Fika (6th Avenue) — 71.6 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

There was unnecessary music playing when we visited Fika on 6th Avenue in Chelsea, but we can still recommend it.  We generally see a lot of the laptop brigade in this location during the week, but we visited on a weekend when there were fewer laptoppers and more tourists.  Even with a chattier crowd, the space was fine.

As with other Fika locations–it’s a Swedish chain with 13 Manhattan locations–the decor features lots of hard surfaces.  But even though there were not many textiles–only the chairs are upholstered–the noise level was more than manageable.  High ceilings and a relaxed crowd are mostly responsible for the soundscape.  If they only lowered the background music a notch or two–or turned if off–the space would be close to perfect.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Fika serves very good coffee and lovely sweet treats (try the cardamom bun), but it’s a bit more expensive than other coffee shops.  Also, we noted that they were advertising a live music performance later in the early evening.  We would suggest avoiding live performances in that space given how unforgiving it could be.  We’re not sure if the performance was a one of or a regular gig, so proceed with caution on weekend nights.

HOURS

Monday through Fri

Saturday and Sunday:

LOCATION

Avenue (betw. 15th and 16th Streets), New York, NY 10011

WEBSITE

Fika NYC

Pearl River Mart — 65.6 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Pearl River Mart’s Soho store was a New York City institution. Why was? Because like many longstanding and fabulous shops, their landlord demanded a criminal increase in rent and they were forced to leave. Well, they’re back!

Pearl River Mart’s new space isn’t nearly as big as the old location, so there is a smaller selection of the Chinese clothing, kitchen ware, gifts, tchotchkes and the like on offer.  As a result, instead of spending hours poring through the store, you can look at everything in far less time.  While it’s disappointing that Pearl River Mart has had to limit their inventory, it still is a good place to find inexpensive gifts and interesting housewares, and we are happy that it’s back.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Pearl River Mart’s former location was a pretty relaxed place to shop. and we are happy to tell you that the new location is too.  Classical piano played softly in the background during our weekend visit.  The place was busy but not packed; there was some chatter but it wasn’t distracting.  Overall we had a pleasant shopping experience, which isn’t a given in Manhattan.

A sea of calm on otherwise loud and busy Broadway, Pearl River Mart is well worth a visit.  Go!

HOURS

10:00 a.m. to 7:20 p.m. everyday

LOCATION

(at Walker Street), New York, NY 10013

WEBSITE

Pearl River

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

Brooklyn Roasting Company (Dumbo Headquarters) — 70.5 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We visited the Jay Street location of Brooklyn Roasting Company on a late Saturday afternoon and found it very busy but relaxed.  This location is the company’s headquarters and “roastery,” so there is a lot of space.  Large bags of green coffee beans were piled artistically around the space.  It was a bit disconcerting to see some people use them as seating, but they seemed to serve that purpose.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Because it’s a big space so you should always be able to find a relatively quiet corner.  Something that is almost guaranteed as it’s very popular with people who are beavering away on their computers.  In fact, there are always lots of laptop brigade members here, which is always a good sign.

Music played softly in the background during our visit, but as it was truly in the background we did not mind.  The coffee, unsurprisingly, is excellent and reasonably priced for Dumbo.  It should be, since they roast their own beans and sell them.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We highly recommended this location of Brooklyn Roasting Company.  There usually are savory and sweet snacks on offer, but the cupboard was a bit bare in the late afternoon.  We remember their version of a pop tart with some fondness, so if you want a snack to go with your coffee try visiting a little earlier in the day.

If you like the feeling of a big lofty space in the middle of a very industrial looking part of Brooklyn–a Con Ed transmission substation is across the street–you will be in your element.   The Dumbo location of Brooklyn Roasting Company is well worth a visit.

HOURS

7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. every day

LOCATION

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

WEBSITE

Brooklyn Roasting Company

La Bonne Soupe — 71.2 to 75.6 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We’ve visited La Bonne Soupe for lunch on three separate occasions, as it’s conveniently located a few blocks away from The Museum of Modern Art.  On our first visit, we had a very pleasant late lunch at this midtown French bistro.  The door was open to the street–and there was street noise–but it really did not impact the noise level in the place.  The main space was at least half full, and the other patrons were chatty, but the space was really comfortable.  There were a couple of obvious reasons for this: background music was actually in the background, there were upholstered banquettes lining the room, and the cloth-covered walls appeared to be padded.  The design decisions, coupled with restraint with regard to the background music, kept the noise at reasonable levels.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Our second and third visits were in late autumn, so the door was not open to the street, but the dining room was packed.  On both occasions we were seated near the loudest part of the first floor dining room–tables situated near the bar.  This area is bustling, as the busboys come over to replenish glassware and to grab utensils to reset tables, and the very friendly bartender has a booming voice.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Still, despite the chatter and glassware noise, we would still recommend a visit but would suggest that you ask for a table furthest away from the bar or ask if there is a free table on the second floor.  While we haven’t eaten in the second floor dining room, we popped up for a quick visit and discovered that it was quieter than the first floor.  There also appears to be a back dining space on the first floor, but it wasn’t clear whether customers were seated there during lunch service.

