Best public restrooms: Where to go when you're on the go
Business travelers on the go know it's sometimes difficult to find a welcoming and clean place to, uh, go.
So it's encouraging to see the 10 posh potties, cool commodes and imaginative public washrooms that restroom supply company Cintas has flushed out as nominees in the 12th annual contest for America's Best Restroom.
The family-friendly restrooms at Chicago's Field Museum won top prize in 2011 and last year the 83-stall restroom at a new Buc-ee's convenience store in New Braunfels, Texas, just outside of San Antonio, was named king of the thrones.
"Guests look at the public restrooms as a clue to how the entire operation is run," said Katie Davin, associate professor and director of hospitality education at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I.
"If the bathroom is clean, that's a good indication that the kitchen is probably clean. If the restroom is out of paper towels, maybe management isn't really on top of things. And if a restroom has TVs in the mirrors and cool music playing, that's a good sign the business is probably modern and hip," she said.
Guests have surprising recall about whether or not a hotel restroom is unkempt and in need of renovation or whether or not it's "wow," said Bjorn Hanson, divisional dean of the New York University Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management. "And many non-guests expect hotel restrooms to be especially clean and safe and will stop at hotels, en route, whether they're walking or driving, to use the restrooms."
So, like that bit of toilet paper that sometimes gets stuck to the bottom of your shoe, the condition of a restroom can linger and, said Hanson, "enhance or harm a hotel's image beyond the experience of hotel guests."
Voting for America's Best Restroom continues through Oct. 31. This year's winner will be announced later this fall.
Here's a closer look at a few of this year's nominees.
Viracocha, San Francisco
At this hip, design-oriented boutique and performance space, customers must sometimes be coaxed out of a washroom that includes a comfy white armchair, tasteful table lamps and a Victorian bathtub filled with stones.
Alex Madonna Gold Rush Steak House, San Luis Obispo, Calif.
The eclectic elegance found in the 110 unusually themed Madonna Inn rooms extends to the ladies lavatory in the steakhouse, which has pink embossed wallpaper with gold leaf finish, carved-wood stall doors with tufted pink leather and the same native stone walls seen in many rooms at the inn.
Tampa International Airport, Tampa, Fla.
Twenty recently renovated restrooms in the airport's main terminal now have automated, hands-free fixtures and glass murals depicting scenery, animals and plant life native to the Sunshine State.
"We're overflowing with pride to be nominated for our restrooms," said an airport spokesperson.
Sloan’s Ice Cream, West Palm Beach, Fla.
Here's the scoop on Sloan's: Clear glass walls surround the bathroom, which is visible from the ice cream parlor. Privacy is secured once a restroom user locks the door, as that flip of the switch turns off the electrical current that keeps the windows from clouding.
Varsity Theater, Minneapolis
The eccentric restroom in this concert and event venue has sinks with shower-head faucets that turn on and off with a foot-pedal, as well as a lounge-like atmosphere complete with bar service and a view of the stage.
Westfield Garden State Plaza, Paramus, N.J.
Family-friendly restrooms in this shopping mall have curtained stalls for nursing mothers, diaper changing stations and bottle warmers. There are also common areas with lounge chairs, toys and a TV tuned to children's programming.
Waldorf Astoria, New York
Among the hotel's many restrooms is the ladies lounge in the lobby of this elegant, landmark Park Avenue hotel. That facility is known for its Art Deco staircase, a faux fireplace, attendants and private stalls with toilets, vanities, sinks and Salvatore Ferragamo bath amenities.
Ground Kontrol Classic Arcade, Portland, Ore.
Bathrooms at this arcade dedicated to the "golden age" of video gaming and pinball feature Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man graphics in the tile work on the floors and glowing, color-changing sinks.
Public Glass Bathrooms on the Square, Sulphur Springs, Texas
Inspired by an Italian art project, a small Texas town spent $54,000 to put two code-complying glass bathrooms with one-way mirrors and stainless steel toilets fixtures on the downtown square. The mirrors allow users to see out, but they're promised no one can see in.
John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, Wis.
The artwork in this museum extends into the bathrooms, where six artists were given restrooms to use as palettes.
Visitors may go to see the institution's exhibitions, but "they leave with a newfound appreciation for how beautiful a washroom can be," said Ann Brusky, senior manager for public programs.
Harriet Baskas is the author of seven books, including "Hidden Treasures: What Museums Can't or Won't Show You," and the Stuck at the Airport blog. Follow her on Twitter at@hbaskas