Ahimsa — 69.8 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Ahimsa is a vegetarian Indian restaurant located on the edges of NYU’s sprawling campus.  We planned a visit to Ahimsa because it offers a lunch buffet, something that is increasingly difficult to find below 14th Street. We arrived shortly after noon and found one other table waiting to dig in.  But we had to wait 15 minutes for the buffet to be stocked (not sure if there was a snafu or if this is standard operating procedure).  Given our early arrival, it’s no surprise that the place was dead quiet at first, but it got louder once a few more people filtered in and background music was turned on. Fortunately, the music–Indian pop ballads–was played at an acceptably low  volume.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Despite a wall of windows fronting the space, the room didn’t feel live. There were some columns and a small nook off to the side, breaking up the space a hair, but we chalked up the overall soundscape up to a mindset. Namely, the other patrons were engaged in conversation, but they  spoke softly to each other, for the most part, keeping the overall volume fairly low. It felt like there was something about the space that encouraged a quieter atmosphere.

That said, the very low reading is due, in large part, to ten minutes or more of dead quiet in the beginning of our visit, and we think a typical lunch reading could be a few decibels higher.  But even if that is the case, Ahimsa is a very comfortable place and it’s easy to have a conversation.  The food was good, and the buffet offered lots of options. Have we had better Indian vegetarian food in the city?  Yes, but Ahimsa’s lunch buffet is well worth a visit and is a veritable bargain at $11.95.  Recommended.

HOURS

Sunday through Thursday: 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Friday and Saturday: 12:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.

LOCATION

210 Thompson Street (betw. Bleecker and W. 3rd Streets), New York, NY 10012

WEBSITE

Ahimsa

The Brooklyn Commons — 62.2 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

The Brooklyn Commons is a coffee shop and “radical movement-building space” on Atlantic Avenue in Boerum Hill. Its website proclaims that “[g]roups and individuals are encouraged to use the COMMONS for workshops, classes, educational and cultural events.” Along with the meeting space, The Brooklyn Commons has a cafe that serves coffee, sweet and savory treats, beer and wine, and more.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

The space is larger than appears from the street.  There is a seating area and counter in the front  and a large dining and meeting space in the back. The seating space in the front isn’t horribly loud but it is noticeably louder than the back room due to the presence of a flat screen tv, background music, and a door open to busy Atlantic Avenue, where the occasional ambulance screams by. The magic is in the back room.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Ah, the back room.  It’s a large space filled with tables, mostly for two, and ringed by an elevated bench running along the perimeter of the room. Five people sat in various places throughout the space during our visit, each working  quietly on his or her laptop. It was bliss. We could just hear the music, tv, and traffic from the front, but the sound was distant and muffled and it did not disturb the peaceful atmosphere in the back.

What is the soundscape like when if the space is packed? We don’t know, but we are willing to return to find out. It’s presumably louder when there is a crowd, as we could see board games tucked away under the benches in the back.  And since The Brooklyn Commons offers art, educational, and music activities, it’s best to assume that is much louder during a workshop or performance. But during the day, when the cafe is open, the space should be calm and quiet.

If you are wandering around Boerum Hill and looking for a restful spot for a coffee or nosh, we recommend a visit to this relaxed and peaceful spot.

HOURS

The Commons Cafe is open from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily

LOCATION

Avenue (betw. Bond and Hoyt Streets), Brooklyn, NY 11217

WEBSITE

The Brooklyn Commons

Once Upon A Tart — 70.6 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We wandered over to Soho’s Once Upon A Tart for a quick lunch early in the week. Once Upon A Tart consists of a coffee and bake shop in one space, and a small restaurant in the space next door.  Our review is limited to the restaurant.

About half of the tables were filled when we arrived.  There was music playing in the background–jazz standards–which was a bit loud at first, but the second song was much quieter.  Whether the volume was tolerable depended, in large part, on whether the song featured a horn section.  If yes, the sound bounced around the live space, if not, it was fine.  We aren’t sure but we suspect that the volume was lowered as the tables filled up.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

There are five stools lining a bar and eight tables for two plus one larger table for about six in the restaurant.  Design choices result in a fairly live space: terrazzo floor, tin ceiling, glass windows  lining the front, and a couple of large mirrors on both side walls.  It didn’t help that the front door was open to street noise.  That said, Sullivan Street isn’t heavily trafficked so our meal wasn’t interrupted by loud sirens or insecure motorcyclists, but as the restaurant is located between Houston and Prince Streets we could hear the faint roar of the traffic from a half block away.

