Toilets of the U.S.A.
What are American toilets like? According to many Americans, their toilets must be the very best and cleanest in the entire world. That's because everything is better in America, right? According to this theory, American toilets make perfect sense while those in the rest of the world can be mysterious and even strange. So, here's some proof to the contrary featuring toilets from New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, the Midwest, and other places across the U.S.A.
The first one is at Iggys, in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, in New York.
We continue our tour at Ray's Pizza.
Places called "Ray's Pizza" are about as thick on the ground in Manhattan as Starbucks. This one is at 3rd Avenue and St Mark's Place. in the East Village in New York.
Harry's Chocolate Shop is actually a popular bar just off the Purdue University campus in West Lafayette, Indiana. The men's toilet off the main bar area downstairs is just as seatless and even nastier than a typical Greek toilet. Here you can also see the ice-cooled urinals and the frequently broken towel dispenser. Also see:
The bathrooms with the ceramic tile walls are the men's facilities in the heavily (ab)used downstairs. Below are pictures from the men's room upstairs, where there is a no-graffiti rule and at least an attempt to keep things a little more classy.
Nothing says class like large sheets of stainless steel needed to withstand the abuse of hundreds of drunken yet sophisticated members of the fraternity and sorority system.
This very large urinal is at The Spot Tavern in Lafayette, Indiana. It's at 409 South 4th Street.
It is an unusual design for a urinal, at least by today's standards. It looks like a large sink like what you might find in an industrial setting.
However, notice it is mounted low on the wall, an appropriate location for a urinal but far too low to be a sink.
Also notice the red pipe running across the top. Perforated along its bottom side, it flushes the urinal.
Finally, there are the bright pink urinal cakes — it obviously is intended to be used as a urinal.
See the bar urinals in Trinidad for similar systems.
Here is my toilet, also located in West Lafayette, Indiana.
A friend pointed out some time ago that I really needed to include my toilet in this collection. So here it is.
Well, since downloadable multimedia is an enormously popular concept, and since I'm always interested in further monetization of this site, why not?
The Triple XXX diner is a popular local spot in West Lafayette, on State Street just down the hill from the Purdue campus. "On the hill, but on the level", they say.
The Triple XXX is next to a university campus and used to be open 24 hours, so it got pretty hard use. During a recent visit, the men's room was "out of service." I'm sure we didn't want to know the details. Here is the relatively nice women's.
The classic dish there is the biscuits and gravy. Below is the notorious Full Order.
It's room ECE 126, directly across from one entry to the large lecture hall in ECE 129. The building key (coded "EBSMA") which opens all the exterior doors also admits you to its retro and very plain interior.
Also see the Toilets of Higher Education page for more on this strange toilet.
The Semi-Private Dual Stall Toilet
The semi-private dual stall is ideal for the man who wants some privacy, but not too much.
And it's also ideal for the man who can't make up his mind until the last moment — "Just Number 1? Or Number 2?"
This is in a rest stop along Interstate highway I-74 between Indianapolis and Crawfordsville, Indiana.
These partly functional urinals and toilet are at McClure's Truck Stop along Interstate highway I-65 outside Lebanon, Indiana, between Indianapolis and Chicago.
The Tom Wolfe page has more on the history of truck stop toilets through the mid to late Twentieth Century.
New York City is notorious for a lack of public toilets, at least in some areas like Midtown Manhattan.
Here is an exception!
At left and right here you see the very nice public restroom at Bryant Park. This is a public park between Fifth and Sixth Avenues and between 40th and 42nd Streets. The main building of the New York Public Library occupies the east side of this double-sized Midtown block.
The park had been taken over by the homeless, drug dealers, and prostitutes by the late 1970s. The park was closed in the 1980s and excavated. An underground structure housing the New York Public Library's archives is now below the re-created park.
A New York Times article in April 2006, "A Resplendent Park Respite, Mosaic Tiles Included", quotes the parks commissioner as saying "It sets the gold standard for park comfort stations". It's the grandest of the park system's 600 bathrooms. The 2006 renovation cost $200,000 but was expected to last for six years and over three million visitors, only $0.06 per use.
