Waverly Restaurant — 74.1 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

The name maybe be Waverly Restaurant but this West Village mainstay is a quintessential diner with booths and counter service.  There is a full menu offering a wide range of items.  You can’t go wrong with their burgers and sandwiches, but they shine with their breakfasts.  Eggs, meat of choice, and potatoes come to the table in a small frying pan resting on a wooden plank.  The food is hot and the potatoes are actually worth eating.  And service is friendly and efficient.

For an 11:00 a.m.-to-noon visit the sound level was a comfortable 74.1 decibels.  The reading must have reflected the bustle of waiters running back and forth, because the background music was low and the surrounding chatter was manageable.   In a different space 74.1 decibels could have been uncomfortable, but not here.  That said, the restaurant was busy but not packed.  A line forms at the door after 12:00 p.m. during busy weekend brunch hours, so go earlier or be prepared to wait 15 minutes or so.

HOURS

Open 24 hours every day

LOCATION

385 6th Avenue (at the corner of Waverly Place), New York, NY 10014

WEBSITE

Waverly Restaurant

 

Three Lives & Company — 61.9 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Simply the best bookstore in New York City.  It’s smaller than most, so it doesn’t have the same selection as a megastore, thank goodness.  None of the tat, just a great selection of fiction and nonfiction classics and newly published books.  There is a small but excellent collection of cookbooks, and a wonderfully curated selection of books about New York City.  Most importantly, Three Lives looks and sounds like a bookstore should: quietly creaky wooden floors, very low and appropriate background music, small niches where you can sit and preview your potential purchase, and staff and customers (usually) talking at a whisper.  No surprise that it registered at a calming 61.9 decibels.   A must visit for the book lover.

HOURS

Sunday: 12:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Monday and Tuesday: 12:00 p.m. to 8:00

Wednesday through Saturday: 11:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

LOCATION

154 W. 10th Street (at the corner of Waverly Place), New York, NY 10014

WEBSITE

Three Lives & Company

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

David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center — 67 to 72.5 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

The David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center has a number of electrical outlets available throughout the space and free wifi; unsurprisingly, these amenities attract the laptop brigade.  This is almost always a very good indicator that a space is quiet, and it certainly is true here. In addition to free power and wifi, the Atrium offers two well-maintained restrooms with extra facilities on the second floor.

We had previously stated that the public space at 575 5th Avenue (L’Oreal building) was our favorite publicly owned private space (POPS), but that was before we visited the David Rubenstein Atrium. Everything about this POPS is just right. There is plenty of seating, with at least a dozen tables available to the public.  A ‘wichcraft offers  sandwiches and coffee (but you are not required to purchase from them and may bring in food from outside), and you can purchase tickets for Lincoln Center events.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We visited the atrium on three occasions. During our two weekday visits we found the space to be pretty serene, until, that is, a Lincoln Center promo came on a very large screeen.  Fortunately, the promo wasn’t terribly loud and only ran about a minute, but it is played every half hour or so.

The place was packed during a lunch time visit, yet it remained peaceful.  Background music played softly in the background, and while there were one or two noisy people on cell phones,  everyone else was well behaved.

Our weekend visit on a busy Sunday clocked in at 72.5 decibels.  Once again there was music playing softly in the background (bossa nova) but the bass needed to be lowered a notch. There were fewer laptop workers and more couples or small groups chatting and having a nosh. Still very pleasant, just a bit louder than during the work week.

The David Rubenstein Atrium is definitely worth visiting if you want a place to relax or to work remotely.  One caution: free performances are held in the space from time to time, but they generally are scheduled in the evening.  You can visit the website listed below and click on the “free weekly performances” link to get the current schedule.

HOURS

Monday through Friday: 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

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

LOCATION

reet (betw. Broadway and Columbus Avenue), New York, NY 11023

WEBSITE

David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center

A.O.C. — 69.5 to 78.5 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

A.O.C. had been a well frequented West Village haunt in the past. The food is reliably good, featuring French bistro classics (croque monsieur, mussels, coq au vin, etc.) and a very good burger with salad and fabulous fries.  Sadly, we had a disappointingly loud Saturday brunch visit that clocked in at 78.5 decibels. The waitstaff will lower background music if asked, and, in fact, they complied with our request on this visit, but the volume crept up when someone’s favorite song came on.

A lunch time visit was a more tolerable 74.8 decibels, but it could have been better.  Two exuberant and chatty patrons at the bar and an open the front door that let in street noise from a very busy Bleecker Street were the offenders.  A visit in late fall or the winter should be more pleasant as the door will be closed.  Once again the background music was louder than necessary, but this time the level was lowered it as soon as we requested it and it did not creep back up.  As soon as one of the loud chatty patrons left, the sound level became appreciably better.  It is worth checking out A.O.C. at lunch, but the space will likely be more pleasant earlier in the week when it is less crowded (Friday lunch is busy).

Finally, a breakfast visit was a mostly pleasant 71 decibels.  Once again the background music was a little louder than it needed to be, but there were only a handful of patrons so the space was relatively quiet by default.  The front door was open when we got there, allowing in noticeable street noise, but was shut on request (due to temperature not noise).

Overall, A.O.C. is worth the visit but should be avoided at brunch or during busy lunches and dinners.  There is a back garden that is almost always calm.  If you can get a seat in the back garden, take it–it should be tolerable at any time.  The indoor space is noticeably calmer during weekday lunch service and off hours.  One ear friendly factor: they offer paper towels along with an electric hand dryer in bathrooms.

Update: A recent mid-afternoon visit for a cafe au lait was wonderful.  Not surprising, as the place was empty.  The background music was fine this time and featured French ballads, jazz, and instrumentals.  Most importantly, the music was loud enough to be heard and no louder. Bliss.