The reading also reflects the sound emanating from a fellow customer who talked on her phone the entire time.  She was so engrossed in conversation that she even ignored her meal.  Circumstances like that add to the soundscape, but they are arbitrary and, thankfully, not normal. Personally, we find it hard to fault the restaurant for this behavior, as it can be uncomfortable to ask a customer to refrain from cell phone use unless they have a very public policy against cell phone use (rare, but we spotted a sign asking customers to refrain from cell phone use at a downtown restaurant).

In the end, while the space was not calming or serene, it was tolerable.  Given that Once Upon A Tart is located in the thick of Soho, where there are very few reasonably priced eating options, it’s fine.

HOURS

Restaurant: 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. every day

Coffee and Bake Shop:

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 (betw. W. Houston and Prince Streets), New York, NY 10012

WEBSITE

Once Upon A Tart

Everyman Espresso (Soho) — 69.3 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

The Canal Street location of Everyman Espresso is smaller than the East Village location.  Only a couple of chairs at two small tables and a few benches are available for seating, but they were more than enough to accommodate all who entered on a Thursday evening.

LIke the East Village location, the espresso machine in this location of Everyman Espresso was one of the quietest we’ve experienced.  We assume that Everyman uses special noise-sensitive machines, or maybe it’s because the espresso maker was situated so that the noise making elements face away from the seating area (similar to the East Village location).  Whatever the reason, it is appreciated, particularly since many of the surfaces are hard and more than capable of bouncing the sound around the small space.  Wood slats on the ceiling may have helped deflect sound, but other than a couple of mats on the floor (probably there temporarily to sop up rain), there were no textiles or softer materials to absorb sound.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We liked this location as much as the East Village spot, but note that since it is smaller it doesn’t have a restroom (the East Village location does).  That aside, the Canal Street location of Everyman Espresso is a nice little niche of serenity near chaotic Canal Street.  It’s worth a visit.

HOURS

Monday through Friday: 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

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

Sunday: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

LOCATION

(betw. Canal and Grand Streets, closer to Canal), New York, NY 10013

WEBSITE

Everyman Espresso (Soho)

Blossom Ice Cream — 75.6 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Blossom Ice Cream is a relatively new shop featuring Thai rolled ice cream.  Essentially, the ice cream is made after you order–the base is poured onto a frozen surface, mixed with some ingredients, scraped into a roll about the thickness of a roll of quarters, placed in a cup, and doused with whatever toppings you request.  It’s visually appealing, and there are some theatrics if you enjoy that sort of thing.  In the end, the ice cream was good, but not great.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Blossom is very live as there is a lot of glass. Dance music was planning in the background when we visited, but it wasn’t too loud.  We thought the sound level was manageable, especially given how live the space is, but then Very Loud Guy came in and shouted his order. With all the glass in this tiny space, he quickly filled the room with his voice, and we found it hard to concentrate on anything other than his banter.

Blossom Ice Cream should be tolerable if other patrons use their indoor voice, but all you need is one very loud person to make it uncomfortable. That said, with only one table for four and two stools,  the space shouldn’t top 80 decibels even when every seat is taken. But why take chances? Order your ice cream to go and try to score a seat on the small bench out front, or walk one block to lovely Cobble Hill Park.

HOURS

Sunday through Thursday: 12:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Friday and Saturday: 12:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.

LOCATION

Street (betw. Congress and Warren Streets), Brooklyn, NY 11201

WEBSITE

Blossom Ice Cream

Four & Twenty Blackbirds — 72.3 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Four & Twenty Blackbirds is a well-regarded pie shop located in Gowanus, Brooklyn.  It offers whole pies, pies by the slice, cakes, and beverages.  We’ve read about their pies and have wanted to try them for some time, so we stopped by for a slice. We tried the Black Bottom Oat.  It was pretty good, not great, but obviously freshly made and satisfying.

