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Loud and louder restos: Maybe I'm getting old, but...

  • a

are some restaurants just way too noisy nowadays?

I was at Lazy Ox and could hardly speak with my dining companions. They had the volume turned up high with Hendrix blaring. I'm a fan of Hendrix's but it made for very difficult and imho uncomfortable dining. Then my friend mentioned that it seems to be a trend - noisy and noisier - Bottega Louie and Red Medicine come to mind....

So I'm taking a poll - what do you think is the noisiest restaurant in LA? Would you avoid a noisy restaurant even though the food is good? Or do you think the noise just adds to a convivial atmosphere?

I'm not trying to rap any of these restaurants, but just to find out what everyone's temperature on this is....

Annie

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  1. The noisiest restaurants *without* electronically-amplified sounds that I've ever been to were all dim sum places that have mostly Cantonese patrons. Cantonese is often spoken at a loud volume, and families will bring screaming babies along. The grandparents are sometimes hard of hearing, so they end up almost yelling at one another. But that has never stopped me from going.

    1. My worst experience ever was at Izaka-ya by Katsu-ya about four years ago. My dining companion and I had to yell at each other louder than at any club I've been to. In the 10 years I lived in Manhattan and frequently went to designed-to-be loud places, nothing was that bad!

      1 Reply
      1. re: Peripatetic

        "Izaka-ya(da) Katsu-ya(da)" yada... ;-D>

      2. I've got to cast my vote for Bottega Louie. Love the place, but the noise level is truly ridiculous. I also agree that Lazy Ox is very loud, as are Mas Malo, Rivera, and Corkbar - and those are just the ones that spring to mind in my neighborhood.

        I think that restaurant designers/owners think that decibel level correlates with popularity (or that it will in their patrons' minds). That combined with the hard material aesthetic (like all that marble and bare drywall in Louie) make for a lot of a really loud restaurants these days. Personally, I think it's really frustrating and exhausting to have to shout at your dining companions! I love the comparatively hushed atmosphere at places like Hatfield's - so relaxing.

        4 Replies
        1. re: aching

          Oh, forgot to mention the Mozzas - SO LOUD.

          1. re: aching

            I'd definitely second Bottega Louie. I actually like the food there and would like the ambience if I could have a conversation, which I can't, at all. I can barely even hear myself think in that place. I have given up on it.

            1. re: estone888

              Especially when the band cranks into their encore version of Louie Louie.

              Oh no, we gotta go now.

            2. re: aching

              The last time I went to Pizzeria Mozza was with my (then) two year old-- we were seated in a side room (clearly the "child ghetto") and it was heaven.

          2. Busy restaurants make busy restaurant noises, with or without the music in the background (see dim sum example above).

            I love Hatfield's but the space is huge and the restaurant can be 25-40% empty on a Friday or Saturday night (last visit 1-2 month ago) which explains why it is more quiet.

            Recently a friend and I decided against sushi in favor of P.Mozza because as much as I love sushi and even though I just had some Mozza 2 weeks ago, it was as a Wednesday night and we wanted a bit more energetic setting after a long work day. The thought of dining in a hushed setting just didn't seem all that appealing.

            13 Replies
            1. re: Porthos

              > Busy restaurants make busy restaurant noises,
              > with or without the music in the background

              There's a school of thought among some restauranteurs that noise is good, that customers equate it with popularity. To that end, they (or their designers) deliberately minimize acoustical dampening and maximize hard, sound-reflecting surfaces. Notice how places like Bottega Louie are all hard surfaces? If restauranteurs really wanted to do something about noise, they could.

                1. re: aching

                  Because they need durable and cleanable spaces

                  1. re: Servorg

                    I don't think you meant to respond to me? But I'll respond anyway - it is possible to have durable and cleanable spaces that include acoustical treatments. Carpet on the floor would be disgusting, I agree (the only nice restaurant I can think of that has it is Ray's), but there are all kind of wall and ceiling treatments that can be positioned so that there's no way that food can get on them. I've even seen tables that have acoustical treatment on the underside - clever!

                    1. re: aching

                      to concur with and add to what aching correctly stated:

                      just take a look at the sound panels that have been wall mounted at A Votre Sante in brentwood and the cork panels that have been wall mounted at Cafe del Rey.

                      dampening restaurant noise while maintaining the "cleanability" factor is not exactly rocket science.. . . .
                      maybe because we live in LA where so many musicians build their own recording studios, soundproofing material of all sorts is very widely available in this town.

                        1. re: westsidegal

                          The issue of noise being either an asset or a liability is dependent on what camp one is in, whether it's from the perspective of the owner or the customer.

