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September 28, 2011

The Ladies' and Gentlemen's


Today’s text is from humorist H. Allen Smith’s Life in a Putty Knife Factory, ©1943.  In describing where he liked to take out-of-town friends, he didn't talk about the Empire State Building or the Metropolitan Museum or the Statue of Liberty.

Rcmh-1 “I want them to see the gents’ room at the Radio City Music Hall.  Here is one of the most noble prospects in the Western Hemisphere.  It is, beyond doubt, the biggest and most magnificent can on earth—a veritable Taj Mahal of toilets.  Looking at it for the first time, a man’s credulity is put to test.  It is almost too purty to use.”

Sooner or later (and it’s usually sooner), you will find yourself away from home and in desperate need of the “facilities.”  If you’re a man in the woods, the nearest tree will do . . . or a dark alley in town.  Yes, there’s a device that accords a women similar privileges, but you’ll have to Google the topic because that’s not what this post is about. They say “any port in a storm” but it would take a hurricane to induce me to step inside a portable one.  Instead, let’s talk about the most elegant public restroom you’ve ever used.










I've used the facilities in the White House and in our own Governor’s Mansion.  Both feature classic architecture and tasteful wallpaper.  Both have monogrammed paper towels. (And yes, I snitched one from each.) 

For sheer opulence, though, nothing quite matches the public restrooms in 4- and 5-star hotels. As long as you don’t look like a homeless drunk, no one will lift an eyebrow if you approach an employee and ask where the nearest one is. Usually, they are clean and usually they are adequate, but some are minimal while others fall in Smith’s Taj Mahal category.

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I have never visited the Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, but if I’m ever in the vicinity, it’s on my list because of this recent comment by Michelle Gervais, Associate Editor of Fine Gardening:

8-9-2011-Longwood1-MG_lg-1 “I visited Longwood Gardens down in Pennsylvania late last week, and one of the things I was most excited to see was, believe it or not, their new public bathrooms. When I was there late last summer they were just completing them, and even then, during a sneak peak when I had to duck under scaffolding wearing a hard hat, they were spectacular. They're even better now! This underground corridor is attached to one of the rear corners of the conservatory, and it's a huge living wall under a glass roof, with individual bathrooms evenly spaced along each side. Inside each bathroom is a domed ceiling topped with a small, round skylight that pokes out of the grass above. It's truly a spectacular destination.”

  Nominee-2010-10        Did you know that there’s a contest for America’s best restrooms?   http://www.bestrestroom.com/us/

Here's last year's winner, The Fountain on Locust, a vintage ice cream parlor in St. Louis, MO.  

According to the contest rules:   “Nominees must meet two criteria: The restrooms must be clean, and they must be memorable.”

Do you have a nominee? 


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The local Bucca Di Peppo restaurant has one Ladies' room with naughty photographs. It's right down the hall from the small dining room with the Pope's head in the middle of the table.

You cannot make this shit up.

The nicest bathroom I ever used belonged to a very wealthy couple in San Francisco. Comfy toilet with a heated seat, heated FLOOR, lots of room, television, excellent reading material, smelled great and had a fantastic view of The City out of a floor to ceiling wall of one way glass.

I've been to the conservatory at Longwood and have personal experience with "the living wall" restrooms. Pretty cool stuff. My daughter and I have often thought that someone should write a guide to cool restrooms in America. They could become tourist destinations on their own.

My favorite bathroom was in our room at the Chateau de Villeray in Condeau, France where we like to stay when driving across the Loire Valley. It's very old, with antique bath and fixtures, marble floor and accessories. It's not extravagant. It's just large and sunny and . . . well, you know, interesting and just very pleasant. There is a separate room with a toilet and wash basin . . . um - a sink? I guess you might call the room a little water closet.

