Nom Wah Nolita — 77.3 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

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.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

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

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

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.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

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

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

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

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

Swallow Cafe — 67.8 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

What a great place. From the “no cellphones at register” sign, to the genuinely serene vibe, Swallow Cafe is what a coffee shop should be. The stools at the window are designated a laptop-free zone.  According to the barista, Swallow is aiming for a friendly, convivial space. That said, laptops were deployed in the small upstairs loft space and the larger seating area in the back, and, as a consequence, it was blissfully quiet.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

There is a lot glass at Swallow Cafe, but there is a lot of unfinished wood flooring, too. And the very high ceilings had to help dissipate what little noise there was. Yes, there was music, but the volume was low and it was more than tolerable. You can read or work or chill or space out and have a really nice coffee as you do it.  This is the kind of coffee shop you’ll want to linger in.

Swallow Cafe offers breakfast options, toasts (of course), salads, sandwiches, and the usual tea and coffee options–we enjoyed a refreshing and tasty cold brew.  If you are looking for good coffee,  friendly service, and a calm space in Cobble Hill, check out Swallow Cafe. We will definitely visit again. It’s a perfect coffee shop, and we highly recommend it.

HOURS

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

LOCATION

nue (at the corner of Clinton Street), Brooklyn, NY 11201

WEBSITE

Swallow Cafe

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

East One Coffee Roaster — 73.3 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We stopped by East One Coffee Roaster one Sunday afternoon as we meandered around Carroll Gardens, one of our favorite parts of Brooklyn. Despite the relatively quiet streets, the place was bustling. East One Coffee Roaster, the Brooklyn outpost of a London coffee shop, sits on the corner of Court and Carroll Streets. It has a large coffee shop in the front of its space and an even larger dining room in the back. Although the coffee shop was pretty packed when we arrived, there were a few seats available.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We’ve noticed recently that some coffee shops are designating various areas within their space as “no laptop zones.”  East One is no exception. In fact, we sat in one of the two laptop-free  zones (and must confess that we occasionally looked furtively at a smart phone, which may have violated the spirit of the zone but not the directive). Essentially, East One, like other coffee spots, doesn’t want to become a caffeinated version of WeWork.  That said, laptops were visible, but the laptoppers were outnumbered by the couples or groups engaging in conversation.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

The doors and windows of the place were open to the street, but since this part of Court Street doesn’t get a lot of traffic, it was fine.  Music was playing and it was a bit louder than we liked, but it was manageable.  We liked the space, finding it comfortable.  Except for waiting a little longer than expected for our coffee–the  sole barista was distracted–our visit was perfectly pleasant.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Given the heavy embrace of industrial design elements (e.g., lots of glass, a cement floor, etc.), we had expected an echo chamber but were pleasantly surprised that the room didn’t feel live. The ceiling of rough-hewn, though painted, wooden boards probably helped to diffuse the sound. Our guess is that the designer opted to paint the ceiling joists rather than cover them with wall board. It looked attractive and no doubt helps to control the sound level, so kudos for the clever design.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We checked out the back dining space and saw that it looked roomy and had a slightly quieter soundscape.  It was, however, mostly empty.  It too was heavy on the usual design elements, so proceed with caution if crowded.

Overall, we highly recommend a visit to East One Coffee Roaster. The space was attractive, and we enjoyed our coffees.  And while we wouldn’t say no to turning down the music, the soundscape was perfectly respectable despite being a very crowded space.

HOURS

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

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

Saturday:  9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

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

(Hours are for coffee shop. Dining space opens at 8:00 a.m. Monday through Friday.)

LOCATION

Street (at the corner of Carroll Street), Brooklyn, NY 11231

WEBSITE

East One Coffee Roaster

Cafe Himalaya — 72.9 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We were wandering around the southern fringe of the East Village when we spied Cafe Himalaya, a restaurant offering Tibetan and Nepali home cooking.  We’ve walked past the place many times but never went in (though we’ve been meaning to). Checking Google Maps we saw that the place had really good reviews and thought we would try it for a quick nosh.  We were not disappointed.

What a calm experience. The meter reading was higher than expected, because we felt absolutely comfortable in the space.  A couple of casement windows were opened to allow for cross ventilation, but they also allowed some street noise to enter.  Fortunately, the restaurant fronts not very busy 1st Street, though East Houston is nearby.  Perhaps it was luck, but we didn’t hear much traffic noise during our visit. We suspect the reading was higher because of a low hum coming from some unseen mechanical device–perhaps a neighbor’s air conditioning unit?  In any event, the hum was the only potentially annoying sound in the space.  We say potentially because we weren’t actually annoyed by it–it sounded like white noise and we could easily ignore it.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Cafe Himalaya is a small place with about 25 seats, half of which were taken during our visit. Despite chatter, it was really relaxing.  Music played very softly in the background and didn’t  intrude.  In fact, you would have to really focus to hear it , at times, and we suspect it probably was coming from a radio in the kitchen for the benefit of the cooks.

Service was straightforward, and we enjoyed an Inexpensive lunch.  Cafe Himalaya offers five lunch options for only $7.50. We tried the Gyathuk Ngopa, which was delicious but had some unadvertised heat.  So if you aren’t a fan of spicy food, be sure to ask your server whether your meal packs some heat.

Cafe Himalaya was a happy find and we will be sure to return.  It’s not often that you can find a tasty and inexpensive meal in a comfortable space.  We enthusiastically recommend a visit.

HOURS

Tuesday through Saturday: 12:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Sunday: 12:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Closed Monday

LOCATION

Street (betw. 1st Avenue and Avenue A), New York, NY 10009

WEBSITE

Cafe Himalaya

Aux Epices — 75.2 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We stopped by Aux Epices, a popular French Malaysian restaurant located on the Lower East Side, for a relaxed lunch on a lazy summer day. The place has a nice, casual vibe.  Despite all the hard surfaces–tile floor, tin ceiling, open kitchen, brick wall, and a glassed front wall–the narrow space didn’t feel live, and although it was open to the dining room, the kitchen was subdued and added very little noise to the soundscape.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We don’t know why the space didn’t wasn’t louder than it was–perhaps the narrowness helped?–but it wasn’t. Even with music playing–bossa Nova and lite Euro jazz which felt appropriate if unnecessary–the soundscape was manageable.  Checking the meter mid-visit we saw that the reading was a hair under 76 dBC, which surprised us because  we would have guessed that the reading was at least a few decibels lower.

There were, of course, some empty tables–the place was more than half full when we arrived but emptied over time–and the space will inevitably get louder if every seat is taken. That said, at more than half full, Aux Epices was surprisingly manageable.

Aux Epices offers very tasty food and attentive service in a relaxed space.  We recommend a visit.

HOURS

Open 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. every day

LOCATION

Street (betw. Hester and Canal Streets), New York, NY 10013

WEBSITE

Aux Epices