180 Maiden Lane – 65.7 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

180 Maiden Lane’s newly renovated lobby is a privately owned public space (POPS) offering plenty of seating and amenities for the public.  The POPS has only been available from mid-summer 2016 because an extensive renovation was required after Superstorm Sandy.  A couple of years later and the lobby has finally been opened.  It is a clean, bright, and attractive space, but despite an otherwise excellent reading of 65.7 decibels, the soundscape at 180 Maiden Lane could be better.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

There is a lot of seating inside the public lobby, and the design of the space is mostly thoughful.  It’s clear that attempts were made to introduce softer objects and materials–plants, trees, and a very comfortable and cushy astroturf in one seating area–that could mitigate the sound amplification caused by all of the hard surfaces, but there is a lot of glass and stone and the space felt live.  The only obvious and loud sound came from the security officers’ walkie-talkies which were set on loud.  Every screech, every beep, every word bounced around the space, leaving us to wonder just how loud it would get if the place was packed (which, we acknowledge, may never happen).

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Since seating is provided throughout the main floor lobby, there are some smaller seating areas that will likely be more manageable than others.  It felt quieter, for example, on the east side, which bordered South Street.  That said, there was a constant mechanical hum throughout the lobby–we think was coming from the escalator leading to the second level, as the sound got louder as we walked towards it.  The hum wasn’t awful but it was constant; it sounded like white noise.

The lobby has one cafe (it was closed during our visit) that offers the usual deli staples of sandwiches, coffee, bottled drinks, etc., but you can bring your own food and drink and enjoy the space.   It was not crowded during our visit, and given how live the space was with a small group of people about, we suspect it could be significantly louder if fully occupied.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

180 Maiden Lane provides two public bathrooms that are clean and disabled accessible.   And it also offers one amenity that no other POPS offers: free charging stations for public use.  Both bathrooms and the charging stations can be found near the Pine Street entrance.

If you are wandering around the Seaport area and want to grab a quick lunch from one of the food trucks in the area, head on over to 180 Maiden Lane to enjoy your nosh, rest your feet, and charge your devices.

HOURS

Monday through Friday: 8:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

LOCATION

180 Maiden Lane (betw. South and Front Streets), New York, NY 10038

WEBSITE

180 Maiden Lane

60 Wall Street (Deutsche Bank Building) — 66.9 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

The lobby of 60 Wall Street, the American headquarters of Deutsche Bank, is a privately owned public space (POPS).  A POPS is an “amenity provided and maintained by a developer for public use, in exchange for additional floor area.”  Amenities typically are outdoor plazas or seating areas that may be used by the general public without charge, but occasionally, as here, the space is indoors and climate controlled.

During an early afternoon visit, the lobby of 60 Wall Street registered a positively peaceful 66.9 decibels.  Even though every inch of the lobby is clad in stone, glass, or some other hard surface, peace is maintained due to the high vaulted atrium.  The lobby is much louder during the morning and evening rush as employees stream into the space and head to the elevators, but the space was not empty during our visit.  In fact, three separate tour groups were assembling in the lobby, and many of the tables and chairs were occupied.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

The lobby has a Starbucks, newsstand, and a deli/cafe available for food and drinks, but you are not required to purchase from them to sit at the tables.  One public toilet is also provided, but use it only if absolutely necessary as it can best be described as challenging.  The rest of the space is very well maintained.

HOURS

Covered pedestrian space open 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. | Arcade open 24 hours

LOCATION

60 Wall Street (betw. William and Pearl), NY, NY 10005

WEBSITE

60 Wall Street

601 Lexington — 68.6 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

The atrium at 601 Lexington (formerly known as the Citigroup Center) is a covered, climate controlled privately owned public space (POPS).  A POPS is “an amenity provided and maintained by a developer for public use, in exchange for additional floor area.”  POPS can vary in quality, but the covered public spaces tend to offer more amenities, like cafes and public restrooms, and they tend to be better maintained.  The atrium at 601 Lexington is no exception, as it offers plenty of amenities for visitors.

There are lots of tables and chairs in the multi-story atrium, which is surrounded by shops, restaurants, and delis.  But as with all POPS, you don’t have to buy anything from the commercial spaces within the public space to use the amentities.  In fact, you can bring in your own food or beverages and use the tables and chairs that are provided.

The plaza outside of the building is also available for public use 24 hours, but it’s uncomfortably loud during the work week due to street noise and a really noisy water feature.  The atrium, in contrast, was serene even though more than half of the tables were taken, no doubt due, at least in part, to its height.

The public space is served by large and clean bathrooms.   The only drawback is that the restrooms use the dreaded and LOUD Xcelerator hand dryer and there is no alternative hand drying option.

If you want to rest your feet, have a coffee, or just stop to relax somewhere in midtown, 601 Lexington is an excellent option.

HOURS

7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. every day

LOCATION

601 Lexington Avenue (betw. 53rd and 54th Streets), New York, NY 11022

WEBSITE

NYC POPS Info on 601 Lexington

Bel Canto Condominium — 61.1 decibels

Not pretty, but at 61.1 decibels who cares?

Not pretty, but at 61.1 decibels who cares?

The Bel Canto Condominium is home to a publicly owned private space (POPS) that was absolutely serene on our weekday noontime visit.  There were only seven other people present, some eating, some not, and everyone was quiet–no conversations, no cell phones, no extraneous noise.  The building owners must have invested in special windows because the location was busy and there was a lot of street noise outside the building, but inside it was as quiet as a library reading room.