We noticed on entering that most of the customers were by themselves, staring intently at their laptops. That many wore earbuds was a not-so-subtle warning about the noise level.  Namely, that there was unnecessary music playing.  Still, the music wasn’t uncomfortably loud.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

There was only one table of two engaging in conversation. They stood out since they were the only talkers, though there was another customer who spent the entirety of her visit with her phone glued to her ear, laughing out loud in random bursts.  She was jarring.  We have a difficult time understanding people who treat a public space like it’s their living room, but it seems to be happening with greater frequency. One frustrating thing is that the people who chat on phones in public spaces almost invariably are louder than people engaging in conversation in the flesh. It’s not the fault of the place, of course.  Just an observation that the space attracts all sorts.

One other soound stood out during our visit to Four & Twenty Blackbirds–the bean grinder used to make each espresso-based drink.  This grinder was particularly annoying, and it added a  high-pitched whine to the soundscape.  That said, we found the overall noise level to be mostly tolerable, but If you are coming here to work, dont forget your earbuds.

HOURS

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

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

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

LOCATION

Avenue (at the corner of 8th Street), Brooklyn, NY 11215

WEBSITE

Four & Twenty Blackbirds

French Louie — 70.7 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

French Louie was busier on a Tuesday lunch than one might expect for a restaurant on Atlantic Avenue in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. It was more than half full when we arrived, and there was turnover during our visit.  Because we visited on the first really warm day of the year, it was no surprise that the back garden was open and mostly occupied.

We noticed that the front of the house, where the bar and a small dining area are located, was noisier than the back dining room where we sat. The bar runs the length of the front of French Louie.  It is flanked by a narrow dining area with smaller tables sharing a long banquette.  The dining space in the back is wider with more banquettes and some larger tables; it seats at least 20.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

There is a glass wall at end on the indoor space, with French doors leading to garden.  Music was playing during our visit.  The volume  in the back dining area was fine, but the music was louder in the front by the bar.  Overall, the soundscape was perfectly fine for lunch.

That said, busier times will be louder, particularly during brunch or dinner as people are more likely to drink and in our experience people + booze = noise.  But since there is a nice-sized back garden, there should always be a relatively calm space available.  Among other things, the garden shares a fence with abutting residential properties.  That alone suggests the garden space will not be uncomfortably loud, lest the restaurant wants to incur the wrath of its neighbors.

We can recommend French Louie for lunch and feel fairly confident that a quiet option should be available during the milder weather months.  Busier times will be louder, but they should be tolerable.  If the indoor space is too loud for your tastes, ask for a garden table and enjoy the very good food and excellent service.

HOURS

Monday through Thursday: 11:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

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

Saturday: 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.

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

Three course prix fixe menu offered Monday evenings along with regular menu

LOCATION

320 Atlantic Avenue (betw. Smith and Hoyt Streets), Brooklyn, NY 11201

WEBSITE

French Louie

Square Diner — 75.3 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Located in Tribeca, Square Diner is a “classic a train-car diner” with a roof plopped on top.  Once inside, you can see its classic shape by looking up at the curved wooden ceiling.  Not only is the ceiling attractive, but we think its shape helps to diffuse sound.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

The interior is fairly small and narrow, and every square inch is used. With the exception of the ceiling, most of the other materials in the space are hard, reflective surfaces–glass, tile, and metal. The kitchen is somewhat exposed to the dining space, as there is a short order window behind the counter and a door to kitchen was propped open.  Fortunately kitchen sounds weren’t a problem during our visit. Unfortunately, background music was playing which served no purpose other than to annoy. Featuring 80’s hits–a perennial favorite–all it did was add an unnecessary layer of noise. If the music was turned off, we think the reading would have been below 73 dBC.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Still, the soundscape was definitely manageable, even with a fairly full house of chatty customers.  Without the music, we think it could have been close to comfortable. That said, the space didn’t feel too live, but since Square Diner is small, be advised that one or two loud people could easily dominate the soundscape.

No surprise that Square Diner offers a long menu of diner classics. The food is fine for what it is–Joe Jr’s has the city’s best diner burger, while this one was perfectly acceptable. Diners, particularly standalone diners, are a dying breed in New York City, so if you enjoy them, this one should be on your short list. Square Diner is a good inexpensive option in otherwise expensive and loud Tribeca.

HOURS

Monday through Friday: 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Saturday and Sunday: 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

LOCATION

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

WEBSITE

Square Diner