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

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

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

Empire Diner — 86.1 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Everything is wrong at the Empire Diner. Well, everything except the food, which was tasty. Every surface is hard, street noise from open windows let in the regular siren screams from racing ambulances, and loud dance music pulsates throughout the space, dominating the soundscape. Ouch!

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

And what a shame, as the food is really good, the space is attractive, and Empire Diner is a reminder of Chelsea’s not so distant past, when it was very gay and glam. Yes, Chelsea wasn’t very quiet back in the day, but we don’t recall racing through a meal to get out before our ears exploded, either.

That said, the main room and outdoor eating were uncomfortably loud, but there was a room further in the diner that was quiet.  It was also empty.  Unclear if it would remain quiet as it fills up with spill over from the main space.  So, sadly, we must suggest you avoid Empire Diner, unless, that is, you don’t mind dining while wearing noise-cancelling headphones.

HOURS

8:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. every day

LOCATION

Avenue (at the corner of 22nd Street), New York, NY 10011

WEBSITE

Empire Diner

Scotty’s Diner — 74.8 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Our visit at Scotty’s Diner was more comfortable than the meter reading might suggest. Even though we had the worst seat in the place–opposite the area the wait staff called in orders to the cooks–we didn’t think it was that bad. Sure, there was unnecessary dance music played quietly in the background, but it wasn’t loud enough to offend and probably only added a decibel or two to the overall soundscape.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We came for a mid-morning breakfast and found the place rather crowded. It was perfectly fine, even with an almost full house.  The drop ceiling may help with noise mitigation, but the quiet crowd didn’t hurt. The only obvious voices we heard were staff barking out orders to the cooks. Otherwise there were no obnoxious sounds, despite there being a semi-open kitchen.

Scotty’s offers standard diner fare–breakfasts, burgers, sandwiches, pasta, etc.–in a traditional old-school diner setting.  We recommend it.

HOURS

Open 24 hours (diner is closed from 1:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. on Mondays)

LOCATION

Avenue (near the corner of 39th Street), New York, NY 10016

WEBSITE

Scotty’s Diner

Townhouse Diner — 69.2 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

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.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

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

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

Clark’s — 73.7 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Clark’s is a diner in the heart of Brooklyn Heights, located directly across the street from the Clark Street 2/3 subway station. It is almost always bustling, with tables of two, four, or more that cycle in and out quickly.  Clark’s offers the usual diner classics–burgers, sandwiches, salads, and extensive breakfast options–along with chicken, steaks, and seafood entrees.  The food comes out quickly, so the staff are constantly moving.

The main dining area runs the length of the space along a glass wall on the Henry Street side of the building, and the floor is tiled. Despite the presence of hard, reflective materials, the sound level was more than tolerable when we visited during a very busy lunch service. It was noticeably louder when we first entered because the place it was packed and one nearby customer had a particularly loud voice. That can’t be helped and can happen anywhere.  After  she left, the space was almost pleasant.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

When packed the place sounds a bit live as the sound from people talking bounces off the glass, but it is less obvious if the room is only half full. Classical music played softly in the background, and while not necessary, the volume was fine.  Even when the place was full it was at least tolerable.  We think Clark’s is a safe bet if you are looking for a good quick meal in Brooklyn Heights.

HOURS

Monday through Saturday: 7:00 a.m. to 8:45 p.m.

Sunday: 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

LOCATION

Street (at the corner of Henry Street), Brooklyn, NY 11201

WEBSITE

Clark’s

Ridgeway Diner — 71.2 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

The Ridgeway Diner was at least half full when we visited.  It’s located on busy 6th Avenue, so we were concerned when we saw that the front door was open to the street. Our concern was mostly misplaced, as we didn’t hear much street traffic throughout the lion’s share of our meal.  The problem, however, was that ambulances raced by, sirens blaring, at least twice during our visit. This raised the decibel reading, which is an average over the period during which the reading was taken.  It’s hard to blame a restaurant owner for random noise over which he or she has no control, but on opening the door to the street one must assume that an emergency vehicle could pass by. That said, shutting the door may have saved only a decibel or two at best, as the sirens were so loud that they would surely have penetrated into the space even if the door was shut.

Sirens aside, the place was generally calm and relaxed. Why? No music.  Other than street noise, the soundscape of the place consisted mainly of voices,  even with an open service area and a window to the kitchen.  So, despite being in a noisy and busy part of the city, we were able to eat in relative comfort.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

The Ridgeway Diner is proof that not playing background music yields benefits, particularly for businesses on very busy city streets.  The food was decent diner fare and service was efficient.  There’s nothing particularly interesting or compelling about the place except that it’s hard to find a non-national chain restaurant option in this area, making this relaxed, old-school Greek diner a lucky find.  We recommend it.

HOURS

Monday through Saturday: 7:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Sunday: 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

LOCATION

Avenue (betw. 20th and 21st Streets), New York, NY 10010

WEBSITE

Ridgeway Diner

Good Stuff Diner – 65.4 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

By Jeanine Botta

On a recent morning, I’d been running errands in Manhattan and decided to try the Good Stuff Diner on West 14th Street before heading home to Brooklyn.  I love diners and was drawn to the place’s gleaming retro design and warm tones.  A manager greeted me at the door and accommodated my request for a booth, which doesn’t always happen with solo diners.  I sat in the back among a mix of other solo diners, pairs, and groups.  Two men sat alone at separate tables eating breakfast and reading newspapers, then said goodbye to each other when one of them left.

It was just after 10:00 a.m. when I arrived, so it was somewhere between the end of the breakfast rush and the start of the lunch rush; around half of the tables were occupied in each dining area. I ordered eggs with toast and home fried potatoes, orange juice, and coffee.  All were good, and the service was fast and friendly, but not rushed.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

There was no music playing in the back section of the diner while I was there.  The average sound level  was only 65.4, but the ambience wasn’t hushed.  The predominant sound was that of lively conversation.  It was only when I walked to the front of the diner as I was leaving that I heard music, but the music was playing softly in the background and didn’t distract.

The Good Stuff Diner is recommended to tourists and other travelers, as evidenced by online reviews.  But on this weekday morning I could tell by nearby conversations that many of the diners were locals, some were regulars, and most were New Yorkers, which says good things about the place.  Given the sound level when the restaurant was just over halfway occupied, I wouldn’t hesitate to schedule a meeting or meet up with friends during a busier time.  It was good to find an aesthetically appealing, affordable, friendly restaurant with a robust menu in a part of the city where I often find myself wishing for exactly this kind of eatery.

HOURS

Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week

LOCATION

109 West 14th Street (near 6th Avenue), New York, NY 10011

WEBSITE

Good Stuff Diner