhood institution, you couldn’t find a better example. There was a constant flow of customers coming in to get donuts to go, but the bustling line wasn’t annoying.  Music played very softly in the background, and the older crowd who opted to eat in talked relatively quietly to each other.  We thought that everything about the place was perfect.

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And the donuts? Yes, they are some of the best in the city.

HOURS

Monday through Friday: 4:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

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

Sunday: 5:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

LOCATION

nue (betw. Meserole and Norman Avenues), Brooklyn, NY 11222

WEBSITE

Peter Pan Donuts

Jack’s Stir Brew (W. 10th Street) — 74.3 decibels

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We stopped by the W. 10th Street location of Jack’s Stir Brew, the first location of this popular local chain, for a post-lunch coffee and were happy to find it a pretty relaxed place. How relaxed? We were surprised at the meter reading, because it was a few decibels higher than anticipated.  We assume the meter picked up the conversation at the next table, but must note that the couple wasn’t loud–no one was.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Music played quietly in the background and traffic noise did not intrude, even as the owner or manager propped open the door to make a repair.  We’ve walked past this location of Jack’s many times and it’s usually crowded, so we were happy we found a table.  Even when crowded, though, it’s unlikely to be uncomfortable as there are only four tables and several stools.  Add in very good coffee and a nice selection of sweet treats, and we recommend a visit.

HOURS

Monday through Friday: 6:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

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

LOCATION

Street (betw. Waverly Place and Greenwich Avenue), New York, NY 10014

WEBSITE

Jack’s Stir Brew

Townhouse Diner — 69.2 decibels

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There’s a reason we love to review diners on this site, and Townhouse Diner is a good example why–69.2 decibels. Ah. Townhouse Diner is a simple, straightforward, old-school diner that gets the job done. It’s located near the entrance of the midtown tunnel, but we couldn’t hear traffic noise. Duran Duran played in the background when we arrived.  It’s wasn’t too loud, but the music was trebly and absolutely unnecessary. It was an older crowd, with the exception of one new mother and infant. Trust us, no one was listening to the music or watching Fox News on the very large flat screen. Fortunately, Fox News only offended us visually–the volume was low and we couldn’t hear it.

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In the end, Townhouse Diner wasn’t perfect, but it was more than manageable. If they turned off the tv or the music (or, one hopes, both) the space would have been really comfortable.  As it was, the noise level was more than manageable.  We recommend it for a quick nosh.

HOURS

Sunday through Thursday: 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Friday and Saturday: 6:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

LOCATION

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

WEBSITE

Townhouse Diner

Meme Mediterranean West Village — 81 decibels

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We’ll start out by saying how disappointed we were with our visit to Meme Mediterranean in the West Village.  Why? The space is attractive, the food was good, but the space was intolerable.  The usual culprit was at play–the music was entirely too loud.  In fact, the music alone clearly pushed the meter reading into the “avoid category.”  That said, music aside, the room is just poorly designed–it’s too damn live.

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How bad could it be?  When we arrived, we were the only table in the restaurant, as all of the other diners opted for sidewalk tables, and yet the space was uncomfortably loud.  It only got worse as people straggled in.

Now Hudson at Bank Street isn’t as heavily trafficked as other streets, but it’s still busy and can get noisy.  Plus we would rather not breath in car exhaust as we eat. But the sidewalk tables appeared to be more tolerable, as least as far as sound levels are concerned.  So if you want to take a chance, go ahead.  But if you will only eat in the restaurant, take a pass.  It simply isn’t worth it.

HOURS

Monday through Friday: 11:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.

Saturday and Sunday: 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.

LOCATION

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

WEBSITE

Meme Mediterranean West Village

The Gumbo Bros — 72.6 decibels

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We read a really good review of The Gumbo Bros and decided to check it out.  A couple of visits to New Orleans taught us that the po’ boy is the king of sandwiches, but trying to find a decent one in New York City isn’t easy.  Well, it just got easier, because The Gumbo Bros do a great job in bringing the taste of New Orleans to Brooklyn. We’ve tried the shrimp po’ boy and the roast beef, and both wen’t down easily.  Stick to the po’ boys and you’ll be fine.  The gumbo was ok–we aren’t big fans of the stuff, anyhow–and the side of greens was a bit too salty and spicy hot for our tastes, but those po’ boys were pretty fabulous.