I don't really care about elegance, but I love beautiful and functional antiques in very old settings. I've grown to appreciate nice accommodations. As a young child I lived in a cabin with no toilet, or bath, or running water. It worked, but in the winter snow came in through cracks in the walls. Looking back to that time makes everything look pretty good. So you might not rely too much on my evaluation if you are headed toward Rouen and go near the tiny village of Condeau. This is the little village with a convent and a pharmacy that took my word that I lost my seizure meds, and gave me a months supply for what? Like $2? So how off could I be? It's a castle. In a forest. In France. nd they hve a little riding school for the kids. Homemade yogurt, jams, and croissants in a breakfast room with just a few other people. Everyone is nice, even the chef, and c'mon they have a cheese dude. Here's a video someone took: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z89wFuP7FRk

The worst bathroom I ever used was at an autobahn truck stop where we had to sleep in our car over night -- because Step likes to "wing it," and we couldn't find a room anywhere. The next night it looked like the same thing was going to happen, so when we were near the town he was named after (I know . . . his family does that) I told him to pull up to the next no-room-at-the-inn B&B. I introduced him by his real name, and they made space. I never, ever, ever do that kind of thing, but I was not going to sleep at a truck stop on the autobahn ever again. Never. Never. Never. The toilets there were . . . well they weren't . . . they were HOLES in the floor. And now that I've read a few of your murder mysteries . . . uh-uh. No more truck stops anywhere in the world.

I don't know about memorable restrooms (except for that psychedlic one in the deli in Levittown, PA...you could get a contact high just from needing to pee) but, just getting back from a few days away I am irked at public restrooms and have the following 2 questions:

1) Why is the handicapped stall always the farthest from the door? I have enough trouble getting there in the first place and another half mile doesn't help.

2) Why is the handicapped stall always occupied by somebody who doesn't need it, even though it's at the far end of the line and EVERY.OTHER.FREAKING.STALL is EMPTY?

Peach, if not a book on specific restrooms, at least a guide on how to find a clean one. In southern Italy, for instance, I look for a hospital. Facilities have to be provided for the visitors.
Doc, what a sybaritic experience!
Too funny, Kathy.
Interesting point, Judith, about the location.
Holes in the floor, Reine? In Germany? That's surprising.

A neighborhood restaurant has naughty illustrations from old books. Normally, I'm appalled by the idea of destroying a book to use the illustrations, but these are darling and I hope to be first in line if that restaurant decides to part with the pictures if they go out of business. (Which is unlikely. They're always packed, and the food is delish.)

Judith, I may not look handicapped, but I use the handicapped stall (is this TMI? Yes!) because of my back. I live in terror of being unable to get up from some of very low---er--facilities. (Local art museum, are you kidding with those kindergarten toilets?)

So funny! And it can be such an experience!

Where do they get those lovely thick paper towels? The ones that are folded, and monogrammed, and feel like cloth but they're paper?

And I love the bathrooms with Moulton Brown liquid soap.

MY pet peeve? When the faucets re so chic-ly high tech that you can't figure out how they work!

Oh! And when the toilet flushes when IT wants to. Terrifying.

Oh, and when there are two positions for the flusher, a "one" position, and a "two." I guess this is brilliant, but it seems--yucky, for want of a better word.

My favorite bathroom was the ballerina Alicia Alonso's--I was at her home in Atlanta a million years ago. She had a huge brandy snifter --HUGE---filled with perfume samples. I was so impressed--now I have one, too.

I used the lobby facilities at The Royal Hawaiian Hotel at Waikiki many, many years ago while staying in a teeny little room at a back alley fourth rate (but clean, very clean!) place a couple of blocks from the water. Wow!! Pink EVERYWHERE, of course, attendants in the restroom, shiny vanity-style sinks (they may have been large pink shells - I did see that sort of thing in the more luxurious restrooms at hotels I visited but did not stay in). I just read on their website that "The Royal Hawaiian has refreshed its grandeur"...I cannot imagine what it must look like now!.

H. Allen Smith: I loved him! I read everything of his that I could get my hands on many years ago, and I periodically re-read his books.

Nancy, I often use handicapped stalls, too, and for the same reason - back problems that make it difficult for me to get up. It's happened at home, and I really should get those railings put in. I accidentally pulled the toilet paper holder off the wall a few years ago when I was having a particularly difficult time getting up.

I saw a Hole in the Floor in a public restroom at a park in Jordan. Fortunately, people were given the option of using the "normal" type of fixture, too, although it had an old-fashioned chain pull for flushing.

I've never been there, but I want to check out the restrooms at The American Club resort in Kohler, Wisconsin. Yes, Kohler, as in the bathroom fixtures. Funny aside: As I was looking for more info on the resort I happened upon the website for the American Restroom Association. When I clicked on the North America Restroom Locators link, it took me to a page titled "PUBIC Restroom Locators." Whoops!

