Mae Mae Cafe — 68.8 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Mae Mae Cafe is located in what is now called Hudson Square, that formerly unnamed few blocks south of the West Village and west of Soho.  It is open for breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday, with dinner served only on Wednesday evenings.

We visited during a Friday lunch time and found it to be a comfortable space.  There were some kitchen sounds, but not many.  Music played very softly in the background, for the most part, with the volume creeping up a hair louder than we would have liked when a Nirvana song came on.  When it ended, the volume eased down to its previous level.

The room was at least half full when we entered, but the place emptied over our short lunch.  It is unlikely, we assume, that the space would be under 70 decibels if completely full, but it should be manageable.  Mae Mae Cafe is a small place, and while there are no textiles or other soft surfaces, there is a lot of wood and not as much glass, tile, and metal as one finds in a typically loud, live place.

In the end, we can safely recommend that you check out Mae Mae Cafe.  The space is mostly comfortable, and both the food and service were very good.

HOURS

Monday and Tuesday: 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

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

Thurssday and Friday: 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Closed Saturday and Sunday

LOCATION

Street (betw. Hudson and Varick Streets), New York, NY 10013

WEBSITE

Mae Mae Cafe

 

L’Express — 75.4 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

L’Express is a perfect example of when a restaurant with a reading of 75 decibels is so uncomfortable that we cannot recommend that you go there.  We raced through our meal when we visited on an early Sunday evening.  The culprit?  It was the music.  Sure the design elements could have been more forgiving, but the place was far less than half full–only three other tables were occupied–and there were maybe seven people at the bar.   A flat screen tv hovered over the bar, but we couldn’t hear it over the music, which was a forgettable mash of bland pop played too loud with an echo-y reverb that we felt as well as heard.  What purpose did it serve?  The other customers were speaking with their companions–no one was listening to the music.

Our meal at L’Express was fine, but we won’t return.  After all, if L’Express was this uncomfortable on an early Sunday evening, imagine how unpleasant it must be when it’s busy.  Avoid.

HOURS

Open 24 hours every day

LOCATION

(betw. 19th and 20th Streets), New York, NY 10003

WEBSITE

L’Express

Phebe’s — 70.8 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We have walked by Phebe’s many times and on one hot summer day we actually walked in.  Immediately we heard music that was louder than we would have liked, and certainly too loud at first, but we suspect that the song that was playing when we entered was someone’s favorite–it featured a long guitar solo and once the song was over, the volume was decreased.  Although things improved once the volume was lowered, we found the music to be fairly trebly which some people find uncomfortable.

The bar was mostly full during our visit, but there were plenty of empty tables.  We sat in a small alcove off the entrance.  There was a small wall separating the alcove from the bar but the sound still spilled over.   An open door let in street noise.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Despite the street noise and music, we would recommend a visit to Phebe’s.   While it was not calm, it was good enough.  Add in great service, good food, and very good prices, and Phebe’s lands on the tolerable list.  That said, we would have assumed that it is probably raucous at happy hour, brunch, and late week dinners, but our excellent waitress told us that brunch is fine if you visit between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.–the space gets a bit rowdier afterwards.  She added that there is a DJ on Thursday and late week dinners are louder.  Phebe’s has a back room and two alcove areas, so you may be able to find a quiet nook even on busy nights.

HOURS

LOCATION

(at the corner of E. 4th Street), New York, NY 10003

WEBSITE

Phebe’s

 

Tout Va Bien — 76.5 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Tout Va Bien started serving hungry theatergoers in 1948, and it claims to be the oldest French bistro in the Theater District.  It’s a nice casual place with some kitschy Francophile design touches that offers a very reasonable lunch pre fixe of $14.95 (for an appetizer (pate is $2 more), entrée (four choices), and dessert (four choices, two require supplement)).  A dinner prix fixe is offered as well.

We thought the small space was comfortable, but the room was  less than half full when we got there.  Halfway through our visit a  table of six chatty and somewhat loud co-workers—including one who amused his co-workers by imitating animal sounds–were seated near us and the decibel meter inched up.  Still, the space was fine even after the party of six came in–it was definitely tolerable.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Other patrons aside, there was some unnecessary music from a radio station playing in the background, but the volume was very low.   A flat screen tv showed a soccer game but the sound was turned off so it did not contribute to the soundscape.  We found the space to be surprisingly tolerable given the fairly low tin ceilings, fake brick walls, and tile floor.  The upholstered banquettes and wood paneling must have absorbed or deflected some of the sound.

