Telegraphe Cafe — 75.9 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Telegraph Cafe was fairly busy during our visit, but despite being completely full it was comfortable.  It’s a small space with a handful of tightly packed tables to the right of the entrance and stools lining the counter and the front windows.  Despite having a large glassed front, the sound level was manageable.  We assume that window shades, which had been drawn halfway down, helped to absorb or deflect the sound.

Music was playing during part of visit, but the volume was low so it didn’t add much to the soundscape.  All told, given how crowded the space was, we were quite happy with the sound level and would gladly return.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Telegraphe Cafe offers breakfast and lunch items and well made coffees.  In an neighborhood that offers few comfortable options, Telegraphe Cafe is worth visiting.

HOURS

Monday through Thursday: 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

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

Saturday and Sunday: 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

LOCATION

Street (betw. 6th and 7th Avenues), New York, NY 10011

WEBSITE

Telegraphe Cafe

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

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

Forgtmenot — 73.2 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Located in Chinatown where it merges into the Lower East Side, Forgtmenot is a laid back place that’s perfect to sit, eat, drink, and chill. It’s relaxing despite having doors and windows open to the street because this part of Division Street gets very little traffic.  There was music playing in the background, but it was fine because it actually was in the background.  Only one table was engaged in “animated” conversation, but they could be ignored for the most part.

We came to eat, but Forgtmenot probably gets more use as a bar.  It’s bigger than it looks because it extends from Division Street through to Canal Street.  The interior is divided into three separate spaces–two with bars and one smaller space in between the two.  At lunch, only the Division Street side was being served and there were some empty tables for passersby.

We were surprised how comfortable we felt given that the usual hard surface design mix was present–concrete floor, tin ceiling, and similar materials.  Maybe it was due to the oddly shaped space, or the use of textiles in the decor, or the mostly quiet crowd, but whatever the reason we really liked the space and felt relaxed and unrushed.  Conversation was not a problem, and we could easily see spending an afternoon at Forgtmenot with friends for a chat and a cocktail.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Very good service and tasty food rounded out our visit.  We added avocado to the shrimp po boy per the waiter’s suggestion and it was delicious (there’s a little heat, so ask for no hot sauce if you aren’t a fan).  We definitely recommend a visit at lunch or when it’s not packed.  Our waiter said all three rooms can get really crowded on the weekend, so if you want to visit then, or during happy hour, proceed with caution.

HOURS

Monday through Friday: 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. (kitchen closes at midnight)

Saturday and Sunday: 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. (kitchen closes at midnight)

LOCATION

Street (betw. Ludlow and Orchard Streets), New York, NY 10002

WEBSITE

Forgtmenot

Double Wide — 70.9 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We went to Double Wide for brunch one Saturday because one of us was craving biscuits with gravy, something that isn’t readily available in New York City.  But Double Wide had it and it was delicious.  And, as you can see from the meter reading, the soundscape was perfect!

Not so fast.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

The absolutely wonderful 70.9 dBC reading was taken in Double Wide’s small back patio, which was blissfully calm during our visit.  But to get to the back patio you have to walk through the  oh-so-loud bar first. That is, small back patio aside, the rest of the space is too damn loud.

So during the warmer weather months, you can enjoy your biscuits and gravy and conversation with your companions if you can score a seat outside.  And that is fine, because Double Wide is not a place you should eat at every day.  Why? Three words: loaded tater tots.  And yes, they were appallingly delicious.

HOURS

Monday through Wednesday: 3:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m.

Thursday and Friday: 3:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m.

Saturday: 11:30 p.m. to 3:00 a.m.

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

LOCATION

Street (betw. Avenues A and B), New York, NY 10009

WEBSITE

Double Wide Bar

Homestead Gourmet Shop — 71.2 decibels

Photo credit: Jeanine Botta

By Jeanine Botta

Online reviewers recommend the Homestead Gourmet Shop in Kew Gardens for its delicious homemade salads, authentic Polish and German specialty foods, highly praised apple, cherry, and cheese strudel, its friendly staff, and its charm. Regular customers and first time visitors enjoy the delicatessen’s authentic eastern European ambience, which will transport you to another place and time. But the Homestead has another authentic dimension, and that is its acoustic quality. You’ll hear sale interactions, conversations, and laughter, but that’s all you hear–there is no music or television playing in the background.

The acoustic dimension of a space is often ignored, but it takes a lot of work to create authentic soundscapes that reflect historical periods in theatrical productions. Soundscape researchers who focus on the aural environments of historic places propose that understanding the soundscape of a historic site has the potential to add a new layer of knowledge about the site’s past. In a space like the Homestead, its uncluttered soundscape may sound much as it did a century ago, when the space’s first occupant was a grocery store and delicatessen.

