You find yourself on a crowded curb in Manhattan, waiting for traffic to break and give you safe passage across the street. Suddenly, your abdominal muscles flex and contract. Your bowels rumble, making you hyper aware of your genitals. Disaster has struck; you are in desperate need of a bathroom in the middle of New York City. But fear not dear reader, with any luck this article should assist you in navigating through all future gastrological landmines and deliver you safely to the comfort of bladder and bowel relief.
If you have just moved to New York, you have no doubt been struck by signs proclaiming, “Bathrooms are for customers only.” These signs are lies. In their place, one should infer the following, that the bathroom is open to anyone, assuming they’re sober, not homeless and generally normal.
If these exclusionary stipulations don’t apply to you then, when in need of a restroom, simply find the closest restaurant, café or bar. Ignore any sign the establishment may have, but, to be prudent, the location’s standard attire should not differ too significantly from your current dress. Once inside, cross to the back; nine times out of ten, restrooms are situated in the rear of food and beverage establishments.
As you traverse clusters of crowded tables, scan the room as if searching for an already seated friend. Before reaching the restroom, give a nod of acknowledgement to your phantom friend, wave and point to the restroom. The ultimate goal of this performance is to the give the impression that you plan on joining an already seated patron but need to use the restroom first.
After you’ve done your business, just leave. If you’re nervous about someone questioning you about your misappropriation of the lavatory, walk out of the bathroom with your cell phone to your ear.
I’ve applied this method on a number of occasions to use a customer only facility and have never once been stopped or questioned as to my purpose in the establishment. This method’s success rate should come of no surprise. When you enter a restaurant or café, no one inside has any reason to suspect you of a nefarious intention to misuse the pluming resources. In fact, without significant grounds for suspicion, service industry professionals, working for tips, have a notable motivation to be courteous and helpful.
You may find, as I have, that this performance is almost always unnecessary. Waiters and waitress have busy difficult jobs and don’t care if you use their bathroom—sign or no sign. If a bathroom requires a key, ask for it, but be polite! Proper etiquette on making a request to use the bathroom should have been imparted to you by your parents or teachers shortly after you learned to speak, but, in the event those responsible for your upbringing failed, allow me to provide you with the basic script.
Excuse me, Sir. May I please use your restroom?
In the event your subject is a female, simply replace Sir with Ma’am.
The body, in many situations, acts as an independent animist, making the random need to use the bathroom a shared part of the human condition. Without a clear means by which to profit off the position, few people, charged with playing gatekeeper to a toilet, will deny a polite request for access submitted by a fellow member of their species suffering from this relatable crisis. If you are denied and told that the restroom is for customers only, don’t be afraid to say please and ask again. From my experience, most key holders will buckle if sufficiently impressed with your need to go.
Rarely will this method fail at providing you with a place to relieve yourself, but, if you suffer from some form of bladder related social anxiety or are a real stickler for rules, there are a myriad of other options available to you.
Many corporate chains throughout New York City provide public restrooms: Starbucks, Barnes and Noble, Borders, Apple. If you have a smart phone, searching Starbucks in Google Maps is one of the fastest ways to find a bathroom. Most major parks, including Washington Square and Central Park, have bathrooms open from dusk till dawn.
In Time Square, if in a time of need, you can typically relieve yourself at the Crowne , Marriot Marquis or on the 3rd floor of the M&M Store. If you’re capable of holding it, and willing to walk, you can always hike over to Port Authority on 8th Avenue. A quick ride on the S train will take you to Grand Central Station, where public restrooms are located on the lower level. During the holiday season, make sure to check out Charmin’s promotional public restroom. Cleaned by an attendant after every use, this toilet stall is likely cleaner than the bathroom in your apartment.
Discovering bathrooms is an inevitable part of making New York City your home. The shortage of usable restrooms, purported by past inhabitants and disgruntled tourists, is a myth. Any New Yorker worth their MetroCard, knows a restroom on almost every block of the neighborhoods they frequent and, if pressed, can find one from Pelham Bay to the Far Rockaways.
This ability is not the result of cataloguing toilets. It is, at its heart, an inevitable byproduct of becoming a New Yorker, of seeing the term New Yorker not as something that separates you from everyone living in the five boroughs, but as the quality that connects you. Across the country, suburban life impresses people with a sense of entitlement to public amenities, like drinking fountains and bathrooms or free parking and affordable housing; in New York City, you are entitled to nothing. Knowing this, you’ll walk faster and speak directly, abstaining from and abhorring anyone who wastes another’s time. You’ll master the language and pace of the greatest city on earth and proudly say, “I am a New Yorker.”