Julia Belluz | Vox | April 25, 2018

When the Line Hotel opened in Washington, DC, last December, the cocktail bars, gourmet coffee shops, and restaurants that fill its cavernous lobby drew a lot of buzz. Housed in a century-old church, the space was also reputedly beautiful.

My first visit in February confirmed that the Line was indeed as sleek as my friends and restaurant critics had suggested. There was just one problem: I wanted to leave almost as soon as I walked in. My ears were invaded by a deafening din. I felt like a trapped mouse, tortured with loud sounds for the purposes of an experiment. The noise was so irritating, I asked my husband whether we should go before our drinks arrived.

We ended up lingering for about half an hour at the Brothers and Sisters restaurant, straining to hear each other. On the way out, I tried to mention the tough acoustics to someone at the restaurant’s front desk. I don’t think he heard me.

This experience is by no means unique; it’s become a fixture of dining out in America. “What did you say?” “Can you repeat that?” and “It’s so loud in here” are now phrases as common as “Can I take your order?”

Both Zagat and Consumer Reports surveys have found that excessive noise is the top complaint diners have, ahead of service, crowds, or even food issues. Tom Sietsema, the restaurant critic for the Washington Post, also told me noise is “by far” his chief complaint about the restaurants he reviews.

“I’ve been harping on this for a decade by now,” he said. “It’s a constant — a constant irritation.”