The Bryant Park Corporation, a non-profit private organization, operates the park for the city, and the high visibility and routine use of the central location make it an important facility.
A New York Times article in April 2017, "A Public Restroom Fit for Brooke Astor Gets an Upgrade", reported that another $280,000 renovation was almost completed. The article said that average daily use had increased from 2,013 people in 2013 to 3,266 in 2016. Lines had grown to 40 people or more, with the wait on the women's side up to 15 to 20 minutes at times.
The city-owned park continues to be supported entirely through private revenue including corporate sponsorship. Upkeep of the bathrooms is $271,000 annually, covering supplies that include $27,000 for 14,040 industrial-sized rolls of single-ply toilet paper.
Bryant Park is in Midtown. However, as you go further downtown, you leave the much higher-end Midtown facilities behind. Don't panic, there are still a few public restrooms.
If you are walking along Delancey Street on the Lower East Side, this sturdy brick public lavatory awaits you. It's in the grassy median of Allen Street.
The U.S. Department of the Interior headquarters in Washington, D.C., seems like a time capsule from around 1945.
This includes their restrooms, featuring the old-style "Watch Your Step" urinals.
These vintage urinals have been updated with infrared motion sensors controlling the flush valves.
The Department of the Interior toilets are of similar vintage.
Their horseshoe seats are made of hard black rubber with a dull finish.
Hard rubber is probably not as clean as a modern hard-surface plastic, but then that wouldn't be as traditional.
Notice how the stalls have marble walls and dark wooden doors. Classy!
You can visit these restrooms on your way to and from the Department of the Interior museum. Among other things, the museum explains that the department administers mining and oil extraction industries providing the raw materials for such common everyday items as 33-1/3 RPM long-playing records. So, these designs seem very appropriate for the department headquarters.
The Corcoran Gallery of Art is just a few blocks away from the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C. The Corcoran has some of the big old trumpet shaped urinals from the 1930s or 1940s.
The patterned hexagonal tile floor looks appropriate for that period. It's ceramic harmony!
What is it about central Washington, D.C., and antique toilets?
Moving on to the east, past the White House, we eventually reach Chinatown.
We can stop for lunch and a toilet break at the Tai Shan restaurant.
You'll need a place to stay in Washington, D.C. The Hilltop Hostel has been a great place to stay. Here is one of its toilets.
The Hilltop is at 300 Carroll Street, close to the Takoma Metro station.
Here's a huge row of portable toilets near the Tidal Basin and Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Notice how the two on this end look unusually wide?
They're wheelchair accessible!
The Invisible Urinal lurks at the 51st State Tavern at 2512 L Street NW in Washington, D.C. It's not too far from the Foggy Bottom / G.W.U. Metro station, on the way to Georgetown.
Yes, this image is flagged as "used", but only because of the visible one.
The 51st State also has a pressure-flushing toilet.
No, I didn't take the lid off, I found it this way.
Moving up to the Boston area, we come to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This first mens room is at the west end of the Infinite Hallway. It's room 7-107 in the Rogers Building at MIT.
Harvard University is just walking distance up Mass Ave from the MIT campus in Cambridge. The second picture shows one men's room in Harvard's Peabody Museum of Anthropology and Ethnology.
Also see the Toilets of Higher Education page for more on these toilets.
Sometimes toilets are modified to other purposes. The Astor Place subway station between Greenwich Village and the East Village in New York was built with a pair of public toilets.
I'm sure those got pretty nasty in the 1970s and 1980s!
That space has been converted to a small shop. Notice the nicely carved stone lintels still in place above the two doors.
See the subway toilet page for subway toilets still in operation.
This is a pit toilet in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota along the Canadian border.
While National Park Service pit toilets are pretty standardized, in the interest of completeness this one is at a campsite on an island in the northern part of Crooked Lake, around UTM 15 0589359 5339141 or 48.1992°N, 91.7974°W.
Also see the Loos with Views page.
This is the men's room at Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport where U.S. Senator Larry Craig was arrested for soliciting sexual acts.
Click here to see the toilet itself, the entrance to the men's room and its location in the busy central concourse of the airport, and to read about the incident.
The Bulgarian bar on the Lower East Side in New York has some interesting anthropomorphic plumbing.