                          Aesthetic factor of panels also plays into the formula. I know a guy who is working on this issue for a few restaurant owners - some small, some with multiple units. He has offered up various options to restaurant owners who are trying to mitigate noise in their spaces but have turned down the obvious ones mentioned. They want noise mitigation that works better with their spaces' existing decor.

                          This acquaintance also has mentioned that as easy as it seems to mitigate noise, it's actually a very complex issue with room size, ceiling height, shape of the room as well as the those factors of adjacent/joining spaces, types/angles of surfaces, sound systems, etc.

                          Accessing acoustic panels isn't an issue in most parts of the US. They can be ordered from just about any place in the country and delivered overnight if need be. I think the real issues are what the motives are behind the noise/volume and ultimately what market segments those factors draw.

                          1. re: bulavinaka

                            agree that accessing them isn't difficult as long as you know what you're looking for. in my case, all the knowledge i have about soundproofing comes from my friends in the music industry in LA.
                            when i lived on the east coast, none of my friends knew squat about what to do to control sound (although they did know a lot about financial derivatives).
                            i guess if i lived in hershey, PA., i'd know more about making bad chocolate. . . . .

                    2. re: aching

                      > That's exactly what I said!

                      You're right, I missed that. I blame Monday-itis.

                      FWIW I first read about (and encountered) this practice in the late 1980s while living in Manhattan, so this is an old, old "fad" that is here to stay. :(

                      EDIT: I found the article:

                      http://www.nytimes.com/1989/08/09/gar...

                      Ironically, it was actually about a short-lived trend of making restaurants quieter! How quaint.

                    3. re: Peripatetic

                      But if they're packed day in and day out and require reservations weeks in advance, is there something wrong with that school of thought? Why would they change a successful formula?

                      I think Bottega Louie is too loud for no good reason. But it's hard to argue that the Mozzas, Red Medicine, Gjelina, etc. need to do something about the noise given the extreme degree of their success.

                      1. re: Porthos

                        Oh, I forgot about Gjelina! I took my mother-in-law there for dinner one Saturday night - huge mistake. The food was great, as always, but neither of us could hear a damn thing the other was saying - and I know she hated it because of that.

                    4. re: Porthos

                      Was at Pizzeria Mozza L.A on Sun for lunch, wasn't bothered by the noise level. In fact, I don't recall sound being an issue.

                      Side note, the new pizzas featuring tomatoes from DiNapoli/Bianco (yes, Chris Bianco of Pizzeria Bianco fame) are fantastically delicious. I'm not crazy about the $20 tariff but the pie was terrific.

                      1. re: zack

                        1+ for the noise level and +1 for the DiNapolia/Bianco pizzas.

                        I got the pie with mozzarella di bufala , tomato, Genovese basil & extra virgin olive oil. More flavorful and juicier than the regular margherita. Available at P. Mozza LA and not P. Mozza Newport (as of last week).

                    5. Barbrix is SUPER LOUD. the noise just bounces off the walls...

                      1. I love the food at Rustic Canyon but after 8pm in there I just can't hear myself think.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: wienermobile

                          Ask for a booth - quieter there.

                        2. Stella Rossa, Black Market (after 2 hours, my voice gave out), Bottega, Barbrix, Rustic Canyon, Mohawk Bend, Commes Ca.

                          Wait, I think that's basically every.single.restaurant... People should just stop talking when they eat.

                          1. A-frame by a long shot. I couldn't hear myself talk. I couldn't hear myself think. I couldn't even remember what I wanted to say. It was the first and only dining experience where my ears actually ached from the noise.

                            After that, Comme Ca.

                            I hate noisy restaurants and I'm not likely to return to these two because of that. There are loud restaurants and then there are unbearably loud restaurants.

                            Red Medicine, P. Mozza, Rivera are tame by comparison. I'm willing to put up with that amount of noise but not the level experienced at the above 2.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: soniabegonia

                              +1 for Comme Ca. My ears were ringing and I was actually hoarse from trying to have a conversation with my companion. Haven't been back since.

                            2. This is a recent thread about noisy restaurants in general from CH's "Not About Food" board:

                              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/834646

                              This is a radio piece on restaurant noise that aired on KPCC a couple of weeks ago:

                              http://www.scpr.org/programs/offramp/...

                              It seems most newer restaurants have horrid noise levels. I can tolerate aggregate conversation noise at places like dim sum houses. What puts the noise level over the top is when music volume is way too loud. Everyone's voices and ears are then competing with that. Surfaces - smooth/hard surfaces also amplify/distort/bounce the noise issues.

