Zucker Bakery — 71.6 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Only one way to sum up our visit to Zucker Bakery–what a great place! Zucker is a very relaxed and quiet bakery cum coffee shop located in the East Village. When we first entered it was clear the space would be perfect–and it was. Halfway into our visit another baker joined the crew. He, unlike the others, was a bit of a Chatty Cathy, but everyone else–staff and customers–was pretty quiet.  As a result, his chatter didn’t change the overall vibe of the place.

The space is homey and comfortable, and though music was playing, the volume was low and the music choices were perfect–very relaxing tunes that were not at all jarring.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

There were other people present in the small space, but they mostly stared at their laptops, nursing their cups of coffee. They appeared to be regulars, and they really set the tone.  Zucker Bakery is a great place to sit and do your work, or to grab a coffee and treat to go.  We enjoyed a first-rate cortado, and the almond sandwich cookie with chocolate halvah filling the counterwoman recommended was pretty fabulous.

If you live in the neighborhood, this is your favorite coffee shop.  We highly recommend a visit.

HOURS

Monday through Friday: 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Saturday and Sunday: 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

LOCATION

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

WEBSITE

Zucker Bakery

Bread & Butter — 77.1 to 81.3 decibels

Photo credit: Jeanine Botta

By Jeanine Botta

When it comes to nutrition and healthy eating, salad bars have a bad reputation, and concerns are often justified. People tend to make unhealthy decisions that cancel out healthier choices, selecting all the right vegetables before adding hundreds of calories worth of salad dressing and fats that should be eaten sparingly. But if you make smart choices, you can eat well and get your recommended daily requirements of fruits and vegetables that real world American diets often lack.

Working for several years in Midtown, I’d sometimes fit twenty minutes at a gym, thirty minutes at a salad bar, and a quick walk into my lunch hour. Then my company’s headquarters moved to North Carolina and the rest of us started working from home. How I missed the salad bar! Suddenly I had to be more responsible for buying, cleaning, and preparing my own vegetables.

Bread & Butter on Fifth Avenue is the salad bar I visited most often during those years, and even now I’ll go there sometimes for a quick meal. During peak hours, the food is fresh, the recipes are good, and there are abundant healthy choices. Like most salad bars where food is weighed, prices are on the high side. But without having to tip a server or buy, clean, and prepare fruits and vegetables, you save money and time, and boost consumption of those foods.

When I measured sound levels at Bread & Butter, I was surprised the decibel reading wasn’t  lower, because I’d always considered both dining areas to be moderately quiet. Upper and lower levels each feature a television set and piped in music set at low volumes, and on the lower level, sounds of voices at high occupancy can block out television and music. I measured sound sitting directly under a speaker and sitting several feet away – where you can’t hear the music – and obtained similar sound level readings.

If you prefer a predictably quiet sound level and prefer to avoid any amount of broadcast sound, you’ll be taking your chances at Bread & Butter. It is quieter before noon and after peak hours, but after the lunch rush some food selections are not replenished when they run out. Food is also replenished less frequently in the salad bar, there are fewer food selections, and the lower level may be closed on weekends.

But if you’re happy with moderate sound levels in a busy Midtown eatery, the ease of communication is usually decent at Bread & Butter on Fifth Avenue, especially on the lower level.

HOURS

Open 24 hours

LOCATION

303 Fifth Avenue (at the corner of 31st Street), New York, NY 10016

WEBSITE

Bread & Butter

Café Regular — 70.7 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We stopped by Café Regular on a Friday afternoon. There was one other customer sitting and enjoying a coffee at the start of our visit; most people were getting coffees to go. The only sound we heard at first were voices, mainly staff chatting with each other and with regulars.  A few minutes in and music starting playing, but the volume wasn’t bad at all–it was truly background music.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

The decibel reading reflects that there was an extended period of bean grinding near our table.  Without that it’s likely that the reading would have clocked in at under 70 decibels. Bean grinding aside, we thought that the soundscape was very manageable.

Importantly, the design of the space should insure a comfortable noise level at most times. Namely, the way in which the seating is arranged encourages solo visits. There are a handful of small tables that are reminiscent of elementary school desks–they would be awkward for a party of more than two.  Simply put, the space isn’t designed for large chatty groups.  Not a bad thing, to be frank.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Overall, we recommend a visit to Café Regular.  It was a laid back space with very good coffee and relaxed service. Ulike many coffee only places, Cafe Regular has a restroom available for customers.

HOURS

Monday through Friday: 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Saturday and sunday: 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

LOCATION

Street (near 5th Avenue), Brooklyn, NY 11215

WEBSITE

Cafe Regular

Canal Street Market — 77.7 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Canal Street Market is a food court/mall (featuring “top retail/design concepts”) that recently opened on Canal Street, in Manhattan’s Chinatown.  It’s a loud and busy place with an interesting mix of food vendors serving mainly Chinese, Korean, and Japanese cuisine, along with some fusion mixes and a couple of sweet options.

