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

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

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

Blossom Restaurant — 74.1 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Blossom Restaurant is one of three restaurants that make up a vegan restaurant chain in New York City (the other locations are in the West Village and the Upper West Side).  We ate at the Chelsea location, which offers vegan fine dining in an attractive space–something you don’t always find at vegan restaurants.

We arrived for a relatively early dinner, so not surprisingly the place was fairly quiet when we were seated.  In fact, we were the only table in the upstairs dining room at first, but the place filled up quickly.  The meter went up when the table for two next to us was seated, as one of the diners was quite loud.  Sadly, there is little you or the restaurant can do when a loud customer is placed near you.  That said, the background music could have been a bit lower, but it was tolerable.

Overall, the space was relatively comfortable, and, importantly, the food was very tasty.   If you need to find a restaurant to impress a vegan friend or colleague, Blossom should be high on your list.

HOURS

Lunch/brunch daily: 12:00 p.m. to 2:45 p.m.

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

Dinner Monday through Thursday: 5:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Dinner Friday and Saturday: 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.

LOCATION

WEBSITE

Blossom Restaurant

Homestead Gourmet Shop — 71.2 decibels

Photo credit: Jeanine Botta

By Jeanine Botta

Online reviewers recommend the Homestead Gourmet Shop in Kew Gardens for its delicious homemade salads, authentic Polish and German specialty foods, highly praised apple, cherry, and cheese strudel, its friendly staff, and its charm. Regular customers and first time visitors enjoy the delicatessen’s authentic eastern European ambience, which will transport you to another place and time. But the Homestead has another authentic dimension, and that is its acoustic quality. You’ll hear sale interactions, conversations, and laughter, but that’s all you hear–there is no music or television playing in the background.

The acoustic dimension of a space is often ignored, but it takes a lot of work to create authentic soundscapes that reflect historical periods in theatrical productions. Soundscape researchers who focus on the aural environments of historic places propose that understanding the soundscape of a historic site has the potential to add a new layer of knowledge about the site’s past. In a space like the Homestead, its uncluttered soundscape may sound much as it did a century ago, when the space’s first occupant was a grocery store and delicatessen.

Photo credit: Jeanine Botta

The Homestead has counter service, and most customers take out their purchases, but there are two tables that each seat four. The closest subway station is Union Turnpike, where the E and F trains stop, and the Homestead is a ten-minute walk. You can also reach Kew Gardens by Long Island Railroad from Penn Station or from Jamaica.

The Homestead Gourmet Shop alone is worth the trip to Kew Gardens, but the village itself is absolutely charming. A few blocks away, Forest Park features several walking paths, and Kew Gardens Cinemas is right up the block, a five-screen multiplex featuring first run independent films and a lobby with its original Art Deco style preserved.

HOURS

Monday  Closed

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

Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

LOCATION

81-45 Lefferts Boulevard (at the corner of Cuthbert Road), Kew Gardens, Queens, NY 11415

WEBSITE

No website