Dear John…

Restaurant patrons in New York have a problem: they can’t find the loo, the head, the john, the restroom, or the bathroom. Apparently the problem is that old buildings are being turned into gourmet restaurants, because with rising rent prices making it harder for people to actually live in the city the most important thing New York needs is more places that serve upscale kale, quail, yellowtail, pale ale, and escargot. And that reminds me of the time I was in an English pub and asked the bartender where the bathroom was. “Why?” he asked sarcastically. “Do you need to take a bath?” I said, “Well, we are in Somerset…”

What I don’t understand is why New York diners are treating the hard to find heads—such as the Crosby Street Hotel restaurant that, according to what I’ve read, requires people to go downstairs and through five closed doors, one with a sign that says “Beware of the leopard”—as an inconvenience rather than a feature. Why isn’t an outhouse that’s actually outside and probably formerly someone’s house seen as charming, fun, part of the adventure of going out to a restaurant? After all one of the rising industries is what’s known as—I’m not making this up—the “experience economy”, which is a new term for something that’s been around forever and encompasses everything from amusement parks to safaris. As businesses look for new ways to compete and attract customers many add features that may not be part of the original plan but that add that extra flavor that draws people in and keeps them coming back. And with these added features businesses can charge more, claiming to offer more bang for your buck, even if it is more like extra bangs you aren’t sure you wanted for more bucks than you really wanted to spend, or, as my grandfather used to say, “All the extras are free until you get the bill,” but that’s another story. A really good example of this I can think of is an Irish pub that used to be in downtown Nashville—although given its location I guess technically it was about as Irish as Lucky Charms. Still I liked it because it was a nice place to get a pint of Guinness, and they’d decorated the place to look like an old-fashioned Irish pub, and one room was even elaborately designed to look like a Dublin street from the 1920’s. They did kind of overdo it by having the waiters dressed up as Irish writers, though—having Oscar Wilde tell you “The only thing worse than having the fish and chips is not having the fish and chips” was a little odd, although not as bad as James Joyce bumping into tables and dropping hot soup in your lap because he couldn’t see anything, or Samuel Beckett who just never showed up. And then there were the restrooms. They weren’t that different from the restrooms you’d find in most other restaurants, but they had a recording of an Irish comedian playing on an endless loop, and I’d get so involved listening to his jokes that when half an hour later I got back to the table the only explanation I could give was that there was this nun and this priest forced to sleep in the same room, and the nun kept asking the priest to get up and get her another blanket. My wife would then ask me where the restrooms were located and, as she always does when we’re in a restaurant, she’d say, “Don’t point. Just tell me.” And, well, all those little extras the pub offered were enough to make the slightly higher prices, not to mention the headaches of trying to find a parking space in downtown Nashville, and for that matter the headaches the next morning from too many pints of Guinness, worth it.

It was the exact opposite of a dingy little dive where I’d worked years earlier, part of a chain of dingy little dives, but this particular one did have an added feature. Any woman who came in alone didn’t have to dine alone, even if she wanted to, because the manager made a point of always joining her. He also always made a point of letting a cigarette dangle from his lips while he cooked to give everything a nice smoky flavor, but that’s another story. Some women, I think, paid extra just so he’d go away, and I think his wife did too.

So anyway to come back to my original point, assuming I can find it, I’m pretty sure it was around here somewhere—I should have taken that left turn at Albuquerque—the New York restaurants with distant restrooms should advertise that fact and give out maps with the menus, or GPS coordinates, to diners. They should make it a game, part of the experience du jour, and since diners might get hot and sweaty in their long search for a water closet they should include a place to take a bath.

12 Comments

  1. Bookstooge

    I’m surprised upscale restaurants aren’t being over run by hobos pee’ing in the corners.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Maybe upscale restaurants are being overrun by hobos and just don’t realize it. There’s a fine line between hobos and hipsters.

      Reply
  2. thehuntress915

    Perfect song for this post! And that Irish pub in Nashville really did have waiters dressed like famous writers? Wow, that must have been some sight, lol.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Now I feel bad that I have to admit that the pub didn’t really have waiters dressed like famous writers. The soundtrack of the Irish comedian playing in the restroom was real though.

      Reply
  3. mydangblog

    I love that song! And we have the same problem in Toronto–the bathroom is usually in the basement of the parking garage on the next block! I adore your pub though–I’d go there just to hear Wilde get fed up and say “Either these customers go or I do!”

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That’s crazy that they put the bathroom so far away from the restaurant itself. And then they bring you ice water and wine. It’s entrapment! And I hate to admit that the waiters in that pub really weren’t dressed as writers. They did have a “poets’ room” though with pictures of famous Irish writers and I always enjoyed being seated in there.

      Reply
  4. Ann Koplow

    Dear Chris,
    One of your best posts, ever.
    — Ann

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Dear Ann,
      Thank you so much for this reminder that even after years of blogging I’m still improving.

      Reply
  5. Kristine Laco

    The most entertaining loo I was ever in had a mysterious button on the wall. If you were brave enough to push it, it lit the disco ball and played music at full volume for a dance. Made the extra pint worth it even it was downstairs.
    Kristine Laco recently posted…To My Corkcicle, With LoveMy Profile

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Wow. A loo with a disco ball and music is one I’d go back to again and again. I’d even invite people to join me in it, which could get weird.

      Reply
  6. Bryce Warden

    The “experience economy” – that one will stick with me, interesting post.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      The whole idea of the “experience economy” has really stayed with me because it’s kind of sad to think how much people get delivered right to their homes which means they spend less time out interacting with others. But it’s also not a new idea.

      Reply

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