Quiet City Map: Manhattan

It’s impossible to escape noise in New York City–there’s always a background hum–but it is possible to find places that are relatively quiet, occasionally serene, or, at the least, that allow for a conversation without screaming.  So how do you find these magical places?

If you look to the right you will see the Quiet City Map: Manhattan, a guide to places throughout Manhattan where the sound levels are reliably comfortable.  The map provides ratings for restaurants, bars, coffee shops, public spaces (e.g., parks, squares, and privately owned public spaces (POPs)), museums and retail stores according to sound level and sound quality.   Reviews will be posted on this site for each place on the map, and they will continue until there are a suitable number of (relatively) quiet options throughout Manhattan.  If there is interest, more places will be added and existing reviews updated (if needed) and, eventually, a map rating places in Brooklyn will follow.  And so on.

The color-coded map icons provide an immediate snapshot of each reviewed place:

  • Dark Green = blissful/peaceful.  Dark green is awarded only to places having a decibel reading at or around 65 decibels.  Other factors will be considered, but if the decibel reading approaches 70 decibels it will be placed in the next category.
  • Light Green = conversational.  Light green is awarded to places where a conversation can be had without raising or straining your voice but where background music, design choices, or other factors result in a decibel reading at or over 70 decibels.
  • Yellow = manageable/tolerable.  Yellow is awarded if conversation is possible, but you occasionally have to raise your voice.  Yellow also designates a space that is generally conversational but has some constant negative factor, such as continual street noise, an open kitchen, background music that is a bit too loud, etc.
  • Orange = places that are only tolerable (or better) at certain times, days, or in certain rooms within the space.  For example, some restaurants and coffee shops are tolerable or conversational at lunch time or mid-afternoon, but should be avoided at brunch or dinner.  Many restaurants tend to be more crowded at brunch or dinner and alcohol is more likely to be consumed then as well.  One simple formula is almost always true: people + booze = noise.
  • Red = avoid.  Red is awarded to places that either receive a decibel reading of 80 and above or are otherwise intolerable because of the quality of the sound (i.e., constant and jarring kitchen noises, loud background music that management refuses to lower, etc.).  80 decibels is a strict bright line test, as experience has shown that that is the point at which you must raise your voice to be heard.

We use Faber Acoustical’s SoundMeter (only available for IOS) to provide the decibel readings for the reviews.  The decibel measure used is Leq (C-frequency-weighting), which provides the average decibel rating over the period of time that the sound level is recorded.  In the course of taking sound levels, we have found that 75 decibels is the point at which the sound level transitions from comfortable/tolerable to annoying or worse.  That said, a space reading over 75 decibels could receive a light green or yellow icon if the noise level does not interfere with conversation or does not seem to be a loud as recorded.  Similarly, a place clocking in at or under 75 decibels may earn an orange or red rating because of the quality of the sound–high-pitched noises, such as dishes or pots contacting a metal or tile surface, tend to be more jarring than the low rumble of street noise.  If an anomalous event occurs while the meter is running–say, a truck backfires as someone opens the door to the street–the reading will be discontinued, as a sudden, high-decibel sound peak can raise the overall reading by a significant amount.

Our reviews will generally not focus on the quality of food, drink, displays, or items offered for sale or to view, but we like good food and drink and useful or attractive things and images.  Places have been chosen for review based on location, personal experience, aggregate ratings at popular rating sites (e.g., Yelp, Google Reviews, or MenuPages), blogger and media reviews, and suggestions (see the last paragraph).  National chain restaurants, bars, and coffee shops will not be reviewed–there are plenty of local restaurants, bars, and shops to visit in Manhattan and no compelling reason to visit national chains.  We aim to include a variety of cuisines and price points, with a focus on neighborhood restaurants noted for good food and service.  Restaurants on the higher end of the scale tend to be quieter, although some may be scene restaurants that are almost guaranteed to be “lively” (or raucous, vibrant, boisterous, or whatever  euphemism du jour is used to signify that a space is loud).  Our focus is on places that may be visited regularly rather than for those spaces visited only on special occasions.

Our reviews will provide objective decibel readings coupled with subjective evaluations of comfort.  The focus, always, is on whether a space allows for conversation without strain.  Restaurants, bars, and coffee shops, in particular, are places we want to enjoy with friends or family.  The  enjoyment comes from speaking with one another, not from listening to the owner’s favorite band with the volume set at 11.

Finally, if you have any ideas, suggestions, recommendations, or questions, tweet us at @quietcitymaps or send them our way at: quietcitymaps (at) icloud (dot) com.