Monday, December 27, 2010

Privilege to Pee

Everyone has been there: you're spending a fun-filled day in Manhattan, taking in the sights, seeing shows, auditioning, shopping, what-have-you, and suddenly . . . you need to use the facilities.  Now, in most areas of the world, this wouldn't be a problem.  In New York, it totally is.  The reason?  The "facilities" are few and far between.  And folks aren't too nice about letting you use them, either.  And, for that matter, even if you don't need to relieve your bladder, sometimes, you just need a place to rest your weary bones for an hour or so . . . preferably somewhere that does not expose said bones to the icy twenty-degree wind.   I hear you, folks.  Me too.  So, I know it's not necessarily a new adventure in the city, but seriously, most of the time, in the city that never sleeps, it sometimes IS an adventure to find a place to rest.

So, after employing the assistance of a few of my friends (thank you Julie, Rachael, Rachel, Hiatt, Michael, Bomboy, Jennifer, Brittney, Freddie, Jefferson, and Amy!), my main problem is how to organize all of my information.  I have hidden public restrooms, warm cozy atriums, secrets to avoiding long restroom lines, and general information as to how to relax in the city without paying a dime.  I'll start with the basics (so, if you consider yourself city-savvy, then scroll down) and I'll then I've decided to organize the rest by neighborhood.  Let's go.

The basics: when in desperate need of a restroom in Manhattan, always look for a Starbucks.  Their restrooms are generally open to the public and you pretty much can't swing a dead cat in the city without hitting a Starbucks.  The problem is, though, that some of the popular coffee joint's midtown locations have recently started requiring a purchase to access their restrooms and, thus, have those tacky gas station attached-to-a-spatula-or-some-other-ridiculous-object bathroom keys.  Some of the restrooms are better than others (most homeless folks know this little bit of info, too, and will often bathe in said restrooms), but if you have to go and you don't know where, Starbucks is your best bet.  So, in general, I'd say that your Starbucks restroom without-a-purchase not-completely-disgusting availability success rate is around 70-80%.  Here's another thing that people generally don't know: all hotel lobbies (and, subsequently, their restrooms) in New York are open to the public.  Now, there are tons of hotels in Manhattan, but the best thing about hotel lobbies is that they generally also have Wi-Fi.  Here's a great list of hotel Wi-Fi spots in the city:  Also, if you have a gym membership, I'm guessing that there are more than a few locations of whatever your gym is on the island of Manhattan.  It's always good to know if you're visiting, you are near a, let's say, Bally's and you want a shower, rest, or a place to change clothes (or, if you're crazy like me, a quick workout).

Oh, and you're always welcome to pick your way through the merchandise in any department store to find their restrooms.  Macy's, Bloomingdale's, Lord and Taylor, Saks, Henri Bendel, Barney's, and Bergdorf Goodman are fabulous places to use the restroom.  And they're always clean.  Just put on your blinders or you might end up leaving with a new juicy couture sweatsuit as well as an empty bladder.

Now for the super-secret rest/restroom locations:

***The best find ever: The Marriott Marquis Atrium Lounge.  Enter the hotel on Broadway between 45th and 46th, go to the central elevator, and head up to the 8th floor.  It's open, gorgeous, quiet, warm, and before 5pm, you have to buy NOTHING to hang out there for long periods of time.  I, quite literally, will pack a lunch and meet friends on the smooshy sofas for a long midday gnosh.  Their restrooms are clean and large and if you want to actually buy a lunch, there's a great little sushi restaurant across the way.

***Charmin.  It may be closing soon, but there's a public restroom on 7th ave between 42nd and 43rd courtesy of everyone's favorite toilet paper.

***New York Public Library reading room - okay, you can't bring food, but it's, in my opinion, one of the most peaceful places in the city.  It's warm and quiet and very centrally located - 42nd and 5th.  Make sure you go to the third floor (it's room 315).  And shhhhh.

***McDonald's on 7th Ave between 45th and 46th has a HUGE second floor seating area with a lovely bird's eye view of Times Square.  It can get a little crowded during mealtimes, but generally, nobody checks to see if you've purchased anything and it's, literally, in the center of everything.