Tout Va Bien occupies a small space with not many tables, so unless the place is packed with it should be manageable.  Certainly a Thursday lunch was fine, and we would recommend it for a pre-theatre dinner or a reasonable prix fixe lunch.

HOURS — VERIFY HOURS

Monday through Saturday: 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.  and 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.

Sunday: 12:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.

LOCATION

Street (betw. 8th and 9th Avenues), New York, NY 10019

WEBSITE

Tout Va Bien

 

The Press Box — 69.9 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We sat at the bar for a mid-afternoon coffee and beer.  A couple of flat screen tvs were on and music was playing softly in the background,  but the space was fairly calm and it was easy to have a conversation–no screaming or straining.  That said, our experience is probably not a good measure as The Press Room wasn’t very crowded during our visit.  But we feel confident that week days at lunch time should be fine, and you could take advantage of The Press Room’s $12 lunch special.

As with most places, we would advise that you avoid happy hour and dinner later in the week.  Our waitress confirmed our suspicions, confiding that happy hour usually isn’t too crowded but it can get loud Thursday through Saturday.  She added that dinner should be played by ear, but said that brunch is almost always low key unless there is a football game on.

HOURS

Open daily 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 a.m.

LOCATION

nue (betw. 49th and 50th Streets), New York, NY 10022

WEBSITE

The Press Box

 

Elizabeth Street Garden — 65.7 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Looking for a really peaceful enclave in Nolita?  Then run, don’t walk, to Elizabeth Street Garden.  The garden’s future is uncertain, so use its now and help those who are trying to preserve it.   The garden is the biggest green space in Nolita and, unsurprisingly, it is under threat of development.  Unlike other green spaces, Elizabeth Street Garden is not a city park though the land is city-owned.  We hope that it is preserved, because it’s a calm oasis in the middle of busy downtown Manhattan.  It also stands out among neighborhood green spaces because of all the statues that are dotted throughout.  At first the effect suggests a lack of restraint, but it very quickly feels charmingly quirky.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

The garden is obviously well loved and used.  There aren’t many chairs or benches, but people make do and have impromptu picnics during their lunch breaks. Some traffic noise intrudes, but it’s more than manageable as the garden runs between Elizabeth to Mott Streets, mid-block. Neither street is heavily trafficked, so there was no honking horns, sirens, or motorcycles during our visit.

Crowded yet calm, Elizabeth Street Garden is definitely worth a visit.

HOURS

10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. every day, weather permitting

LOCATION

Elizabeth Street (betw. Prince and Spring Streets), New York, NY 10012

WEBSITE

Elizabeth Street Garden

DeSalvio Playground — 69.9 decibels Under Renovation

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

DeSalvio Playground is not a pretty space, nor is it bucolic.  Street noise abounds, so the space is rarely calm, but there are four picnic tables and at least 15 benches available for the weary to rest or enjoy a nosh.  Street noise can’t be avoided at the playground as it’s on the corner of Spring and Mulberry Streets.  A quieter option is available nearby at the Elizabeth Street Garden, but that space has only one or two tables available should you wish to eat.

DeSalvio Playground

DeSalvio Playground

DeSalvio Playground would be a good stop if you have small children to entertain, as the playground has swings and other play equipment to keep them occupied, and spray showers are provided in the summer for the kids to cool off.   As a consequence, it may be crowded with screaming children, so proceed with caution.   If the space isn’t overwhelmed by children, bring your lunch, a coffee, and a book and chill.

HOURS

8:00 a.m. to dusk every day

LOCATION

Street (at the corner of Mulberry Street), New York, NY 10012

WEBSITE

DeSalvio Playground

 

Parm (Upper West Side) — 73.6 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We were surprised that our visit to the Upper West Side location of Parm was unexpectedly comfortable.  Why unexpectedly?  Because we’ve been to the original Parm on Mulberry Street and it was LOUD.   And, to be frank, a quick look around the place was concerning because there were lots of hard surfaces–glass, tin ceiling, mirrors, tile floor, and marble bar top–and two flat screens tvs at the bar where we ate our lunch.

