Loud Restaurants, Loud Wines
Interesting article in the San Francisco Chronicle the other day concerning noise levels in restaurants. The newspaper began rating the decibel level in restaurants ten years ago. Now, they’ve found that eateries are noisier than ever, with decibels in many above 80 — approaching the level at which sustained exposure may result in hearing loss.
Such favorites as B44, Balboa Cafe, Slanted Door, Tadich Grill, Nopa and LuLu are literally ear-blasting, and the Chronicle asserts that all that noise may not be a mere coincidence. Restaurateurs seem to be deliberately encouraging din in order to create a sense of excitement and “keep diners from lingering too long.”
This got me thinking about today’s high-extract, superripe, super-oaky wines. (Stay with me on this one.) I don’t particularly like that style, but since so many wineries make them, they must be selling. That means that millions of Americans must like these over-the-top wines that shout rather than whisper, that pound their chests like some liquid King Kong, clambering all over the dinner table and trouncing everything underfoot.
Could there be a connection between this loud style of wine and the loudness that afflicts so many restaurants? Could it be that people nowadays are so numbed out that they need to have their experiences on steroids in order to feel anything?
Maybe it’s a sign of aging (I prefer to think of it as maturation), but I like subtlety and balance in my life. At restaurants, I want to chat with everyone at my table, instead of cupping my ear with my hand and incessantly saying, “What?” Just as I prefer conversation to cacophony, with my wines I prefer charm to muscularity, tastefulness to vulgarity, a wine that coos and seduces you, rather than clubs you across the skull and drags you off to its cave.
Now, go back to that Chronicle line, “keep diners from lingering too long.” The suggestion is that even younger people out for a night on the town will be forced to abandon a dinner earlier than they ordinarily would in a quiet restaurant. The assault on their eardrums is simply too much for them to want any more of it — or to be able to stand any more of it. This is similar to the problem with Godzilla wines — that first sip can be impressive, but then the wine palls, and you can’t finish a second glass, much less drain the bottle. Well, there you have a connection between loud restaurants and loud wines. Neither is user-friendly. Both dazzle early, then disappoint fast.
It’s also been my observation that diners who like loud restaurants are the same people who are glued to their Ipods and cell phones. They seem to prefer instant messaging or listening through their headphones to talking with the person next to them. Are they also the same consumers who like wines that scream instead of suggest and engage?