Today is a sad day. The Whole Foods at Union Square in Manhattan finally figured out my trick — I’ve been using their bathrooms as a public restroom without ever buying anything for years. As of today, there are now complicated locks on the door, requiring a Whole Foods-mandated door code, which you can only get on your Whole Foods receipt. My jig is up.
As someone with a very, uh, healthy digestive tract, I frequently find myself in need of a bathroom when I’m out and about. I’ve scoped out all the typical options, and have come up with a list of preferred pee spots when you’re in a bind. Some general rules: It may behoove you to carry a packet of tissues in your bag, just in case you find a terlet but no TP. And! Remember that just because a place serves food, doesn’t mean that they’ll have a restroom. Many places that have only one or two tables qualify as “take away” establishments and aren’t legally required to have public restrooms. Also, a little hand sanitizer couldn’t hurt either. Below, I’ve cataloged my list of preferred emergency pee spots, from most desired to least. Please add your emergency pee solutions in the comments!
1. Hotel bathrooms are usually a safe bet. While they may be somewhat tricky to find, hotel bathrooms are among the cleanest, nicest public places to pee. And hotels know this, which is why they often hide their bathrooms in the most difficult-to-find places. One tip: Go where the restaurant is. Chances are there are some bathrooms right outside the entrance to the hotel restaurant. If you have to ask someone to use them and they ask if you’re a guest, tell them you’re meeting a guest there. Most of the time they won’t even bother if you fake that you’re supposed to be there well enough.
2. Department stores are your secret pee time weapon. Department stores have bathrooms aplenty. Yes, they are hidden, but they are definitely there for customer use. You’ve simply got to walk right up to a salesperson and ask. But warning: They may not be the cleanest ever, since it seems that there’s very little restroom oversight in most department stores.
3. Coffee shops, non-Starbucks. As a former barista, I can safely say I’ve never stopped a non-customer from using the bathroom, even if I wanted to. Even if they’ve left a poop monster in the toilet afterwards. So maybe it’s a bad policy? Call it pee problem solidarity, but yeah, you go ahead and do you. That said, some coffee shops are more appealing pee spots than others — go for the clean and busy place over the graffiti-scrawled hipster spot. I say this from experience — a place’s exterior definitely tends to reflect its inner bathroom sanctum.
4. The library. There likely aren’t enough libraries in the city to fulfill your desperate bathroom needs, but they are public bulidings with public bathrooms. However, some libraries will make you use a key to get in, which means you’ll have to talk to an actual librarian person to get in, you know. And the whole point is getting in and out as quickly as possible, so that may make this a less attractive option than others.
5. Restaurants, pizza variety. You’ll have the best luck at a counter restaurant spot, like a pizza place, where the staff is all behind the counter and there’s no waitstaff. For my fellow New Yorkers, there’s a pizza place on 1st Ave. and 14th St. with a gross, but available bathroom that I’ve been known to frequent. If they give you a hassle, you can always tell ‘em you’re going to buy a water on your way out, and then, depending on your level of morality, do so — or not.
6. Regular restaurants. Low on the list because they require more employee contact, and when you’re trying to pee that’s the last thing you want. Most restaurants really look down on renegade pee-ers, but are more lenient in off hours, I’ve found. Conversely, if the place is packed to the gills and there’s a line outside, you can also pretend like you’re with “Lisa, party of four” and sneak through for a pee break.
7. Starbucks (in the suburbs). Jess swears that the ‘Bucks in her parent’s suburban town (Connecticut!) offers a welcome pee respite. I will defer to her expertise on this one.
8. Starbucks (in the city). Although I’ll admit that a recent foray into a Portland, Oregon, Starbucks was pleasant enough, generally you’re more likely to find a decent bathroom in an alley way than in a city Starbucks. I’m not sure what it is about city Starbucks, but the heady combo of permissive staff and available coffee fixin’ bars make city Starbucks a ready magnet for all manner of crazy crackheads. Even those who don’t have a significant crackhead population (and the one on Union Square in Manhattan certainly does) tend to be poorly managed and uber smelly. And there’s always a line. Avoid if possible.
9. Supermarkets. If you are reallllly desperate and far from home and at a Kroger’s or whatnot, go for the supermarket bathroom. As mentioned above, Whole Foods’ generally have nice bathrooms that are regularly cleaned. But many supermarkets don’t have public bathrooms, and will only let you pee if you go back through the (typically cold-ass) stockroom. Some employees will even deny you that pleasure, and you may have to ask around a few times before someone will give you the keys to the pee kingdom.
10. Gas station bathrooms. These places are generally harbingers of doom. Avoid at all cost. If you’re desperate, sure, the mini-mart attached to the gas station will work. But otherwise? Hell to the naw.