That said, you wouldn’t call this POPS pretty.  According to the APOPS review linked below, there used to be a restaurant in the space but it must have closed some time ago.  On our visit there were simply a number of mismatched chairs in various states of disrepair coupled with plain-bordering-on-ugly utilitarian tables.  There also were absolutely no amenities offered–no cafe, newstand, or public toilets–just peace and quiet.

If you are on the Upper West Side, crave some quiet, and don’t care about being in a beautiful space, try this POPS.

HOURS

8:00 a.m. to midnight every day

LOCATION

1991 Broadway (betw. 67th and 68th Streets), NY, NY 10023

WEBSITE

APOPS review of Bel Canto

Quiet City Map: Manhattan

It’s impossible to escape noise in New York City–there’s always a background hum–but it is possible to find places that are relatively quiet, occasionally serene, or, at the least, that allow for a conversation without screaming.  So how do you find these magical places?

If you look to the right you will see the Quiet City Map: Manhattan, a guide to places throughout Manhattan where the sound levels are reliably comfortable.  The map provides ratings for restaurants, bars, coffee shops, public spaces (e.g., parks, squares, and privately owned public spaces (POPs)), museums and retail stores according to sound level and sound quality.   Reviews will be posted on this site for each place on the map, and they will continue until there are a suitable number of (relatively) quiet options throughout Manhattan.  If there is interest, more places will be added and existing reviews updated (if needed) and, eventually, a map rating places in Brooklyn will follow.  And so on.

The color-coded map icons provide an immediate snapshot of each reviewed place:

  • Dark Green = blissful/peaceful.  Dark green is awarded only to places having a decibel reading at or around 65 decibels.  Other factors will be considered, but if the decibel reading approaches 70 decibels it will be placed in the next category.
  • Light Green = conversational.  Light green is awarded to places where a conversation can be had without raising or straining your voice but where background music, design choices, or other factors result in a decibel reading at or over 70 decibels.
  • Yellow = manageable/tolerable.  Yellow is awarded if conversation is possible, but you occasionally have to raise your voice.  Yellow also designates a space that is generally conversational but has some constant negative factor, such as continual street noise, an open kitchen, background music that is a bit too loud, etc.
  • Orange = places that are only tolerable (or better) at certain times, days, or in certain rooms within the space.  For example, some restaurants and coffee shops are tolerable or conversational at lunch time or mid-afternoon, but should be avoided at brunch or dinner.  Many restaurants tend to be more crowded at brunch or dinner and alcohol is more likely to be consumed then as well.  One simple formula is almost always true: people + booze = noise.
  • Red = avoid.  Red is awarded to places that either receive a decibel reading of 80 and above or are otherwise intolerable because of the quality of the sound (i.e., constant and jarring kitchen noises, loud background music that management refuses to lower, etc.).  80 decibels is a strict bright line test, as experience has shown that that is the point at which you must raise your voice to be heard.

We use Faber Acoustical’s SoundMeter (only available for IOS) to provide the decibel readings for the reviews.  The decibel measure used is Leq (C-frequency-weighting), which provides the average decibel rating over the period of time that the sound level is recorded.  In the course of taking sound levels, we have found that 75 decibels is the point at which the sound level transitions from comfortable/tolerable to annoying or worse.  That said, a space reading over 75 decibels could receive a light green or yellow icon if the noise level does not interfere with conversation or does not seem to be a loud as recorded.  Similarly, a place clocking in at or under 75 decibels may earn an orange or red rating because of the quality of the sound–high-pitched noises, such as dishes or pots contacting a metal or tile surface, tend to be more jarring than the low rumble of street noise.  If an anomalous event occurs while the meter is running–say, a truck backfires as someone opens the door to the street–the reading will be discontinued, as a sudden, high-decibel sound peak can raise the overall reading by a significant amount.

Our reviews will generally not focus on the quality of food, drink, displays, or items offered for sale or to view, but we like good food and drink and useful or attractive things and images.  Places have been chosen for review based on location, personal experience, aggregate ratings at popular rating sites (e.g., Yelp, Google Reviews, or MenuPages), blogger and media reviews, and suggestions (see the last paragraph).  National chain restaurants, bars, and coffee shops will not be reviewed–there are plenty of local restaurants, bars, and shops to visit in Manhattan and no compelling reason to visit national chains.  We aim to include a variety of cuisines and price points, with a focus on neighborhood restaurants noted for good food and service.  Restaurants on the higher end of the scale tend to be quieter, although some may be scene restaurants that are almost guaranteed to be “lively” (or raucous, vibrant, boisterous, or whatever  euphemism du jour is used to signify that a space is loud).  Our focus is on places that may be visited regularly rather than for those spaces visited only on special occasions.

Our reviews will provide objective decibel readings coupled with subjective evaluations of comfort.  The focus, always, is on whether a space allows for conversation without strain.  Restaurants, bars, and coffee shops, in particular, are places we want to enjoy with friends or family.  The  enjoyment comes from speaking with one another, not from listening to the owner’s favorite band with the volume set at 11.

Finally, if you have any ideas, suggestions, recommendations, or questions, tweet us at @quietcitymaps or send them our way at: quietcitymaps (at) icloud (dot) com.