It doesn't compare to the truly awe inspiring ones, but I'm proud of the restrooms where I work (a restaurant & dinner theater). When I talk to the bus groups, I tell them where the restrooms are located and I always mention that we have the nicest ladies' room in town. They laugh, then at least five women seek me out later and tell me I was right. It isn't so much that it's fancy, although it is nicely decorated and has a fainting couch. More importantly, there are more than enough stalls and every one is wide enough to get in and out of comfortably. There are two handicapped accessible stalls (Judith, one is at the back but the other is at the front), and there are plenty of sinks, with huge mirrors and good lighting.

By the way, Hank, those thick paper towels are called "linen likes" and we get them from restaurant supply stores.

Hank, don't you love the way our readers educate us? "Linen likes." Who knew?

Nancy, it isn't my back but my knee that makes those low to go seats so difficult.

I would be grateful for a One & Two type flushes. I have a lottery going with my toilet and, as usual, the house always wins and I have to use the plunger.

The fanciest restroom I've ever visited was at a Gas Station/Convenience Store. It had slate and marble everwhere, a beautiful waterfall, fancy pedestal sinks and almost linen like towels.

It was so amazing, I made my mom and daughters get out of the car that was by the gas pumps to see this restroom. They gave me the "we dont' need to go" and I followed with "ya gotta see this place!".

I should probably mention that this was place was located on the edge of an Indian Reservation right next to a casino.

Boat bathrooms have always fascinated me.
I painted my college boyfriend's toilet seat with the Coka Cola logo. We called it the red head. The pause that refreshes...you know college kids!
Menfolk always pee over the side of anything, preferably down wind but when beer is involved you never know.
My son and I decided after reading about DeSoto that all those horses he brought with him from Spain must have given a new meaning to the to the word poop deck.
But seriously Ladies. I hate those bathrooms where the light comes from the top. A man must have designed it I say. Makes you want to run to the nearest over the counter wrinkle cream store!
And then there is that two bath tub thing...

Doc, a friend of the families has a patent on one type of heated bathroom floor. I am sure he is glad you like it.

While I have never been to the Shoji Tabuchi Show in Branson, MO, I have seen pictures and heard of the facilities. (http://www.shoji.com/press.html) I think when your bathrooms are their own tourist destination, you may have gone to far.

I have used a Black Tie Portable Toilet (http://www.blacktieservices.com/luxury-restroom-trailers.html) Nicer than some houses I have seen. To quote Farris, "If you have the means, I strongly suggest you get one."

Nancy, Whole Foods has the "one/two" flushers on the urinals in the men's room. I'm not really sure why.

Deb, I too have used the public toilets in the Middle East. Facilities last updated when the Roman's ruled the land. 1,000 years since its last cleaning. Oh boy!


I hate to interrupt a lively discussion on public facilities, but Princess One's creation and entry in the MyTopPlate contest qualified as a finalist. If you could take a second to go to http://www.tvscratchgames.com/MyTopPlate/ and register and vote, I would appreciate it. The entry is Campfire by YDP age 9 under the user Alan P.

Thank you!

Oh, and tell your friends!

Well, Mr. Typepad has taken an attitude with me today, apparently, and has spit back out a reply I sent earlier.

Two of the best bathrooms are from around here! Jungle Jim's is the craziest place, a food emporium the size of a mall, with foodstuffs and wines from every corner of the earth. It's a must-see tourist destination for this area.

A couple of standout bathrooms in my travels: Sydney, Australia, near the harbor, a bar ladies room with the first trough sink I ever saw, made of a slab of black marble with water running over it into a mere slit of a drain. I wonder how many rings have been lost forever there.

A pay restroom near the Paris Flea Market. The light is on a timer, and if you stay too long it goes out! That was freaky. When the toilet is flushed a seat cover automatically rotated to a fresh one for the next person.

But the craziest of all was at the Park Ultra Lounge, in Sacramento. When you walk into the ladies room there is a large cement trough sink with three sides projecting from what looks to be a mirrored wall. When I returned to the sink room and began washing my hands, expecting to see myself in the mirror, there was a MAN there! Turned out that the mirror was actually a thick glass wall, and the "reflection" of the sink was actually another sink on the other side, in the men's room. Freaky.

