I ate at Jacob Wirth’s in Boston the other evening, an authentic “Olde Tyme” Boston restaurant that pre-dates the kitschy Cheers-inspired pubs and sports bars by several decades. What I most appreciate about the restaurant is the acoustic liveliness of the space, a characteristic of public and semi-public spaces that have been slowly edited from contemporary life. The reasons for this transformation may include the ease of maintenance of modern wall-to-wall carpeting, the marketing juggernaut of the same carpet industry, and the taste regime of an American middle class bred on Marriott lobbies and US Air departure lounges.
Maybe I am expressing my nostalgia for pre-War public buildings with their Pink Tennessee Marble wainscoting and terrazzo floors (a recent visit to the New Bedford, MA City Hall was VERY satisfying), but there are cultural advantages to lively acoustics in public spaces. Ironically, the din of spaces like Jacob Wirth allows you to have a private conversation with several people at normal volume; something that isn’t possible when sitting at a fully carpeted and padded restaurant.
If you are not sure of exactly what I mean, listen to the first few seconds of the Beatles song “St. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band.” When I hear the song, it triggers the childhood memory of our requisite annual field trip to the Pittsburgh zoo, which always included a stop at the acoustically lively elephant house – nostalgia indeed.