Just how far can the unisex bathroom go?
Thu Nov 1 2007
Khadijah Farmer, 28, has slapped Village eatery Caliente Cab Co. with a lawsuit for allegedly yanking her out of the ladies’ loo on June 24. Farmer says that the offending bouncer, who booted her after another customer mistook her for a man, refused to look at her ID, declaring: “That’s neither here nor there.”
On the contrary, the issue of gender identification and public cans is very much here, there and everywhere. And now the Center for Architecture and New York University are cohosting “Outing the Water Closet: Sex, Gender and the Public Toilet” on Saturday 3.
At Pastis in the Meatpacking District, men and women have been sharing the sinks since Keith McNally opened the restaurant in 1999. “I like it,” says Marc Rappaport, a mutual-fund manager from Westchester. “I partly come here to meet women. She’s standing there, washing her beautiful hands, and I’m standing here, washing my not-so-beautiful hands.…”
Rappaport’s buddy Richard Notarianni disagrees: “Of all the places to socialize, you can do better than that. I’m married and have learned that to get between a woman and her mirror—you could lose an arm.”
Guys aren’t the only ones uneasy about mixed lavatories. At Schiller’s Liquor Bar (also McNally’s), the gender-specific stall areas open into a space with a shared trough sink. But bargoer Jennifer Williams, who lives in the West Village, would rather reapply her makeup behind girls-only doors: “Guys don’t need to see the process.”
TONY asked McNally to explain the reasoning behind his communal sinks (A subversive gender fuck? Cool design? The plumber insisted?), but he had little to offer: “Though I enjoyed designing the bathrooms, I’ve now washed my hands of them.”
At midtown’s Wild Salmon, which opened in April, the restrooms are separate, but a two-way mirror connects them, giving visitors a chance to see how (or if) the other half washes. Wild Salmon’s playful way of breaking down gender walls is exactly the type of innovative design that Harvey Molotch, who is spearheading the NYU toilet conference, likes to see. But even more impressive to the sociologist are the johns at MoMA restaurant the Modern. “Everybody has their own closet with a toilet, and they come out and share the sinks,” he says, adding that traditional floor plans are based on “the idea that men and women need to be segregated because of heterosexuality, which was presumed to be the only sexuality. Now we know it’s not a heterosexual world.”
David Swinghamer, co-owner of Union Square Hospitality Group (which owns the Modern), designed the restaurant three years ago with architects Bentel & Bentel. “We weren’t trying to make a statement,” he says. “It’s appropriate in a setting such as the Modern, where everyone has come from the museum, sharing the experience of art—it seemed natural to promote openness.”
Molotch envisions a future of radical restroom transparency: “There will be little closets with toilets and a stand of urinals. Women will see my back and know that I’m peeing. How big a deal is that?”
New Yorkers should be the first to embrace Molotch’s vision. After all, we see people peeing in public all the time.
For more info on “Outing the Water Closet,” call 212-683-0023.