This nicely decorated men's room is on the 25th floor of the Galt House hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, near their RIVUE restaurant and lounge.
Large windows provide sweeping views of Louisville, the Ohio River, and across the river into Indiana.
Venice Beach, in Los Angeles, California, has a long boardwalk lined with shops, cafes, musical acts, artists, tattoo parlors, and medical marijuana clinics. And, every so often, you come across a shiny set of public stainless steel toilets.
For the many people who live in the open along the boardwalk and nearby, these facilities are their only toilets and baths.
Debate over their maintenance and hours of operation are part of the debate over public toilets in the U.S.
As night shuts down, the toilets are closed until morning.
For some reason, the water pipes in El Segundo, California, are partially above ground. Clean-out traps and valves are easily accessible, which makes a lot of sense for maintenance and expansion. But I haven't seen supply lines done this way before...
This is the Hyperion Waste Treatment Plant in Los Angeles, California.
It's right on the coast, just south of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and between the city of El Segundo and the beach.
This is the only sewage treatment plant for all of Los Angeles. The sewage is dried into a highly flammible powder and used to run generators, so the sewage treatment plant has a surplus of power and actually feeds electricity back into the grid.
Keep up the good work, Los Angeleans! Your city counts on your continued contributions!
This toilet is in a lavatory on board an Airbus A330 en route from London to Detroit.
This is one of the lavatories against the fuselage skin, not one of the only slightly more roomy center ones. So, the bulkhead behind the toilet curves out, making this a little more awkward to use.
Why do your ears sometimes feel pressure changes when you flush an airline toilet? Because the vacuum flushing may cause the pressure altitude within the tiny toilet cabin to quickly jump 5 to 20 meters, say from about 2000m pressure altitude to 2015m.
For other odd A330 photographs, see my Gallery of Crash Dump Screens. The seatback entertainment systems run an embedded version of the Linux operating system. The OS is fairly stable, but the application is not.
During the 1970's the U.S. federal government nationalized most all passenger rail service in the United States, forming Amtrak. The resulting trains are nice inside, and along the East Coast they keep to useful schedules.
These, however, are from The Cardinal, which links Chicago and New York via Cincinnati and Washington, loosely approximating a three-times-weekly schedule, and Chicago and Indianapolis on the other four days. At least the stainless toilets are fairly nice!
They're the classic holding tank design, which means that the tank can fill and the lavatory be closed en route on the 26-hour trip between New York and Chicago.
This toilet is on board one of Amtrak's high-speed Acela trains running between Boston and Washington, D.C.
As you can see, it's very similar to the vacuum flushing aircraft toilet design.
This stainless steel toilet suite is on board a MARC (Maryland Rail Commuter Service) train between Washington and Baltimore.
Yes, Greyhound buses have on-board toilets. They have a holding tank with the traditional blue juice. I was surprised to see that the design is just a straight drop down a wide shaft into the tank. I would think that the toilet could get awfully smelly on a long hot trip. There is a small air vent directly to the exterior just to the right of your head if you were sitting on the seat.
The toilet compartment occupies the right half of what would be a full-width rear bench seat and what would be the pair of seats just in front of that on the right side of the aisle.
Note to self — do not sit in the back two rows of a Greyhound bus, where the door to the toilet is directly across the aisle.
Megabus, one of Greyhound's competitors, connects major cities with luxury buses that you can board without venturing into the always dicey Greyhound terminal.
Really, Greyhound's market seems partially based on brand loyalty based on fond memories of rides home from prison.
Anyway, the buses are quite nice, and they include an on-board lavatory. But as you see here, they're very similar to the Greyhound ones.
There are only so many things you can do with the design of a long-haul bus toilet.
The Staten Island Ferry provides free rides between the lower tip of Manhattan and Staten Island, across New York harbor and past the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
If you need to go before you board, the first toilet shown here is an all-stainless-steel model in the Manhattan terminal.
The second is one of the heads on board the ferry itself.
Also see the Stainless Steel Toilets page or the Toilets at Sea page if you are interested in those categories.
The New York Water Taxi runs on the East River between lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, Here you see it passing Governor's Island, and its head.
Also see the Toilets at Sea page if you are interested in that category.