HOURS

Sunday through Thursday: 8:00 a.m. to midnight

Friday and Saturday: 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m.

LOCATION

314 Bleecker Street (at the corner of Grove), New York, NY 10014

WEBSITE

A.O.C.

Matryoshka — 64 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

It’s in here somewhere

Finding Matryoshka, an old-school restaurant featuring Russian comfort food, takes some effort–you have to walk through a labyrinthian space to find it, as it is hidden within a Russian bathhouse (the front desk clerk will give you directions).

Photo credit: quietcitymap

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

At first, we were the only patrons during a lunch time visit, but other diners followed (including a table of chatty, jovial co-workers).  When we first walked in the waitress went up to the wall mounted tv and lowered the volume on her own initiative, so that the program played softly in the background.  The channel was one we never heard of, OANN, which reported on worldwide weather anomalies, followed by a documentary on the Hittites.  An odd choice, perhaps, but much better than loud, pulsating music.  There is no doubt that the space would have been louder if the room was full, but at 64 decibels there is room to accommodate additional diners.   [When we visited Matryoshka for lunch a few months later, the experience was the same.  There was one loud table but the tv volume was very low, resulting in a reading of 65.8 decibels.]

Matryoshka offers two prix fixe menus at lunch time ($12.95 or 16.95), both of which include a choice of salads (the house salad was simple but very fresh), soup, and an entrée, along with a basket of brown bread and butter.  The food was very good and filling and service was excellent.  We suspect the space may be louder in the evening when fellow diners are more likely to drink, so we will return to get a decibel reading during dinner service.

Photo credit: quietcitymap

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

You just don’t find many places like Matryoshka any more.  If you are in the Financial District/South Seaport area, are very hungry, and like Russian food, we heartily recommend that you check out Matryoshka.  It is well worth the visit.

HOURS

7:00 a.m. to midnight every day

LOCATION

88 Fulton Street (betw. William and Gold, closer to Gold), NY, NY 10038

WEBSITE

Matryoshka

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

Mary’s Fish Camp — 77.8 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

There usually is a line snaking up to the entrance to Mary’s Fish Camp every evening.  People start lining up before the 6:00 p.m. start to dinner service, something they’ve done for years.  Why? It’s a fabulous seafood restaurant, well known for its lobster roll and other offerings.  So it’s a real shame that a dinner visit to Mary’s is impossible.  The space is so live that it’s almost as if the designer’s brief at the top read “make the space as intolerably loud as possible.”  Sadly, he or she delivered.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

So we paid a visit at lunch time, which is the only time you can go to Mary’s and not have your ears implode. Even then the place is uncomfortably loud. And it’s painfully obvious why it’s so uncomfortable: almost every surface in the place is hard, and it doesn’t help that at least one-third of the exterior wall is glass. The kitchen is open and there is a lot of stainless steel, a tin ceiling, exposed brick walls, and lots of tile.

But, as with other aural offenders, it is the unnecessary background music that really pushes things to the edge. The music–high-pitched and too loud–bounces off every hard surface making conversation almost impossible. You have to make a real effort to listen to your companions, but it is possible with some makeshift hacks (blocking one ear, cupping the other).

Why is the soundscape so uncomfortable?  We don’t know.  Could it be a deliberate attempt to get people in and out? Possibly. The service is pretty brisk. We hope that’s not the reason, because that kind of cold calculation is simply unconscionable, particularly since  you can’t visit Mary’s without dropping a fair amount of cash. We prefer to assume it’s a misguided aesthetic  decision.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Long and short, if the music were turned off the place would still be too loud, but at least there could be a slight chance that dinner at Mary’s could clock in at under 80 decibels. But that won’t happen. We’ve stopped by Mary’s every once in a while for years now, and it won’t change. It’s been this way forever and it’s best to assume that it will continue. The food is lovely, though, so if you want to check it out go at lunch time and hope for the best.

HOURS

Monday through Saturday: 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. | 6:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.

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

LOCATION

Street (at the corner of W. 4th Street), New York, NY 10014

WEBSITE

Mary’s Fish Camp

Denny’s — 71.7 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

No, this is not a joke.  We actually went to the only Denny’s in Manhattan to see what is was like.  Why? It was the Sunday before Labor Day, we were wandering around the City Hall area, and there weren’t many other options available–many places were closed.  So we thought, what the hell, let’s see if Denny’s would try to be “hip” or would look and taste like a typical suburban Denny’s.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

The answer is that in some ways this Denny’s is like any other–the menu is full of the typical list of craptastic offerings–but the space is a lot nicer than your typical Denny’s. We sat by the bar in the front of the space (that’s where they put the smaller tables).  At first we were concerned when we saw the large flat screen tv, but even though every table was taken, the space was calm. Generic pop played softly in the background and the ceilings were high, so the soundscape was perfectly fine. It was move in day at nearby Pace University, which probably accounted for the crowd.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

So how was the food?  We don’t know. It never showed up.  Nor did we see anyone else get served. The staff was apologetic, but really, it’s a Denny’s, it’s not like the kitchen got a rush order for 20 servings of lobster Thermidor.  And given that the real reason for our visit was that we became suddenly very hungry during our jaunt and entered because we assumed we would be served quickly, let’s just say we were very unhappy.  After 30 minutes of waiting, with no end in sight, we left hungrier than when we entered (and we weren’t the only ones who walked out). Was this an anomaly?  We don’t know, and we don’t care.

If you feel compelled to visit a chain restaurant in the city, at least this one isn’t loud. But unless there are no other options, go somewhere else. New York City has over 40,000 restaurants. There is no reason to visit this one.

HOURS

6:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m. every day

LOCATION

Street (at the corner of Spruce Street), New York, NY 10038

WEBSITE

Denny’s Nassau Street