Margaret, you're such a tease. What were you doing in the White House? Besides tinkling, that is.

The Madonna Inn outside of San Luis Obispo, CA, was (is?) famous for its crazy bathrooms way back in the 70's. Only the men's rooms, though. Back in the day, the urinal in one of them was a waterwheel thingie that turned when men did their, um, business. Now, I believe, there's just a waterfall.

I was very disappointed at the "luxury" bathrooms at Harrod's - paid a pound to use them, and they were no nicer than those at a nice hotel. Hmph.

The last B&B we stayed in - The Inn at Onancock, on Virginia's Eastern Shore - had the Best. Jacuzzi. Tub. Ever. Plus heated towels and scrumptious bath salts. I could have lived in that tub.

My husband and I always rate the bathrooms where we stay - and agree that there needs to be a reality TV show about America's Best Bathrooms. Seriously.

I'm a little paranoid and OCD about public bathrooms, but I live near Longwood Gardens and have been thinking it's time for a fall field trip there. If I go, I'll turn in a potty report.

BTW, the cleanest stall is usually the one nearest the door. No one ever goes into the first stall.

I nominate a vegetarian Japanese restaurant in L.A., the name of which I've forgotten, which has since gone out of business. How's that for helpful? I'm quite sure they went out of business because they sunk millions into the bathrooms, which had the most space age toilets I have ever encountered. They did everything but teach you Japanese.

The Regent Beverly Wilshire is my sentimental favorite, though. I seem to have had an unusually high number of memorable bathroom moments in that place.

I apparently haven't had any "memorable bathroom moments", since I can't think of any bathrooms worthy of being described here. Except the ones at the theater at which I have season tickets - it's the oldest continually running theater in the country (or maybe the world?) so you would think the bathrooms would be crap. But they're huge, with tons of stalls, and nice sinks, etc.

I have been to Longwood Gardens (fabulous place, and worth a trip, bathrooms or no bathrooms). On a visit last year with my sister and brother-in-law, the bathrooms were even mentioned by one of the volunteer staff as being written about, and we were excited to see them. However, when it came time to "see a man about a horse", as my brother says, the bathrooms we found were... normal. Institutional public bathrooms, nothing of note about them at all. Obviously, we chose the wrong ones for our visit.

Best public washroom I have used was at the Contemporary Resort at Disney World. A lovely hush of silence when the outside door closes, the right level of lighting and decent sized stalls. What I really liked was the towels for drying your hands were actually large sized cotton face cloths. After a day of paper towels at theme parks, cloth is marvelous. I always take a moment to run the water hot and soak the day off my face.

At Cinderella's Royal Table restaurant in the castle at the Magic Kingdom the bathrooms are original to the building and small. It is a 2 stall bathroom and I was in there using the facilities when a mom was trying to get her daughter to use the toilet in the other stall. Then I hear a tiny voice say "mom someone made a stinky!" Ahem, sorry kid.

Judith, I have used the handicapped stall but only if it is the last one available and the need is great . . .

Ramona, I almost always go into the first stall. Contrary, I guess.

The only memorable bathroom moments I can recall are the ones in which women in other stalls were talking on the phone, whilst doing their thang. Again, contrary person here, I take great delight in flushing in the middle of the proceedings. Don't people have any shame? Sheesh.

I wish my grandmother had visited one of these fine establishments. She was very particular about restrooms. My finest quote from her: "Well, we went to the Grand Canyon but the restrooms there were just filthy. Disgraceful. So we found a Shell Station outside Needles. Two stalls, very clean."

Now, every time I go into a public restroom, I give it a "Grandma's rating."

Hi Margaret,

Those "holes" were just in the autobahn outdoor potties - not the cafeteria/gas sttion reststops.

Hi Judith B,

You are so right a bout those dis-stalls. People tell me they like them, because thewy are roomy. Also some people have hidden disabilities tht require use of a high toilet or grab bars. What really gets me ngry is when the toilet paper dispenser is mounted on the grb br, nd you cant hold on where you need to. You cant reach the paper either, unless you have a rubber arm with no elbow.

Sorry . mouth stick fell apart. ..i give up (um, not really , just a joke. no more phone calls necessary, but thanks gang! you are the best)

I hope nobody thinks I'm scolding them for using the handicapped stall when they need it...or if it's the last one available and wet pants are just not an option.