The first thing you notice on entering the space is that the music is way too loud. The second is that management very obviously wants a young crowd–the music featured rap during our visit. The soundscape wasn’t helped by keeping the main doorway open to traffic noise from Canal Street.  Canal Street is always loud and chaotic, with constant horn honking and seemingly unending sirens. Trying to find a spot to have a quick nosh by the front of the space is a nightmare if you care about your ears.  It simply is unpleasantly loud.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Fortunately the soundscape is a bit better in the back of the space near the restrooms, but there is very little seating.  Instead, there is a dining area comprised almost entirely of tables and ledges for standing, with just a few areas where one can sit. And while the dining area wasn’t as loud as the front of the space, it wasn’t pleasant, just less annoying.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

In the end, we were happy to leave and surprised that the reading clocked in at under 80 decibels. Despite avoiding the 80 decibel bright line standard–we recommend avoiding any space over 80 decibels–we think it best to avoid eating at the market.  On a busy day with an open door and loud music, the space squeaks by, barely.  The food options have received good reviews, so if you want to visit we suggest avoiding the front of the space nearest Canal Street–go to the back where the standing tables are located and try your luck.  Or grab something to go.

In the end, Canal Street Market is not a comfortable space and some of the food options seemed pricey for a food court. The space borders Chinatown, so you have lots of dining options.  Proceed with caution.

HOURS

10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. everyday (retail market hours differ)

LOCATION

Street (betw. Broadway and Lafayette Street), New York, NY 10013

WEBSITE

Canal Street Market

Rangoli — 67 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Rangoli is a moderately priced Indian restaurant located on the Upper East Side. We  stopped by for lunch after an appointment nearby.  Rangoli offers a very reasonable lunch special–50% off if you eat in and pay cash–a veritable bargain for the area.  Our meal was both inexpensive and very tasty.  If we lived or worked in the area, Rangoli would be on our regular rotation.

The front of the restaurant has a bar and small dining area that is somewhat separated from a larger back dining by a wooden column.  It’s not a true separation, but it does break up the space.  We were seated in the back dining area.  At the beginning of our visit, the room was absolutely quiet.  No surprise, as the place wasn’t that crowded–there were maybe five other tables occupied and many had only one patron. That said, two customers compensated for the lack of a lunch companion by talking on their phones the entire time they were eating. Yes, it was annoying, particularly since people tend to talk a bit louder on their phones than to a nearby companion, but it didn’t move the meter that much.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

The flooring throughout the space is tiled, but tablecloths and upholstered booths and chairs probably helped to absorb or diffuse some of the sound.  Indian ballads played in the background, and while it was a hair louder than it needed to be, the decibel reading shows that the space was perfectly fine.

Overall, conversation is easy during a lunch visit, but we really can only guess as to what the soundscape is like during a busier period.  While Rangoli would no doubt be noticeably louder when packed, we found the staff to be very accommodating and think a request to lower the music volume would be satisfied.  At the minimum, it would be worthwhile to give Rangoli a try.

HOURS

Monday through Friday: 11:00 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

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

LOCATION

Avenue (betw. 72nd and 73rd Streets), New York, NY 10021

WEBSITE

Rangoli Indian Cuisine

Ani Sushi — 72 to 76.3 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We have visited Ani Sushi on a number of occasions to take adavantage of their very reasonable lunch specials. Located on busy Montague Street, Ani Sushi is one of the best lunch time options in the immediate area. Their food is always fresh and service is first rate. The only issue we have with the place is its soundscape.  Specifically, they play club music that is louder than it should be.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

It’s inevitable that the introduction of music would make Ani Sushi louder than it should be because the design choices ensure a live space. There is a wall of glass in the front that reflects a lot of the sound back into the front room. The seating in the front overlooking Montague Street is odd and a little uncomfortable, as all the seats face forward, requiring you to sit beside your dining companions.  It’s awkward if you want to have a conversation.

Since the noise level is also louder in the front of the restaurant, we suggest you aim for the handful of tables located opposite the sushi bar. They are in a small sort of niche, which seems to help with the sound level.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Now about that music…  It’s the same with each visit–loud, jarring pop and generic dance music.  We know we are in a Japanese restaurant but it sounds like we are in a discotheque as the sound track features B-side disco tunes from the past.  It doesn’t make much sense, and, sadly, it makes the space merely tolerable when it could be so much more.

In the end, Ani Sushi is worth the visit because of their very reasonably priced, delicious lunch specials and friendly, attentive staff.  Just try to avoid sitting in the front dining area if you can, and your dining experience should be manageable.  We haven’t eaten at Ani Sushi at dinner, but expect the soundscape to be similar and note that they offer dinner specials too.

HOURS

Monday through Thursday: 11:00 a.m. to 9:45 p.m.

Friday: 11:00 a.m. to 10:45 p.m.

Saturday: 12:00 a.m. to 10:45 p.m.

Sunday: 12:00 a.m. to 9:45 p.m.

LOCATION

(betw. Henry and Clinton Streets), Brooklyn, NY 11201

WEBSITE

Ani Sushi

Clark’s — 73.7 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Clark’s is a diner in the heart of Brooklyn Heights, located directly across the street from the Clark Street 2/3 subway station. It is almost always bustling, with tables of two, four, or more that cycle in and out quickly.  Clark’s offers the usual diner classics–burgers, sandwiches, salads, and extensive breakfast options–along with chicken, steaks, and seafood entrees.  The food comes out quickly, so the staff are constantly moving.

