Best Place to Ignore Your Neighbor


As unique as squash-blossom quesadillas and a tequila-centric cocktail menu designed by The Bon Vivants are, they pale in comparison to the inventive way in which Berkeley's Comal has revolutionized the oft-dreaded communal table. Instead of listening to a couple drone on about the tedium of their days, or overhearing a tipsy twentysomething bemoan the Bay Area's dating scene, Comal's first-of-its-kind sound system reduces any distracting discussions into an indistinguishable din. The sound system uses a series of speakers to pick up noise in the room, filter it through a computer, and feed it back into the restaurant to create acoustic "microbubbles." Voices are only distinguishable in the direction they are projected, and others get washed into the general noise of the surrounding area, where they are blended and blurred. The dimensions of both communal tables were also chosen carefully. Owner John Paluska decided to max out the table widths at three feet, the greatest distance a dining party can be separated while still being conducive to conversation, and raise the table in the bar area to 42 inches to prevent the sensation of being crowded by standing drinkers. Communal tables may be a polarizing concept, but Comal fosters an atmosphere ideal for sharing a meal with a table full of strangers.

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