Van Leeuwen. Brooklyn, NY.
Awash in hexagonal tile, the bathroom in Van Leeuwen, a new-ish, bright, airy ice cream/coffee storefront, is a study in homey minimalism. The smartly re-purposed details (vintage wire-glass in the door, a brass toilet paper holder that had an unknown previous purpose.) and clean, crisp white painted brick add up to a tranquil space. Truly, the only discordant note was the disappointingly pedestrian hand dryer. It was in an awkward space between modern and antique and seemed an afterthought in what was otherwise a meticulously appointed lavatory. While the Airblade is not for every space, obviously, something else could have been utilized. On the whole, however, Van Leeuwen’s facilities meshed harmoniously not just with the store on the whole, but with the handsome Carroll Gardens neighborhood locale.
La Villa. Brooklyn, NY.
The bathroom at homey Italian restaurant La Villa (where the chicken parmesan is bountiful and inexpensive) is mostly noteworthy for the perplexing poster (or newspaper tear sheet?) of mixed Italianica. It looks like there’s…news about one of the Milan football teams? Inter? And some kind of racing thing? I think if you’re from Italy the framed art’s meaning would be elementary, but to an American of admittedly minimal Italian heritage (approximately 25%) it’s the Rosetta stone in miniature. Oftentimes in American family restaurants out in my native suburbs, restaurants will kindly place the front page of the Sports section under glass at eye level above urinals. That is, oddly enough, the first place that I read of world-conquering Patriot Tom Brady. La Villa’s framed paper look at first glance to serve a similar purpose…except for the fact that it DOES NOT CHANGE. Is time in essence standing still in their bathroom? Were one to stand in La Villa’s bathroom for eternity, would it vacuum-seal time, thus creating immortality? Obviously, my interest was merely academic, as I stepped outside.
The saffron wall color and brown stone tile, also, were fully not offensive. The sink is also unique and sturdy.
Buttermilk Channel. Brooklyn, NY.
A triumph in harmonious design. This bathroom had a soothing cleanliness, not only in the literal sense, but in an “uncluttered, stylistically continuous with the restaurant in general” sense. The use of candles was judicious and by no means gratuitous (I once purchased a $40 candle. I suspect this was in that rough price bracket due to the subtlety of scent), and the accents (worn wood table. Single floral presence.) were integral to the overall gestalt. But perhaps the most singular and rewarding facet of this glittering gem was the strictly horizontal grid of wall treatment. I assume it to be boards, and the knee-jerk reaction for anyone would be to orient them vertically in a broad wainscoting, but this bathroom struck a blow for rugged individuality by adhering to its own internal logic. To stick the landing, the floor was tiled in a blue that accurately echoed the blue and cream exterior of the restaurant. Can a restroom exude “Americana?” I say yes. Even my father returned from his visit saying, “that’s a nice bathroom.” Here here.
Panera Bread. North Attleboro, MA.
My visit to this Panera Bread location in Massachusetts was generally unremarkable, save for a roving cookie sample attendant (chocolate mint: transcendent) and a sanitation engineer who legitimately took pride in his work, but the bathroom was another story entirely. It had little to do with the atmosphere or decor, though both were non-threatening to pleasant, with clean accommodations and soft, unobtrusive music. What made this a memorable visit was the gentleman ahead of me, 60-ish, well dressed if somewhat shapeless, and utterly insistent on leaving the faucet on for me after he washed his hands. He was adamant in his claims that he had “gotten it to the perfect temperature.” Of course, once my turn at the faucet came around (he washed his hands for an actual epoch of history), the water was tepid bordering on chilly. I smiled and nodded like a village simpleton when he remarked about how perfect the temperature was, and wondered if he’d think me rude if I didn’t do the same favor for the man immediately succeeding me. I decided against leaving the faucet on, as the gentlemen arriving next seemed perfectly capable of selecting a comfortable water temperature of his own choosing. The older man had already gone, so whatever his opinion may have been about my dereliction in duty, I’ll never know.
Julian’s. Providence, RI.
Conflicted. To be certain, it’s heartening to see a bathroom that aims for, and largely achieves singularity. The teal and vermilion patterned wall treatment, the television running vintage cartoons, and the display cases with both Pez dispensers (Are they accepting donations? For whatever reason I’ve collected a number of them in my contrail over the years. I can’t recall how or when. And I’ve no especial attachment to them.) and Star Wars figures (loosely organized by “season”) absolutely mark this bathroom as an original. That it resides in proximity to both Brown University (Tell me: do they even have grades?) and RISD is telling. So yes - on many levels I wouldn’t discard my brief time in here as being wasteful, but IS IT PLEASING?
On that, it’s hard to say definitively. I’m often taken to task by those close to me for a puritanical approach to color. Indeed I’ve been accused of HATING color, when the opposite is closer to the mark. So much do I adore color that I deplore its indiscriminate use. Unfortunately, Julian’s is guilty of exactly that. It’s clearly intentional, but the ultimate effect is one of visual vomit. On a personal level, it doesn’t help that my own relationship with the Star Wars trilogy is complex and largely antagonistic. I just see the lovely exposed brick, shard floor tile and some of the other ancillary details and think, “wouldn’t this have been enough?”
Apparently not. For what it’s worth, the food and service are delightful, though please be wary of parking on a crosswalk when visiting. I did so and burned with regret upon receiving a ticket.