                              Places like A-Frame where optional outdoor seating is available is always my go-to. Sure it could be loud outside as well, but nothing like the closed-off echo chambers with amped-up music that so many dining areas are nowadays.

                              1. Five years ago there was a short-lived blog that set out to measure the volume of various LA restaurants with a Radio Shack sound level meter:

                                http://web.archive.org/web/2007123101...

                                Too bad it didn't last.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: Peripatetic

                                  The first truly loud restaurant I remember is Chinois. I remember being incredulous that the waiter had to kneel down and practically sit on the floor in order to take our order as it was impossible for him to hear me (or anyone else at our table). Of course, conversation with our dining companions was nearly impossible. I remember two things about that meal: 1. The fantastic catfish. 2. The noise level.

                                  1. re: maudies5

                                    My nomination for the loudest SoCal restaurant of all time: another Puck creation, Eureka. Huge warehouse space. You could actually feel the noise.

                                    1. re: maudies5

                                      Any update on the noise level at Chinois?

                                      1. re: maudies5

                                        I happened to have had dinner at Chinois on Friday night. We had one of the big round tables at the front, the place was jammed (truly overspilling it was so crowded) and we could all hear each other perfectly. Wasn't loud like the old days, the curtains on the walls help a lot. Food was spectacularly great, as always. Service perfect, as always.

                                        1. re: yogachik

                                          Thanks for the update, Yogachik.

                                  2. I've gotten to the point where I won't go back if I can't hear my dining companions, no matter how great the restaurant. Picca has to be the loudest, followed by Bottega Louie, Rustic Canyon, Wolf in Sheep's Clothing, Mozza.

                                    I really hate yelling to be heard, or having to master lip reading. I will never go back to Picca, that was the worst of them all.

                                    1. In the same way that malls have played annoying high frequency sounds that only teenagers can hear in order to keep them out, I wouldn't be surprised if some restaurants that want to attract a younger, hipper crowd don't include sound dampening fixtures to keep older patons from coming. I've never heard someone in their 20s complain about noise, usually the 35+ crew (of which I am one), given the stiffening of our cilia and out decreasing, age-related auditory signal-to-noise ratio.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: Robert Thornton

                                        The only poster that got the message - these places really want the younger generation, not those over 35/40 years of age. Younger patrons might frequent the place 2-3 times a week or month, whereas any of the older folks, myself included, might only go once in 3-6 months.
                                        Doing the math does wonders. Also, it is easier to keep a fabric-free decor clean. Hard surfaces are very durable, very able to be cleaned to satisfy the health Dept., etc.

                                        1. re: carter

                                          i'm part of the old crowd that some restaurants don't want.
                                          i eat out for 90% of my meals.
                                          fine by me if some restaurants don't want my money.

                                        2. re: Robert Thornton

                                          I'm part of the 35+ crowd and seem to do okay for now. No doubt my day is coming though since men tend to lose their hearing earlier.

                                        3. Bottega Louie is the loudest for me.

                                          1. I happen to think that the noise level is over the top. I do not enjoy the family at the next table and loud discussions. Restaurants in other parts of the world do not have this issue perhaps people have better manners. I do not go to noisy restaurants as I go out to relax....

                                            1. If I can't converse in normal tones it's too damned loud, period. All this talk of "high energy levels" makes me wonder who can endure that without his stomach going into knots? What's worse is that some restaurants that don't have loud music have clients who were never taught the difference between indoor and outdoor voices, who cannot for some reason converse at less than a shriek or bellow.

                                              And what's with "carpet would be disgusting"?? Many of our favorite ones do have carpet; to me it's one sign of a high-class joint, as is the resulting low ambient noise. Norm's is the exception; I remember one afternoon we were at the one in Lakewood (please don't ask why) and there was a guy vacuuming the carpet, not only noisily but running it into the furniture and sticking his butt in people's faces. Now THAT is disgusting!

                                              1. I'm old, but I like my music loud, not my restaurants. I do think that a hushed quiet in a restaurant can make it feel like a funeral home, but please give me a happy medium! Bottega Louie is so loud you can't even hear the music, Barbrix is unbearable on a busy night. Cleo can also get very loud, and I had dinner over the weekend at Ombra in Studio City and my friend and I had to yell at each other. I want to be able to easily chat with my friends, and not emerge from the restaurant somehow exhausted from the noise level.

                                                1. You're not getting old, Annie. Even when I was a youngster I resented having to shout over my meal. I still do, very much, and I'm not old, and have great hearing.

                                                  I don't know what's the loudest restaurant in LA, but I can tell you I believe it's intentional: if you can't hear each other, you'll eat and get out to have your conversation, rather than dawdle at a table which could otherwise be turned over for additional paying customers.