Photo credit: Jeanine Botta

The Homestead has counter service, and most customers take out their purchases, but there are two tables that each seat four. The closest subway station is Union Turnpike, where the E and F trains stop, and the Homestead is a ten-minute walk. You can also reach Kew Gardens by Long Island Railroad from Penn Station or from Jamaica.

The Homestead Gourmet Shop alone is worth the trip to Kew Gardens, but the village itself is absolutely charming. A few blocks away, Forest Park features several walking paths, and Kew Gardens Cinemas is right up the block, a five-screen multiplex featuring first run independent films and a lobby with its original Art Deco style preserved.

HOURS

Monday  Closed

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

Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

LOCATION

81-45 Lefferts Boulevard (at the corner of Cuthbert Road), Kew Gardens, Queens, NY 11415

WEBSITE

No website

Peter McManus Cafe — 65.3 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

What a pleasant surprise we had when we ducked into the Peter McManus Cafe, an Irish pub located in Chelsea, for a quick midweek lunch.   The pub, which was founded in 1932,  has been in its current location since 1936.   We can vouch that it looks like very little has been done to the interior since that time (which we think is a good thing).  The cafe has a bar in the front that is lined with stools, with a few tables and two or three flat screen tvs playing the game du jour.  In the back there is a dining room that is open to the bar area, but somewhat shielded from bar noise.

When we arrived all the tvs were on in the bar and dining room, but only one tv in the bar had the volume turned on.  This was not a problem at all, as it could easily be heard by the patrons sitting at the bar but was merely a background hum in the dining area, where we had our meal. With a decibel reading of 65.3, this was one of the most peaceful lunches we have had in a long time.

There is no question that the place was so quiet because is wasn’t crowded. In fact, the bar was only half full and the dining room was mostly empty.  That said, we think lunches generally should be comfortable, particularly in the dining space.  Our suspicion was confirmed by our friendly and efficient waitress who said that lunches tend to be quiet unless there was a big game on tv.  She noted that the space tends to be louder at dinner, but added that the jukebox in the front did not play in the dining area.   And no surprise, she confirmed that the place will be packed and noisy anytime there is a big game.

Peter McManus Cafe felt more like a pub with food than a restaurant, but they turned out a very freshly made and tasty club sandwich.  There are at least a dozen beers on tap and another dozen in bottles, plus an extensive list of whiskies from around the world.   More importantly, the place felt like a real neighborhood bar, and it was clear that the patrons lining the bar were regulars.

If you want to enjoy a beer and a burger in relative peace, head on over to the Peter McManus Cafe.   Neighborhood bars are a real rarity in Manhattan.  Enjoy this one while it’s still around (just don’t come during the Superbowl).

HOURS

Monday through Saturday: 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 am.

Sunday: 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m.

LOCATION

WEBSITE

Peter McManus Cafe

Sarabeth’s at Lord & Taylor — 62.5 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

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.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

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

The Gumbo Bros — 72.6 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

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.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

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.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

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

Dudley’s — 79.8 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Dudley’s is an attractive Aussie restaurant and bar located in the Lower East Side.  We stopped by for lunch on a Monday and it was packed.  Mondays tend to be a bit less hectic as a rule, so we were surprised.  With the tables all taken, we headed to the bar.

The place has a really nice feel and is aesthetically pleasing (at least we thought so).  There is definitely a low-key vibe about the space, but it also is decked out in hard, unforgiving materials–stainless steel, glass, mirror, and tile.  With two sides of the space consisting of windows and a mirrored bar as the third, it ensures that Dudley’s will be loud most of the time. One potential mitigating factor–emphasis on potential–was the unfinished brick vaulted ceiling.  We have found that vaulted ceilings seem to help in other settings, but are unsure whether it diffused any sound here.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

And there was music, of course. The volume wasn’t awful, but given that the space is essentially a small glass box, it would have been nice if it was lowered or shut off entirely. The end result is that we found it tolerable, barely, at a busy lunch, and we assume the sound quality will be at least the same–if not worse–at brunch and dinner.  It’s a real shame, because if the sound level wasn’t a factor we would highly recommend the place.  The staff was laid back, the food was good, and it had the potential to be a comfortable space.

So it would be best to avoid Dudley’s when there is a crowd and to proceed with caution any other time. Happy hour or other boozy times are likely to be a scream fest, so don’t even think about it.

HOURS

Sunday: 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Monday through Thursday: 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Friday and Saturday: 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.

Bar stays open to 2:00 a.m. every day

LOCATION

Street (betw. x and y), New York, NY 10002

WEBSITE

Dudley’s