The main dining area runs the length of the space along a glass wall on the Henry Street side of the building, and the floor is tiled. Despite the presence of hard, reflective materials, the sound level was more than tolerable when we visited during a very busy lunch service. It was noticeably louder when we first entered because the place it was packed and one nearby customer had a particularly loud voice. That can’t be helped and can happen anywhere.  After  she left, the space was almost pleasant.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

When packed the place sounds a bit live as the sound from people talking bounces off the glass, but it is less obvious if the room is only half full. Classical music played softly in the background, and while not necessary, the volume was fine.  Even when the place was full it was at least tolerable.  We think Clark’s is a safe bet if you are looking for a good quick meal in Brooklyn Heights.

HOURS

Monday through Saturday: 7:00 a.m. to 8:45 p.m.

Sunday: 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

LOCATION

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

WEBSITE

Clark’s

Shopsin’s — 73.3 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Shopsin’s is a genuine New York City institution.  It’s been around since 1971, though it has had to move twice due to criminal rent increases. The owner, Kenny Shopsin, is famous (or is that infamous?) for being unconventional.  It used to be that if you asked too many questions or otherwise got on his last nerve he would throw you out of his restaurant. But he may have mellowed. To get a flavor of his character and approach to food, you could pick up a copy of his cookbook: Eat Me.

The original Shopsin’s space was on Bedford Street in the West Village.  It kept “interesting” hours, as in no one really knew what the hours were. There were lots of unhappy neighbors when Shopsin’s lost their lease and had to move to Carmine Street.  And then they had to leave Carmine Street. Fortunately, Shopsin’s found space in the Essex Street Market and it feels like a good fit. Yes, the space is much smaller than either of the earliest spaces, but there are  about six small tables and some stools by the counter.  Maybe you’ll have to wait.

Once seated you will be given an odd, rambling menu that reads like a Dr. Bronner’s label–voluminous doesn’t come close.  Seriously, there are 100s of items to choose from, and it’s hard to know where to start.  Order something savory, and a tray with seven hot sauces will be placed on your table.  Because you should have choices.  Prices are interesting, with some items costing more than you would think, others less.  Nothing really makes sense at Shopsin’s, and that’s the point.  It exists to give voice to Kenny Shopsin’s take on life. In fact, he was chatting with a regular when we were there, talking about running a business and how difficult it had become, the decline of work, automation, etc.  It was fascinating and we didn’t feel guilty listening in. (not that we could avoid listening in).

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We tried one of Shopsin’s signature sandwiches called the Jewboy (and yes, there’s a Jewgirl). It was tasty but had hot sauce which wasn’t included in the short description on the menu.  It wasn’t head exploding hot, but tongue tingling at the least.  So if you can’t handle hot sauce, just ask if it’s included in whatever you are ordering.

So what is the sound level like? The soundscape of the place is perfectly fine. The only real sound came from Kenny Shopsin holding court, Shopsin’s staff  making and serving the food, and people entering the market (Shopsin’s is by one of the entrances).  We thought it was comfortable.  During our visit about half the tables were taken at one point, but even if full we think the sound level should be fine.

Shopsin’s is not a typical restaurant.  It’s a one-of-a-kind place worth experiencing if you want to have a taste of what New York City was like and still can be.

HOURS

Sunday: 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

Closed Mondays and Tuesdays

Wednesday through Saturday: 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

LOCATION

Street (in the Essex Street Market), New York, NY 10002

WEBSITE

Shopsin’s

Ridgeway Diner — 71.2 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

The Ridgeway Diner was at least half full when we visited.  It’s located on busy 6th Avenue, so we were concerned when we saw that the front door was open to the street. Our concern was mostly misplaced, as we didn’t hear much street traffic throughout the lion’s share of our meal.  The problem, however, was that ambulances raced by, sirens blaring, at least twice during our visit. This raised the decibel reading, which is an average over the period during which the reading was taken.  It’s hard to blame a restaurant owner for random noise over which he or she has no control, but on opening the door to the street one must assume that an emergency vehicle could pass by. That said, shutting the door may have saved only a decibel or two at best, as the sirens were so loud that they would surely have penetrated into the space even if the door was shut.

Sirens aside, the place was generally calm and relaxed. Why? No music.  Other than street noise, the soundscape of the place consisted mainly of voices,  even with an open service area and a window to the kitchen.  So, despite being in a noisy and busy part of the city, we were able to eat in relative comfort.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

The Ridgeway Diner is proof that not playing background music yields benefits, particularly for businesses on very busy city streets.  The food was decent diner fare and service was efficient.  There’s nothing particularly interesting or compelling about the place except that it’s hard to find a non-national chain restaurant option in this area, making this relaxed, old-school Greek diner a lucky find.  We recommend it.

HOURS

Monday through Saturday: 7:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

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

LOCATION

Avenue (betw. 20th and 21st Streets), New York, NY 10010

WEBSITE

Ridgeway Diner