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So why the love note to the food and nary a mention of the soundscape?  Because the food was outstanding but the soundscape was not.  There is one predominant source of noise at The Gumbo Bros and that is the loud music that is broadcast throughout the space.  During our visit most of the tables were taken and some people were chatty, but the chatter wasn’t that loud.  No doors or windows were open to noisy Atlantic Avenue, so traffic noise was not an issue (was it drowned out by the music?). Nope, the reason the place was merely tolerable was the music. Now you may note that the reading was only 72.6 decibels, and you would be right.  But the meter was running close to 78 decibels at first, and only went down as the place emptied out.

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In our review last week of Nom Wah Nolita we wrote that sometimes we’re willing to put up with less than comfortable spaces if the food is exceptional.  Well, these po’ boys sang to us, and even though the music was louder than we liked and the space felt live, the po’ boys make it worth stopping in for a noisy nosh. Hey, you’re not going to linger here anyhow. But the memories of that po’ boy you enjoyed? It will visit you in your dreams.

HOURS

11:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. every day

LOCATION

nue (betw. Court Street and Boerum Place), Brooklyn, NY 11201

WEBSITE

The Gumbo Bros

Sarabeth’s at Lord & Taylor — 62.5 decibels

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Here’s something we don’t often write: it was almost too quiet at Sarabeth’s at Lord & Taylor. Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, especially since we could have done without the background music, but this location of Sarabeth’s was not live at all and could best be described as sedate.

Upholstered banquettes lining the walls, a drop ceiling, and some structure kept the room calm.  Except for the unnecessary and inappropriate background music, this was one of the most serene meals we have had in a long time.  And the music–current pop hits that were most definitely not being enjoyed by the older crowd–was a mere annoyance in the otherwise comfortable space.

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We understand that some of the larger department stores in Manhattan have cafes, and some of them have been well received. The food at Sarabeth’s was fine for what it was, but no one is going to go out of their way to eat there unless they are shopping beforehand or afterwards. This restaurant exists for convenience.  And it’s worth a visit if you have some shopping to do, as it’s nice to have a civilized lunch in chaotic midtown. Sarabeth’s at Lord & Taylor is definitely a place were you can have a meal and a conversation. We recommend it.

HOURS

11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

LOCATION

424 Fifth Avenue (at 39th Street), New York, NY 10018

WEBSITE

Sarabeth’s

 

Nom Wah Nolita — 77.3 decibels

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We went to the original Nom Wah Tea Parlor last year and enjoyed our meal, so when we heard that the owner opened a smaller space in Nolita, we wanted to check it out.  Nom Wah Tea Parlor wasn’t quiet, but the space was fine and we enjoyed our meal.  No so at the Nolita location. The space was live, the music was loud, the traffic noise was unrelenting, and the food was not good enough to make up for it.

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Nom Wah Nolita is very obviously geared for a young crowd who want a club like atmosphere with their dumplings. The menu at the Nolita location is not as extensive as the original place, and the execution left a little something to be desired. Unlike the original Nom Wah, which stayed true to its original design after a thoughtful renovation, the Nolita space embraces the still popular industrial look (that seemingly will not die.) Hey, we like some of the design elements of the industrial look, but we understand that it comes with a price. And to be frank, when the price is an uncomfortably live space with pulsating music, our love for polished cement floors, glass, and subway tile goes out the door.

Nom Wah Nolita

Sometimes we are willing to accept a live space when the food is exceptional. But when it isn’t, there is no reason to put up with an uncomfortable meal. Nom Wah Nolita was simply adequate, and that’s not good enough. Though the reading for our visit was under 80 decibels, we felt uncomfortable the entire time we were there.  It’s just not suitable for adults who want to preserve their hearing.

