Our favorite local spot in Santa Rosa so far is The Toad in the Hole. It’s an English-style pub on the west end of downtown, an easy walk from our house. We like their brews, we like their Cornish pasty, and most of all we like their atmosphere. Sports bars aren’t really our thing, nor is soccer, but while soccer games are often playing on TV, they’re not intrusive and not usually a focus of attention.
Toad in the Hole wants to be a place where people come together to talk. The flip side of the menu reprints a 1946 George Orwell essay, The Moon Under Water, a fictionalized amalgam of the best features of all the pubs he knew and loved. At the center of the essay is this pivotal sentence:
“In the Moon Under Water it is always quiet enough to talk.”
I’m not any kind of audiophile but I’ve long been bothered by the awful acoustics in so many establishments. It’s hard to have a conversation in a room full of music and voices bouncing off hard surfaces. And while it’s easy to mitigate those sounds with baffles, that’s rarely done. One reason Toad in the Hole lives up to Orwell’s ideal is that it gets that right. It eluded me on our first few visits, but the other night I looked up and saw this:
You can see two acoustic baffles hangling from the ceiling. There are more like that all around the perimeter. It’s a subtle thing that most patrons may not notice. But it makes a huge difference!
It’s also a nice lesson in product design. Vanish into the woodwork, solve problems that people may not even recognize in a way they may not even notice, and let them just get on with what they care about.