                                                  1. There was an intereesting article in the LA times a few days ago on the front page about Water Grill and how they transformed into a louder more hipper, cheaper place to attract the younger 20-30's crowd. Places are trying to get away from super expensive, quiet high end atmospheres as it brings in less people.

                                                    on another note, i love loud places...it makes it easier to take my 2 year old! haha

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: samtron608

                                                      I've been to the new Water Grill and actually it's a very nice remodel and the noise volume was not bad at all.

                                                      1. re: wienermobile

                                                        I agree on both counts. It had previously felt both a bit stuffy and quite dated to me. While the new decor is not necessarily my style, I think it was well done and a very smart business decision.

                                                    2. Must say, while The Brentwood has gotten a tad (very tad) less dark it was incredably loud Thursday night.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: BSW6490

                                                        Cant see or hear, sounds like the soundtrack to Tommy! At least the food and drinks are alwys solid at The Brentwood.

                                                      2. Shin Sen Gumi Hakata Ramen in Little Tokyo. Even for lunch, the noise level (mainly from the workers) was annoying.

                                                        1. So, when I was at brunch this weekend at Bottega Louie, I measured the noise level using an iPhone decibel meter, and got a range from 85-94 dB (yes, I'm a nerdy engineer). For comparison:

                                                          City Traffic (inside car) 85dB
                                                          Train whistle at 500', Truck Traffic 90dB
                                                          Jackhammer at 50' 95dB
                                                          Subway train at 200' 95dB

                                                          The level at which sustained exposure may result in hearing loss is 90-95dB.

                                                          I'm going to take more readings at other restaurants, this is fun!

                                                          5 Replies
                                                          1. re: aching

                                                            oddly, the food is better than bottega louie at those other places, too.

                                                            1. re: aching

                                                              I'm very interested in the P.Mozza reading (which many seem to complain about) vs the Animal reading (which the same P.Mozza complainers do not complain about).

                                                              Finally, an objective measure! This IS fun :)

                                                              1. re: Porthos

                                                                I can't wait for the findings! My friends and I were at Rustic Canyon and we all found ourselves exhausted from fighting the din trying to converse. It is a good way for the restauranteur to clear the tables and fit the next revenue generating party in!

                                                              2. re: aching

                                                                Aching, is this decibel meter a readily available app for the iphone?

                                                                If so, maybe we can start a new thread and people can post their results. We should also use the same app so we can standardize the results. Maybe 2 measurements need to be taken? 1 at the bar, 1 at the center of the room?

                                                                1. re: Porthos

                                                                  Yes, there are a bunch of decibel meter apps, but the one I was using, Decibel Meter Pro, is 99 cents. (I started with a free one, but I found its readings suspect.)

                                                                  In addition to location, I also think that the time of day, or at least the meal, should be noted, as many restaurants are much quieter at breakfast than at dinner. (My BL reading was in the bar area at 10:53 AM on a Sunday, btw.)

                                                                  Oh, this really is fun. I feel a spreadsheet coming on...

                                                              3. I walked into the Buffalo Wild Wings by the AMC 16 in Burbank, intending to check out the menu. It was so noisy that I left after 30 seconds.

                                                                  1. re: annie

                                                                    It was with the utmost delight that I read that piece. I've been grinning all day about it. To my way of thinking, when a restaurateur says that this is in fact a way to make people chew faster, eat faster and leave sooner, this is an admission that he cares more about his damn bottom line than his customers' pleasure and health! What an outrage, that one can have a more pleasant, leisurely and talkative meal in most diners than in a high-bucks joint like Mozza. Luckily there are peaceful, quiet places, with real food beautifully prepared, where me and my buds can take a table for as long as we want. We've been to Square One a couple of Sundays when we lingered long enough to order seconds!

                                                                    1. re: Will Owen

                                                                      "To my way of thinking, when a restaurateur says that this is in fact a way to make people chew faster, eat faster and leave sooner, this is an admission that he cares more about his damn bottom line than his customers' pleasure and health!"

                                                                      My guess is this has always been the case, but saying it is because you are trying to appeal to the younger, hipper crowd sounds a lot better than you are making the atmosphere horrible to get people to get in and get out as quickly as possible.

                                                                      My spouse and I went to some burger place in Huntington Beach and we opened the door only to be complete deafened by the music that was so loud we had to yell - I mean yell at the top of our lungs - to ask the music be turned down. The hostess said the music level is high because that is what the patrons wanted. We scanned the room.

                                                                      Glad to know the one patron in the corner and the rest of the empty tables and chairs were happy with the blaring music.

                                                                      No, we didn't stay.