So skip Nom Wah Nolita and go to the original Nom Wah Tea Parlor instead. Your stomach and ears will love you for it.

HOURS

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

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

LOCATION

Street (betw. Bowery and Elizabeth Street), New York, NY 10012

WEBSITE

Nom Wah Nolita

Pete’s Tavern — 71.1 decibels

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Pete’s Tavern is a long-standing bar and Italian-American restaurant located in Gramercy Park.  It claims to be the oldest continuously operated tavern in New York City (but others make the same claim). It certainly looks like it has been around forever, with an old school tile floor throughout. That floor coupled with exposed brick walls made the front of the house somewhat loud, but the back dining room was fine even though more than half full. Why? There are dividers between booths (we were in a booth) and other structure that likely interferes with sound reflection.

There was, of course, unnecessary music playing in the background, but the music wasn’t being directly broadcast into the dining space.  Rather, what we heard was music spilling over from the juke box in the front bar.  Once again, the music du jour featured one-hit wonders from the 80’s.  Why? We don’t know, but it’s such a common phenomenon that there surely must be a reason.

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There are booths and tables available in the front bar space that, while louder, appeared to be tolerable.  As in the back space, there were dividers between booths in the bar area, which presumably helped. If the music volume was lowered in this space, it would have been comfortable.  But that’s not going to happen, so aim for tolerable and you won’t be disappointed.  At least at lunch.  We have no doubt that happy hour and busy evenings will be too loud to enjoy in the bar, but the back room may be able to withstand the aural assault.

Pete’s Tavern is an attractive, old-school tavern and restaurant with reasonably priced lunch specials. The burger was pretty good, but Joe Jr. is nearby and theirs is better (but that’s a high bar). Still, this is a comfortable spot, minus the music.  With the music–and the music will remain–it is a relatively comfortable spot. If you are in Gramercy Park and want to experience a bit of old New York City, Pete’s Tavern is well worth a visit.

HOURS

Sunday through Wednesday: 11:00 a.m. to 2:30 a.m.

Thursday: 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m.

Friday and Saturday: 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m.

LOCATION

Street (at the corner of Irving Place), New York, NY 10003

WEBSITE

Pete’s Tavern

Siggy’s Good Food — 76.3 decibels

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Siggy’s Good Food offers organic, locally sourced food with many vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options. Located on Elizabeth Street in Noho, Siggy’s is a short distance from busy and noisy E. Houston Street.  So we entered with some trepidation when we noticed that the front windows were open to street.

Traffic noise isn’t an issue with the immediate, rarely traveled segment of Elizabeth Street that fronts the space, but with E. Houston only a half block away, we could clearly hear the siren when an ambulance screamed by. Luckily, only one siren was heard (and recorded) during our lunch visit, but that one short burst of sound appeared to raise the overall reading by at last a decibel.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Other than traffic noise, the only other intrusive element was the usual culprit. Yes, music was playing and was louder than it should have been, making the space merely tolerable when it could have been more. That the music rotation featured salsa with a brassy horn section, well, it wasn’t what we were expecting in a place that trades on its organic and locally sourced offerings.

Still, if you are looking for a cafe in Noho that features vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options, Siggy’s is your place. The space is larger than it looks, with small tables in front and larger  tables in a sunny back room. We arrived on the early side of lunch when the crowds were first filtering in, so the place was only half full.  As a result, there was space to spread out, which isn’t easy to find in downtown Manhattan.  As we were leaving, we could see that the place was getting busier.  No doubt that at the height of a busy lunch service the space will be louder.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Overall, we think Siggy’s soundscape should be tolerable for lunch, though we would have been very happy if they lowered the music volume.  While we aren’t certain about dinner, Siggy’s doesn’t strike us as the kind of place that people go for a long meal and copious amounts of alcohol.  It will probably be fine.

HOURS

Monday through Saturday: 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Closed Sunday

LOCATION

Street (betw. E. Houston and Bleecker Streets), New York, NY 10012

WEBSITE

Siggy’s Good Food

Hector’s Cafe & Diner — 71.8 decibels

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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.

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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