So why was the space pleasant?  First, the tv volume appeared to be off–we couldn’t hear it.  Second, while we could hear music, it was playing very softly in the background.  Third, nearby tables were quiet, including a table that had a handful of very small children.   All in all our experience was perfectly fine, but we must note that our visit was at lunch time so it may not be a fair indicator of what the space is like during a busier seating.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

The bar counter is in the front of the large space, which also housed a number of tables and an outdoor seating area.  There are larger dining spaces in the back that are separated from the front of the house by a column or archway.  We checked out the main back dining area and it was fine, but not many tables were occupied.  Given the hard surfaces, large flat screen tv, and the bigger space, it is very likely that the back space would be uncomfortably loud when packed, but we think the front dining area would be fine even if the back is busy.

We can certainly recommend this location of Parm for lunch and suggest a seat in the front area, particularly if the back dining area is busy.  The food is good (although the chicken parm sandwich was not quite as good as was at the original location) and at 73.6 decibels the space is quiet…for the Upper West Side (at least at lunch time).

HOURS

Sunday to Thursday:  11:30 a.m. to 10:00 p..m.

Friday and Saturday: 11:30 a.m. to 11:00 p..m.

LOCATION

nue (betw. 70th and 71st Streets), New York, NY 10023

WEBSITE

Parm

 

Pho Sure — 74.8 to 75 decibels CLOSED

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We visited Pho Sure twice in as many weeks.  Our first visit was for a quick, early-ish dinner on a wet Saturday night.  We were in the front by the counter and cash register.  Music played in the background, but it was too loud.  No doubt the back dining room gets louder when packed, but it seemed fine too (we checked).  Pho Sure is not a place where people linger–diners come in for a good meal and leave.   We think it’s worth a visit because the noise level was more than manageable, the food is very good, and the prices are very reasonable, especially for the West Village.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We visited a second time in as many weeks as we were in the neighborhood, feeling a little peckish, and remembered Pho Sure’s crispy spring rolls (lovely), which we enjoyed with an iced Vietnamese coffee chaser (we will never sleep again).  This time we sat in the back dining room, which was full.  Once again music was playing in the background, and, as before, the volume was low.  Even though there are plenty of hard surfaces in the dining room, the space was pleasant.  We noted that a soft, textile curtain was decoratively draped over one side of the room.  No doubt it absorbs sound, but the curtain by itself could not explain why the space was fairly comfortable.  Our guess is that the music was low enough that people didn’t feel compelled to shout.  Whatever the reason, we were comfortable and happy for it.  If you are looking for good inexpensive eats in the West Village, you couldn’t do better than Pho Sure.

HOURS

Monday through Wednesday: 11:30 a.m. through 10:30 p.m.

Thursday through Saturday: 11:30 a.m. through 11:30 p.m.

Sunday: 11:30 a.m. through 10:00 p.m.

LOCATION

Street (betw. Bleecker and Bedford Streets), New York, NY 10014

WEBSITE

Pho Sure

 

Idlewild Books — 65.6 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Idlewild Books is a travel bookstore and langauge school which was located on 12 W. 19th Street but recently moved to 7th Avenue in the West Village.  They were in the process of unpacking some of the boxes and arranging the space when we visited, but they were open for business and customers were streaming in.  As with their older location, books are arranged by continent and country, with each section offering guidebooks, fiction, and nonfiction.  They also sell gift items (a selection of maps and cards), and offer language classes (all levels) on site in French, German, Italian, and Spanish.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

The decibel level during our visit registered a very quiet 65.6 decibels even with several customers browsing and chatting.  Because language classes will now be held in dedicated classrooms in the back of the space, visiting while class is in session should be fairly quiet.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

If you are looking for books about a specific country or region, or just want to get inspiration for your next vacation, Idlewild Books is not to be missed.

HOURS

Monday through Thursday: 12:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Friday and Saturday: 12:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Sunday: 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

LOCATION

WEBSITE

Idlewild Books