Long and short, La Bonne Soupe is a good safe option for bustling midtown.  The sound level is mostly manageable, the food is good, service was fine, and the meal was reasonably priced for the location.

HOURS

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

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

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

LOCATION

WEBSITE

La Bonne Soupe

Walker’s — 72.6 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Walker’s is a longstanding neighborhood bar and restaurant in Tribeca–the go to place for nearby residents.  Despite Tribeca’s reputation as an exclusive neighborhood favored by celebrities, Walker’s is definitely not a place where you would expect to find a scene.  Rather, it’s the place you go with family and friends to enjoy good renditions of American staples–soups, salads, burgers, sandwiches, brunch favorites, and hearty pasta, steak, and seafood entrees.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Walker’s has three distinct spaces.  It would be best to avoid the front room if there is a game on.  While it’s the biggest space, It’s also where the bar is located and there are a couple of flat screen tvs.  If there’s an important game we are sure it will be very loud.  That said, while it was noisier when we arrived, it was pretty mellow when we left.

Walker’s also has two narrow dining spaces, and they are usually much quieter than the bar area.  Our visit during a crowded Saturday brunch was pretty pleasant even with a screaming baby (the screaming, fortunately, was short-lived).  Music played in the background, but it wasn’t too loud.  Despite the crowd–and the occasional fuss–the space was perfectly fine and we enjoyed our visit.   Recommended.

HOURS

11:00 a.m. to 3:45 a.m. every day

LOCATION

Street (at the corner of Varick), New York, NY 10013

WEBSITE

Walker’s

Gorilla Coffee (Bergen Street) — 71.8 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

The Bergen Street location of Gorilla Coffee was louder than it needed to be at the beginning of our visit on a Friday afternoon.  The culprit, as usual, was the music volume.  But shortly after we sat down the volume was lowered, immediately improving the space, and our experience went from tolerable to positively pleasant.

The place was pretty full during our visit, but most people were working on their laptops or chatting softly with their companions.  None of the parties was loud.  So this location of Gorilla coffee can be recommended, but whether the experience will be pleasant versus tolerable depends on the vagaries of whomever determines the music volume.  Right after we stopped the meter, the volume again increased.  We suspect the reason for the leap in volume was that the counterperson liked the song, because once the song was over, the volume was reduced to the previous setting.

Expect a tolerable experience, with the possibility of comfort, at the Bergen Street location of Gorilla Coffee.

HOURS

Monday through Saturday: 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Sunday: 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

LOCATION

Street (betw. Flatbush and 5th Avenues), Brooklyn, NY 11217

WEBSITE

Gorilla Coffee

 

Underline Coffee — 75.1 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Underline Coffee is located by the 20th Street entrance to the High Line in West Chelsea.  The attractive space was busy during our early afternoon visit.  While the crowd was mostly quiet, once again we were assaulted by music that was too loud.  There were the usual coffee-making sounds, but they weren’t that bad.  No, it was just the music.  Had the volume been lowered one or two notches, the space could have been comfortable.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Still, there aren’t many other options in the immediate location, and the coffee was good, so you could do worse.  With luck, perhaps whoever is working that day may show some restraint.  The noise level wasn’t awful, but that shouldn’t be the measure.  Underline Coffee is tolerable, but it could be far more.

HOURS

Monday through Saturday: 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. (close at 6:00 p.m. in winter)

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

LOCATION

Street (betw. 10th and 11th Avenues), New York, NY 10011

WEBSITE

Underline Coffee

 

Karczma — 71.9 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

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

Tom & Jerry’s — 84.7 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Tom & Jerry’s looks like a fun place to meet friends for a drink.  Located on Elizabeth Street north of Houston, it’s right in the thick of things and yet it isn’t overwhelmed by car or human traffic.  But we wouldn’t suggest you meet your PETA buddies there–the righthand wall sports a number of taxidermied hunting trophies (click the photo above to see the stuffed bear on the righthand side).

We stopped by on the early side of happy hour for a quick drink before another engagement.  The bar’s space is physically comfortable (taxidermy excepted) and one could imagine aimlessly hanging out with friends, except for one glaring flaw: the music volume was set at 11.   Simply put, Tom & Jerry’s is entirely too loud.   A nearby table of workmates was shouting at each other just to be heard.  The shouting wasn’t the cause of our discomfort–and yes, we were not comfortable–it was the music.  Setting the music volume this loud makes absolutely no sense, because scoping the crowd it seemed clear that Tom & Jerry’s is the place you go to hang out with friends or work buddies, not hook up with a stranger (although later on the scene could be much different).

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We were terribly disappointed because we wanted to like Tom & Jerry’s, but a potentially comfortable spot was ruined by unnecessarily loud music.  It’s possible that the volume is manageable in the afternoon when the bar first opens and crowds have yet to gather.  Try your luck, if you wish.  As for us, we must recommend that you avoid.

HOURS

12:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. every day

LOCATION

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

WEBSITE

Tom and Jerry’s