Let’s face it: bathrooms are part of everyone’s life. They can be a lot more than just places to relieve yourself, though, and often are refuges from a stressful night, or places to refresh, relax, recuperate, and talk in secret. When you really think about it, bathrooms are shelters of sorts, a built-in escape that no one can rightly stop you from taking.
They can also be beautiful and inventive visual experiences, and in New York, where absolutely anything can and will be designed to the limit, there are more than a few bathrooms that are worth visiting for their design alone. Read on to discover 10 of the most unique, beautiful, strange, and even terrifying water closets in the city.
1. A Bathroom with a View at Governors Island
Who says a bathroom can’t come with a magnificent view? This bathroom on Governors Island is not only a great place to take care of business—it’s also an idyllic spot for gazing across the river at Manhattan‘s Freedom Tower and the city skyline. With its wooden floors, circular mirrors, and open-air nature, this bathroom is a destination in itself.
2. Bryant Park’s Luxury Bathroom
Bryant Park‘s already beautiful bathroom received a $300,000 makeover this April. Funded by the Bryant Park Corporation, the bathroom boasts Spanish and Italian tiles and fine “plein-air” art created by the park’s painters in residence. Fresh flowers and classical music set the tone for a uniquely pleasant public restaurant experience. Its outsides are striking, too, with its Beaux-Arts flourishes making it more reminiscent of a castle or church than a humble bathroom.
Its designers have done everything to ensure an optimally pleasurable experience. In addition to the flowers and art, the bathroom is temperature controlled and illuminated by LED lights.
About 1.2 million people use Bryant Park’s bathroom each year, and many return just to experience its opulence one more time.
3. Prospect Park’s Composting Bathroom
This June, Prospect Park opened up an eco-friendly public bathroom in the Wellhouse Comfort Station, which is actually the last building left in the park which was designed by the park’s original architects, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. The building originally held a coal-powered steam engine, but over the years it fell into disrepair.
Now it has been turned into a public bathroom, with a twist. Its composting toilets use 3 to 6 ounces of water, which is 97% less than your typical toilet’s 1.6 gallons. The compost collected from the bathroom will be sucked into compact tanks under the earth, which are full of red worms and bacteria. If this goes well, it could become the model for other bathrooms, hopefully inspiring a more eco-friendly way of managing waste.
As part of the restoration, a new layer of paint was applied to the bathroom, restoring it to its original hues and a new roof was installed. In addition, major excavation efforts had to be done below the bathroom to make room for the composting bins.
4. The Muse Hotel’s 7 Deadly Sins
The “Passion” Bathroom
The bathroom is probably not the first place you associate with getting existential, but Midtown’s Muse Hotel lives up to its name by offering an opportunity to do just that. The bathroom consists of seven stalls, each named after a different one of the seven deadly sins. Depending on what kind of night you’re having, you can choose Glam, Vain, Rebel, Passion, Macho, and Envy. Each connects to a common lounge area, which represents purgatory.
The bathrooms themselves are works of art, each fitting their moniker. The Vain bathroom is made of hundreds of mirrors. The Rebel room contains a shattered mirror and imposing Gothic architecture. The Passion room is illuminated by red neon light. The Macho room boasts a wooden design and an antler wall fixture, and the Envy bathroom is, fittingly, green.
5. Harlem Shake’s Many Faces
Now you’ve got another reason to do the Harlem Shake. Located at 100 W. 124th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard, the restaurant (which is actually called the Harlem Shake), serves traditional diner fare—and is especially noted for its reliably delicious classic milkshakes. Its bathroom adds a burst of extra fun to the experience, with dozens of vintage Jet magazines plastered to the wall. Jet magazine has been around since 1951, and this bathroom is a tribute to its long-standing impact and continued relevance.
6. Smith & Mills’ Vintage Elevator Paradise
A luxurious odyssey through a greenhouse that could be straight out of a movie is what you’ll experience when you take a bathroom break at the Tribeca restaurant Smith & Mills. The bathroom is actually a former elevator car that was moved from a nearby landmark, and the sink was taken from an old railcar. The wrought-iron curlicues and frosted-glass windows combine to create a garden-party atmosphere that seems straight out of another era.
7. Sakagura’s Sake Stalls
Located in the basement of a Midtown office building, this restaurant offers one of the city’s most unique bathroom experiences. Each stall is constructed to look like a giant sake barrel. If you can find the restaurant, that is—Sakagura is hidden away at the end of a labyrinth of hallways in a nondescript office building.
8. The Way Station’s TARDIS
Photograph by Gail Heidel
Doctor Who is having a moment in the news, due to the fact that the long-running TV show just announced that its next Doctor (the protagonist/time-traveler who is continuously born into different bodies) will be reincarnated into a female form. It’s long entertained a community of dedicated fans, and Prospect Heights, Brooklyn’s steampunk-themed The Way Station restaurant capitalized on this by building a TARDIS bathroom.
Interestingly, the bathroom is actually larger on the inside. It also has its very own “starry” ceiling, so you can imagine that you’ve traveled through time and space.
9. Soho Photo Gallery
The Soho Photo Gallery, located on 15 White St., is the oldest and largest photo cooperative in New York City. The gallery has been been showcasing images by emerging and veteran photographers across its 235 linear feet of exhibit wall space since 1971.
It’s easy to get lost in all the photographs within the gallery, but its bathroom is also adorned with vintage pictures of different sizes covering all the walls.
10. The Vine NYC’s Hands-On Experience
Now you can wash your hands next to a cabinet full of hand figurines in various unique positions. That’s right – the Chelsea bar Vine has a cabinet full of hand figurines right next to its bathroom sink. You can’t make this stuff up.
This is the work of art world darling Kyle De Woody, notorious for her psychedelic work that blurs the lines between art and design. The bathroom also features a lingerie set by the artist Zoe Buchman called “On Every Curve,” and lyrics from Tupac’s 1996 song “Temptations” emblazoned on the walls. Eclectic indeed, this bathroom is pure New York in all its postmodern excess and endless imaginativeness.
11. Acme Studios
Williamsburg’s Acme Studios is an eclectic collection of objects, and their bathroom is no exception. There are tons of bizarre objects here, as it is a prop shop and a photo studio. You can take a virtual tour of all the bathrooms (and the rest of the space too) here.
Bathrooms are very important parts of all of our lives, and they deserve more appreciation. After all, where else do you go to have a good cry or to catch a breath of air? Where else do you go to refuel and recharge? It’s a rough world out there, and we all need a good bathroom to hide away in every once in a while.
And another important role bathrooms play: they have long been important parts of the music scene. Observant concertgoers know that some of the most beautiful poetry in the world can be found scrawled on music venue walls, and a brand new book by Lizzy Goodman about the New York City music scene in the early 2000s is called “Meet Me in the Bathroom.” Where else can you have an audible conversation at a concert? When you start to think about it, bathrooms are truly sanctuaries for the restless, the introverted, the lost and the curious.
For more, check out this list that tells you about why most of the bathrooms in the NYC subway are locked, this list about public bathrooms in NYC, and this article about the ancient Chinese urinal at the Met.