I'm mad at the 20-something dancing into the restroom, pushing past me and my walker to use the handicapped stall while every other stall in the place was EMPTY. My walker won't fit in the normal ones and I just don't feel comfortable leaving it outside the door as it usually also contains all the things I can't hold and navigate at the same time. And at the very able bodied ones in the line when the restroom is full who push in front of you to use the large stall even though you are next in line...just because you can't move as fast. (It gets even worse on the days when the walker isn't enough and I have to use the wheelchair)

(This little biddy also kept hold of that stall for almost 30 minutes...no idea of what the hell she was doing there)

Harley, DO tell us about those "memorable bathroom moments" - please? (I picture you sobbing over a lost love, among other things that my vivid imagination can conjure up.)

On the way home from visiting relatives for Easter a few years ago, I had major car trouble. I was stuck at a gas station for several hours, waiting for the car to be repaired. Eventually, nature called. I received directions to the restroom, which could only be accessed by going outside and around to the side of the building. There were interesting life forms growing in there. I would have believed that the room and fixtures were last cleaned in the 1890s, except that the building wasn't that old. I decided to "hold it". Earlier, when I had found myself stranded, and with my poor disabled sister who got stuck trying to sit up on an office chair in the inside of the gas station, I called the relative that we'd been visiting. She had left home right after we left her house, so she wasn't around, but I left a message on her machine. She called me a couple hours later, and came to pick us up and take us to her house to wait for the repairs to be finished. Ah, relief!


I should add that this autobahn potty was before 2006 when I had to switch to a complex-rehab power wheelchair, making airline travel next to impossible unless I'm willing to risk my delicate electronic controls getting zapped useless while stored in the hold or of having them crushed by someone tossing them aside to make room for their oversized "purse."

Geez, I should breathe more frequently. Guess I was anticipating the difficult to manage code box spam protector thingy whatchacallit. Well, here goes . . . .

My brilliant and resourceful mother-in-law taught me how to pee outside, in broad daylight, in the city, without anyone's being able to tell. Without her and Auntie-Mom I wouldn't know anything good.

PS: Unlike parking spaces accessible stalls are not usually reserved for those of us with disabilities. They are just accessible, more or less. When they are truly accessible, they are a good example of universal access. I've been to a few places in the US where all stalls are accessible.

Interesting that so many stalls are clean in places you wouldn't normally expect because of the high volume traffic. Interesting stories.

Reine, you want to share?

Hi Nancy M,

About those "kindergarten toilets" at your local art museum: A surprising number of contractors and others in charge of making bathrooms accessible assume that a shorter toilet is easier to sit on and stand from.

Hi Judith B,

The reason the accessible stalls are usually located at the end of the room is to take advantage of the length factor, since to be fully accessible a stall needs to have a length longer than average, as well as wider.

Hi Margaret,

I'm not sure I can find a list, but a lot of MacDonalds, especially beside interstates, have bathrooms with all the stalls accessible. They are huge and are like little rooms with easy-open swinging doors. MacDonalds franchises have made huge progress in accessibility for everyone: young/small; tall/short; wheelchair; walker; infant care needs . . . .

Sorry I'm so late. I was at the doctor getting my flu shot. The bathrooms at UMC are excellent now that they stop the staff from storing extra rolls of paper on the grab bars. That's a major project - to stop people from making an accessible room into an inaccessible one by putting things in those lovely extra spaces and handy bars. Towels and clothes are very dangerous on a grab bar.

A Marriott I sometimes stay at when Auntie-Moms house is overloaded has no towel bars in their accessible rooms and suites. Apparently they either removed them or used the available space for the grab bars. So where does housekeeping put the towels? Of course!

I once mentored a masters student in hotel management by going through a hotel in Scottsdale and pointing out in what ways the rooms and facilities and activities were inaccessible. They also tried to charge a pet fee for service dogs. That was taken care of too. Like any dog, if they get sick or you do not keep them clean so that they soil the couch or bed or carpet, you are responsible. But they are not pets and you cannot be charged extra. And they cannot refuse heir staying with you if they are a medical necessity.

OMG it's so late. I am really slow at writing. No one will even read this. :-/

I did!

Margaret! Thank you!!! And by mistake I wrote a response on Nancy P's blog today! all about the dentist's bathroom! I am a noodle brain.

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