Our first lunch time visit to the always crowded Veselka clocked in at 78.7 decibels. The reading was higher than expected (we would have guessed that the sound level was in the lower 70s), but we were seated at the counter within a few feet of the open kitchen and our decibel meter obviously picked up all of the nearby sounds (staff chatter, occasional china noises, and a cook singing softly to himself). We were also right next to the area where the waitstaff pick up dishes to deliver to their customers.
Even being in the worst possible seat in the house, the sound level wasn’t that bad. The fact that Veselka does not play background music really helps. On our way out, we quickly recorded the sound level in the nearby dining room. It was 72.4 decibels, which was more than acceptable. The lesson here is that at Veselka you must balance your desire to be seated quickly (counter seats are easier to get) against your desire for a quieter meal.
On our second lunch time visit, the meter registered 75.9 decibels, which again was higher than we would have guessed. There are a lot of hard surfaces in the restaurant, including big windows looking out on 9th street, but the absence of background music makes a huge difference because the space was mostly comfortable. If background music had been playing we think the reading would have easily been ten points higher. With music, the crowded room–there was a wait when we arrived–would have been unbearable. Without music, the noise level was mostly manageable, with the bulk of the sound coming from the many conversations throughout the room that were conducted at reasonable levels (i.e., no screamers).
One other plus: No electric hand dryers at Veselka; only paper towels are provided in the restrooms.
And finally, although we focus on sound levels and comfortability, we would be remiss is we didn’t note that Veselka offers one of the finest bowls of borscht in the city. They are also noted for their tasty and filling pierogis.
Attention restauranteurs, this is how you run a busy but comfortable space: kill or aggressively reduce the volume of background music. It’s an easy thing to do and it offers immediate relief.
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