Soundproofing a bar's echo-chambery backyard?
April 6, 2010 6:11 AM   Subscribe

How do we minimize noise from the backyard of the bar downstairs, given that the back area acts as an echo chamber? I'm looking for management or technological/physical solutions.

I live in a second/third floor duplex apartment above a bar. The bar has a backyard. Before we moved in, the landlord told us that there would be a strict curfew on the bar's use of the backyard - 10:30pm on weeknights and 12:30am on Fridays/Saturdays. We figured that was fair, no prob.

Of course, people keep going out there all night. Which again, wouldn't really be such a big deal, except that since it's the center of city block with buildings all around, that back area acts as sort of an echo chamber in projecting sound from the backyard up to our bedroom on the third floor.

When people chat at normal volume down there, we hear it as if they were standing in our bedroom and talking right next to us in bed.

It turns out that there are fire code reasons as to why the back door can't simply be locked at curfew, unfortunately. (Believe me, that was the first thing we suggested. The bar owner tried it, and promptly got a fire code violation.)

What do we do? The bartenders supposedly try to tell people to quiet down or bring them in, but we end up having to call down every night in nice weather to get them to do it.

It's actually a gorgeous apartment, so we're very disinclined to simply declare it too loud and move out next year.

Any management suggestions for how the bar owner could get his staff to take care of the problem more regularly? (I understand that when the bar is crowded it is physically difficult for them to head out back to police the area.)

Any physics suggestions for how to reduce the noise projection aspect of the space? Would a trellis above the backyard help, or would it be a waste of money and effort?

Last summer, this is what we tried: I went up to the bar owner and said "Hey, I was thinking of emptying my chamber pot on your patrons, but I don't have one. Mind if we get a watergun for our bedroom instead?"

He said sure, so we did. The bar patrons were more riled up than driven inside by our watery death from above, unfortunately. Except for the one woman who tried to convince my partner to come downstairs so she could buy him a drink. (Who could blame her? He was like a righteously furious topless watergun-wielding Rambo from above!) (He declined the invitation.)
posted by Eshkol to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How about asking them to install the kind of emergency-exit/alarm latches you find on emergency exits in hospitals and office buildings, and arm it at 10:30?
posted by TruncatedTiller at 6:22 AM on April 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

TruncatedTiller's emergency exit is the most obvious solution.

I can't suggest anything to help with noise, except that you could consider some sort of white (or rather, pink) noise generator. Even a low level it keeps the sound from our downstairs tenant from waking us.

Is the backyard used by people other than bar patrons? I'd suggest making it more unpleasant. Remove all seating. Add plants with big thorns. Use very unflattering light or make it totally dark. Have the bar store stinky trash out there.

Since you were told it would be quiet, I'd also consider some sort of legal threat if the apartment is really worth it. Not sure what your options are there, and you wouldn't want to piss off the landlord, but it *might* be worth running it by a lawyer.
posted by paanta at 6:25 AM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Velvet rope slung across the door at 10:30?
posted by thejoshu at 6:29 AM on April 6, 2010

I wonder if roping the door off or putting up an official looking sign that says the door is alarmed would do the same job as actually alarming the door.
posted by pickypicky at 6:30 AM on April 6, 2010

Where are you located?

On the management side: It might be worth finding out whether there are local regulations requiring that the bar keep patrons off the patio after closing time. If, say, they bar could lose its licence if after-closing-noise continues to disturb neighbours, you may find the bar will be more helpful in investigating solutions.

The alarmed emergency exit is a good idea.

If the bar has insufficient staff to monitor their customers, it might useful/necessary for them to bring in extra staff in the warmer season. (Especially, again, if regulations require that they keep people off the patio, and other measures fail).

Antagonizing the customers with a water gun, while fun, is, as I'm sure you know, a bad idea.
posted by ManInSuit at 6:54 AM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Could you post some pictures of the space inside and out? (i.e. from the backyard looking at your apartment, as well as inside your apartment facing the walls that face the backyard)
posted by davey_darling at 7:11 AM on April 6, 2010

How big is the area? What if there were a canopy, I wonder if that may work to block the noise?
posted by kellyblah at 7:36 AM on April 6, 2010

On a more serious note, where are you?
In NYC, I know a few people who've had a similar problem. What they had to do was to constantly call 311 (our non-emergency version of 911) to do a noise complaint. They have to notify the police every time it happens. If it happens enough, they will\may (are supposed to) start fining the bar.

Of course, NYPD cops are generally dicks and actually hate people, so good luck with that.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 8:15 AM on April 6, 2010

Best answer: I am a bar owner in NYC. The best way to get action is to go directly to the owner, let them know the seriousness of the issue, and that it is not acceptable to have your sleep disturbed by their patrons any longer. He/she does not have a right to allow his customers to disturb the neighbors in this way, and it is either neglect, bad management, or arrogance on his/her part that this is still occurring. Make the owner understand that you are serious about getting this issue resolved.

The best way to do this is for you write a certified letter to the bar owner, with green signature card. In a calm, reasonable and friendly manner, detail the history of the problem, steps that both you and bar personnel have taken in the past to resolve this issue, and the fact that previous remedies haven't worked, as there are still people out there past the allowed hours.

Let them know you want the situation resolved immediately (seriously, this is an easy fix for a bar..a fire alarm door or even a sign attached to a rope going across the door saying no one allowed out after a certain time, it could be taken care of in a day), or in addition to calling 311 you will file a complaint with the community board.
Keep a copy of this letter with the signature card as proof that they know about the situation.

If you don't hear from an apologetic accommodating bar owner within a week, contact your community board and ask to be put on the next months agenda.

In the meantime, keep a record of all the various disturbances, talk to neighbors and see if they would like to support you in this, either by attending the community baord meeting, contacting the bar owner, or at the very least signing a petition to prohibit people from going out there at all (you might want to mention that you will be doing this in your letter).
Call 311 whenever you are woken up.

No bar owner wants to be called in front of the community board for complaints. They have much more power now than they have had in previous years. For example, getting the liquor license renewed isn't the automatic given that it used to be. If you have many complaints against you, you have to go plead your case for renewal. They also have more power to push for the revoking of a license. They also have the ability to put constraints on a license (for example, no people allowed in the outside rear area).

It may sounds drastic, but you don't want to stress out every night about whether or not you are going to be woken up. Bar owners have a responsibility to the neighbors to try and disturb them as little as possible. This bar owner is acting irresponsibly.
posted by newpotato at 8:50 AM on April 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Set up a motion activated sprinkler in the yard. Have the bar owner put up a sign mentioning that there is a sprinkler outside. Watch people get wet for a couple of days.
posted by sciencegeek at 10:33 AM on April 6, 2010

Response by poster: I'm in NYC (Brooklyn, to be specific). The backyard is fenced off and open on top. A canopy could in theory be installed over it. But it's part of a larger open space that's basically the middle of the block surrounded buildings - there's a playground for a school and a driveway for deliveries back there in the larger open space, too.

Thanks for all the ideas! I sort of love the sprinkler one. But it sounds like I really need to look up the specific fire code issue and call the owner on it if he's wrong about the law.
posted by Eshkol at 10:14 AM on April 7, 2010

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