River Falls. Woonsocket, RI.
A wholly pleasant afternoon lunch with my parents deserves a commensurate bathroom break, and that’s precisely what I received at River Falls. The downstairs restroom was tastefully appointed with walls of deep aubergine at the top and chocolate brown tile on the bottom half (pictured). I was curiously unable to determine the composition of the tile (Was it stone? Ceramic? Plastic composite? Indeterminate.) but it didn’t detract from the success of the overall composition. The bathroom lacked some of the little details that could have put it over the top, like a subtle scented candle or a unique light fixture, but it was not a room I regretted visiting. Of additional note is the tangentially related fact that on Thursdays River Falls offers an all you can eat rib fest that features both baby back and prime rib(s) at an obscenely low price point of $17.99. Had the bathroom been a festering trough, the management would still have secured a return visit from me by virtue of the knee-buckling rib atrocity. I look forward to exploring it from every grease-spattered, sauce-basted, blood-soaked angle.
Target. Los Angeles, CA / Target. Lincoln, RI
Colossal retail chains present a singular experience of infinite familiarity. For example, when feeling homesick, I would often step into a CVS wherever I may have been at a given time. Same carpet materials, same shelving, same tasteful red and grey color scheme. Close my eyes and I’m dusting shelves on Cass Avenue or stopping for odds and ends at Park Square with my parents. In essence, the repetition of spacial can sometimes create a sensory illusion of a return to the womb - - the womb, in this instance being a place of safety and comfort when surroundings are unfamiliar or downright hostile. What’s interesting to note with the side-by-side comparison of the two Target restrooms, situated literally across the country from one another, is not so much the similarities, (there are plenty, however) but the differences. Look at them. What do you see? Flat fluorescent lighting…clean white tile…red detailing…
But what’s different? What erodes the illusion of the familiar? Different hand-driers. Different sinks. How does Target decide which vendors to patronize? Is it not company-wide? Or is it regional? In all honesty, in my mind’s eye, these were IDENTICAL until I went back to make this post. The reality is that they’re almost totally different. It’s disconcerting and alienating, because it truly exposes the lengths one’s mind will go to to simulate the familiar.
Regardless, in more humanistic terms, both of these bathrooms, like Target itself, were completely not terrible. And the fact that they were accompanied by the welcome water fountain (called a “bubbler” at the Lincoln location, no doubt.), elevated them well above, say, your average Starbuck’s restroom.
Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. Long Beach, CA.
I’ll be frank: this could have been a hastily dug trench in a vermin-infested alley and I would not have been disturbed. So moved am I by the chicken and waffles at Roscoe’s that I’m essentially inured to any and all discomfort for a significant period after eating there. Could a restaurant with a globe-encompassing reputation have indulged in a posh restroom? Certainly. But ivory handles, imported marble, stainless steel Dyson airblades (do they make those yet? They should), scented toilet water, raw silk toilet paper, and a robot attendant speaking 12 languages and programmed with massage techniques (though to be candid I’m personally not comfortable with massages; I’m using the example to describe luxury) would not have improved my experience at Roscoes, as it is impossible to improve upon perfection. As it stands, it’s a perfectly adequate, reasonably clean WC with a tile color that recalles the amber syrup drizzled on the fluffy waffles, and that’s entirely acceptable.
Royal-T. Culver City, CA.
Mentally exhausted and rudderless after visiting the sepulchral and disorienting Museum of Jurassic Technology (see previous post), I sought refreshment in an atmosphere sterile, bright, and comforting. Culver City’s Royal T, a curious mixture of art gallery, museum store, and Tokyo maid cafe, fit the bill. Ambient electronica, concrete floors, and an entirely rejuvenating latte brought me back to the land of the living, and my bathroom visit only cemented the general sense of well-being. Aside from a handful of obnoxious but understandable framed magazine stories about the cafe, the restroom was tasteful and organized, with little details like the black chandelier (pictured), and walls of a warm, inviting gray. Additionally bonus was the fact that at no point did I have to share the space with another soul, contributing to a reclamation of my composure and trademark zen beatitude.
The Museum of Jurassic Technology. Culver City, CA.
Can a location simultaneously repel and attract you? Visiting the Museum of Jurassic Technology, a museum that seems an elaborate hoax with flecks of truth sprinkled in, always puts me in a vaguely narcotized haze. It’s as inviting as visiting a womb, and I suspect as disorienting as that would actually be (if one did so burdened with a fully realized adult consciousness). Regardless of the overwhelming David Lynch-ism of the museum, however, the bathrooms are near flawlessly executed. The lighting is as soft as an eyelash flutter, the design recalls a well-appointed though vaguely sinister mansion’s water closet, and the depth of tranquility established in the tenebrous bowels of the enigmatic structure is unmatched.
Two years ago, I found myself with the unenviable task of removing animal waste from my shoe in this very restroom. Its genesis was an absolute mystery. I was reasonably certain that I did not enter the museum with it…and I saw no evidence of an animal on the premises. And yet…lo and behold. The very nature of the museum led my mind down labyrinthine paths fraught with paranoiac diversions. “Did they plant this here intentionally as part of the overall behavioral experiment? It DID happen in or near the room with portraits of Russian space dogs…is that a COINCIDENCE?” Regardless of the stresses of cleaning my shoe, however, at no point did I regret doing so in such a calming restroom. Time well spent.