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New York: Where to find clean public bathrooms

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New York Public Library
Skip to the loo at the New York Public Library's 42nd Street and 5th Avenue location. Photo: Melanzane1013

By Suzanne Russo in New York—

Glamorous it is not, but today we’re talking about toilets in New York City. On a recent trip, a friend teased me for taking every opportunity to use the restroom: before we left the house, when we walked through a historic building, upon leaving a restaurant…

But during our bike tour, I had the last laugh—he had to stop and use the outhouse (and guess who didn’t). Turns out mom wasn’t so ridiculous after all when she used to urge, “Why don’t you just try?”

In New York, long days of walking around can often leave one with her (literal) pants down in the first disgusting restroom to be found. And so I present to you, dear Cheapos, some of the best public (or somewhat public) toilets in town, plus a few tips for finding others.

In Soho/West Village…

It’s a (surprisingly well-known) secret that one of the best public restrooms in all of Manhattan resides in the Crate & Barrel (611 Broadway) on the corner of Houston and Broadway (just below, it so happens, EuroCheapo’s headquarters in the historic Cable Building). The second-floor bathrooms are clean, accessible and you can head straight through the expansive housewares store without drawing too much attention to yourself.

Near Union Square…

In the past I’ve found myself (more times than I’d like to admit) cruising past the stacks in the Barnes and Noble (33 East 17th Street) on Union Square’s north side to use the third-floor restroom. But the truth is, they aren’t that clean and there is almost always a line.

Then the Nordstrom Rack (60 East 14th Street, between Broadway and Fourth Avenue), the “outlet” version of the fab West Coast department store, opened and I closed the book on Barnes. Now, my East Village/Union Square bathroom break can double as an excuse for browsing the store’s bargain designer duds.

The Lower East Side

On the northwestern edge of the Lower East Side (Bowery and Houston, to be exact) sits not only a clean restroom but one of the city’s most gorgeous food emporiums. I’m talking about the massive Whole Foods Market (95 East Houston), replete with tons of fresh eats, an entire room devoted to cheese and a second floor that houses an incredible food court (hello rotating sushi bar), art exhibits and a small but tidy restroom.

The potties can be used for free, but while there why not browse the aisles and maybe grab a delicious, healthy and cheapo-friendly meal. Stock up for later noshing in a park (just outside) or other public spot. You’ll be happy that you’ve just saved yourself a trip to the oft-icky outdoor facilities.

Another note: In general, the Whole Foods chain is a reliable source of clean restrooms throughout the city. Others can be found in Tribeca (270 Greenwich Street), Chelsea (250 7th Avenue at 24th Street), Union Square (4 Union Square South) and the Upper West Side (808 Columbus at 97th Street).

Midtown West – Columbus Circle

Just north of Times Square is the (in my humble opinion) far more civilized area of Columbus Circle (59th Street and Broadway). Located at the southwestern base of Central Park, and quite attractive in its own right, this business and traffic hub is marked by a lovely fountain and flanked by the entrance to the park on one side, and the Time Warner Center on the other.

The latter is part office building, part upscale shopping mall (also known as “The Shops at Columbus Circle“). For our purposes, it’s also the source of the neighborhood’s best respectable restroom. Head into the building and up the escalators to the second floor. Then beeline it to the right, through the kiosks and just past the Eileen Fisher clothing store that will be on your left-hand side.

Other Toilet Tips

I know the next question: What if you find yourself far from all of the above when nature calls? Here are a few other baño best practices for New York.

1. The Apple Store has four locations in New York, all large, all inviting and all with squeaky-clean facilities. Plus, they’ve got plenty of toys to play with on your way out. Stores are located in Soho (Prince Street and Green Street), Chelsea (14th Street and 9th Avenue), Midtown East (5th Avenue and 59th Street, at the southeast end of Central Park) and the Upper West Side (67th Street and Broadway).

2. The New York Public Library: Not only is it an oft-missed institution, but the New York Public Library has branches throughout the city, most with very clean facilities. (Note that some libraries, however, do not have facilities at all. Yikes!) Want a royal flush? Head to the gorgeous, lion-guarded main branch (40th Street and 5th Avenue), which, it must be notices, is well worth a visit in its own right—don’t miss the map room, one of my favorite spots in the city.

3. Parks: There are also excellent clean public toilets directly behind the main library branch in Bryant Park, between 40-42nd Streets and 5th and 6th Avenues (facilities are located near 42nd Street). Note that many city parks (including Central Park) have public restrooms, however they’re quite often dingy, gross-out affairs. A private-public partnership maintains Bryant Park and keeps the bathroom facilities very clean.

4. Department Stores are plentiful in the city, especially in Midtown and the Upper East Side, and their restrooms are always well maintained. Some, like the one at Henri Bendel (56th Street and 5th Avenue) even verge on extravagant. And don’t fret, Cheapos, you can use these luxe loos without having to plunk down a hefty sum on designer duds.

5. Hotels. They’re everywhere. And whether cheapo or “un-,” any moderately-sized hotel will have a lobby bathroom. Just waltz in like you belong there and look for relief.

6. Additional resources. Believe it or not, there are entire sites—and apps—devoted to finding a toilet in New York City. The best I found (yes, I looked) is sitorsquat.com. This helpful site and mobile app provides a comprehensive map of New York, with public restrooms marked. Best of all, it rates them, gives a brief description and sometimes even provides a photo. Bonus points for a fantastic name.

Your public toilet suggestions?

Where do you find relief when out and about in New York? Tell us in the comments sections.

About the author

Suzanne Russo

About the author: Suzanne Russo thinks of herself as equal parts California Girl and New Yorker. She moved from San Francisco to New York four years ago to pursue her MA in English, and her obsession with all things New York life and history hasn’t dwindled yet. She is a freelance writer, director of the San Francisco-sponsored, New York literary pub crawl, Lit Crawl, and constant wanderer.

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4 thoughts on “New York: Where to find clean public bathrooms”

  1. Great list, but surely you missed the most obvious company that provides defacto public restrooms across the city – Starbucks.

    As purveyors of that well known diuretic, coffee, Starbucks has to keep their restrooms open and freely accessible to their customers. Admittedly, they are not always kept spotlessly clean – given the number of people who use them – but they are at least ubiquitous across New York City.

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  2. Pingback: New York City With Kids

  3. I agree with Lindy. While in the US, laws require that certain establishments have free public rest rooms, those same laws are absent in Europe. It would be nice to know where I can relieve myself on the cheapo.

    For example, sometimes McDonalds in Italy puts a code-lock on the bathroom door. (Naples; That was the WORST of the Italian McDonalds bathrooms I used as it was missing door handles and soap dispensers.)

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