***Worldwide Plaza - It's between 49th and 50th and between 8th and 9th avenues.  Worldwide plaza is an outdoor area, but if it's not really cold, it's a lovely place to sit and relax.  There are tons of tables and chairs and oftentimes in the summer, there is live music.  Also, you can grab a bite a Blockheads or Mother Burger and eat outside (I recommend the $3 margaritas).

***FYI, for all of you locals that love the Blockheads in Worldwide plaza, but hate the restroom line from the single-seater john, remember that you can walk across the plaza to the Mother Burger (same restaurant owner) for a MUCH shorter line.

***Broadway Dance Center.  I know, I know.  But it's on 45th between 8th and 9th and they have a nice lobby with at least 5 different televisions and sofas.  If you're a tourist and want to watch a New York dance class, the folks at BDC don't stop you from meandering in, walking through the facility and taking a peek at the classes in progress (every studio has windows so you can watch without disturbing). Also, it's warm, welcoming, and has a locker room in case you randomly need a shower or change of clothes.

***Bryant Park public restrooms - they're actually really nice!  The line can get a little long, but if you head to the northernmost edge (42nd) of the park near the public library entrance, you're sure to find the clean and well-maintained toilets.

Columbus Circle area/Central Park: 
***The Time Warner Center is always your best bet.  Clean restrooms, warm shopping, a Whole Foods with dining area downstairs, and a Borders on the second floor with tables, chairs, and coffee.  If you don't want to spend a dime, but want some quality reading time, head to the Borders and walk to the back and left and there are tons of chairs where people will leave you alone for hours!

***Central Park sucks if you have to use the facilities.  Trust the person that trained there for the marathon.  But . . . the few sure-fire places to relieve yourself are: the restrooms outside of the Loeb Boathouse on the east side of the Ramble, the johns in the old Tavern on the Green and the toilets by Le Pain Quotidien north of Sheep's Meadow.  There are also pretty well-hidden public toilets just north of the Jackie Kennedy Reservoir and south of North Meadow on the west side of the park, but it's a bit of a hike . . . unless you like tennis and want to watch for a while.

Lincoln Center area: 

***Bed Bath and Beyond on 65th and Broadway has a clean and accessible lavatory on the basement level.

***There's a lovely public atrium on 63nd street between Broadway and 9th called Harmony Atrium.  It's covered and warm and you can grab a glass of wine or cup of coffee before seeing a show at Lincoln Center.  Or not.  You don't have to purchase anything to chill at one of the tables.

***Barnes and Noble on 66th - In fact, any Barnes and Noble is a great place to use the commode or to chill amongst the stacks.  This particular Barnes has a large seating area on the top floor as well as a Starbucks in case you need a pick-me-up.  There are two restroom locations on the second and top floors, so take your pick.

***Pottery Barn on 67th and Broadway - after entering the store, go down the stairs and head to the right.  They're clean and I'll wager a guess that most folks don't know they exist.  Lack of foot (or other appendage) traffic is key in finding a non-disgusting latrine in the city.

***The lower level of the Trump Tower on 56th and 5th Ave has clean and spacious restrooms.  Thanks, Mr. Trump!

Other [(Brooklyn, Queens, and south of 34th and east of 5th) (not like anybody ever goes there)]:

***Whole Foods on Houston - great place to sit, grab a gnosh, and use the facilities.  If you're ever down there in KANSAS.

***Other Barnes and Noble locations with restrooms and warm seating areas: Court Street in Cobble Hill, 7th Ave in Park Slope, the north side of Union Square

***There are restrooms, a little coffee stand, and tables and chairs if it's warm enough to hang outside the Brooklyn Museum.  Also, if you're on your way to the 2 or 3 train, it's pretty convenient.

***There are a ton of delis and restaurants that have hidden seating upstairs or downstairs.  If you are game to buy some food or a cup of coffee, make sure to ask about additional seating.  Chances are, there's space to spread out and take a load off.

There you have it, folks.  It's by far not complete, but hopefully, it will, at some point, help you with your New York privilege to pee.  Rest up and stay warm, folks.

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