No one buys tickets to a show thinking about a bathroom trip, but when nature calls, you must answer. While the bands file in and out and the crowds come and go, the bathroom always remains, gathering and cataloging the memory (and, er, physical remnants) of every beer-besotted rocker and wine-saturated acoustic listener. While bathrooms like that of the late CBGB have gone down in history — enough so, in fact, to be re-created for Costume Institute exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art — new icons in venue bathrooms emerge every day. Some rise to glory with precision technological advances; others plummet to the bottom with odors ranker than month-old milk.
We did the dirty work for you, searching all of New York City to find the most flush-friendly — or, alternately, most “GAH I PUT MY PURSE ON THE FLOOR WHY DID I PUT MY PURSE ON THE FLOOR”–inspiring — places to piss, from the basements of Brooklyn to the tried-and-true landmarks of the Village.
The Bitter End
147 Bleecker Street
Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Phil Ochs, Harry Chapin, Bo Diddley, and even Taylor Swift: Some serious names have dropped DNA in this tiny, one-toilet/one-sink room. Sure, they’ve played massive shows at huge stadiums, too. That doesn’t feel the same as when you’re waiting in line and one of them steps out. Would you still put the paper down if you knew the last ass in that seat was Dylan’s? With band stickers from across the ages plastered to the wall with what you can only hope is the intended adhesive, it’s easy to let your eyes get lost amid all the history in this tiny bathroom.
Rockwood Music Hall
Lower East Side
196 Allen Street
A modicum of thought went a long way here. Rockwood, as a three-room venue, caters to all. There are indie acoustic sets downstairs in a soundproofed room; there are garage-styled electric affairs going on upstairs. The most important seat in the house makes for a high point as well. In unisex, individual bathrooms, both toilets are shined black porcelain. That material might not seem to mean much at first blush, but actually means everything in the world of bathroom classiness. Who needs whatever you did in there staring you back in the face when you stand up?! You’re at a small, cramped music show, and you’re not suited for the Waldorf. Black toilets keep whatever just happened between you and the toilet and prevent any added shame levels. This way, a forgetful flusher maybe still has a chance to escape into the crowd before being caught.
Rough Trade NYC
64 North 9th Street
This record store–turned–concert venue offers visitors something that most venues don’t: the opportunity for a breath of fresh air without having to go outside. The record store outside the performance area offers clean (and usually empty) bathrooms with a quiet atmosphere ideal for decompressing before heading back in to the standing-room-only. Rough Trade combines the fun and excitement of live music shows with the simple tranquility of stopping in Barnes and Noble and browsing for five minutes just because you really need to use the bathroom and don’t want to make it look obvious.
702 Union Street
The basement of this Brooklyn bocce hangout/concert hotspot has some of the loudest, most hyped speakers one is able to experience in New York. The bad news is they’ll probably leave your ears ringing for the next couple of days. The good news is that when the time comes for you to make your casual exit to the bathroom, you’ll have all the noise to insulate whatever you’ve got planned in there. Everyone hates having to be in the stall when someone else is in the one next to you. No man can stand that silent judgment. At Union Hall, the music is so loud downstairs that you can just let ‘er rip without anyone hearing anything else.
610 West 56th Street
Terminal 5 offers a unique, and potentially unsettling, porcelain side. Instead of a small, dark room in the corner, Terminal 5 has a long hallway with individual rooms, like closets, on both sides. The hall is guarded by an attendant and fluorescent-lit. Giving people their own room is either the best or the worst decision the place could have made. Sure, the line is kept at bay so you’re not playing Beat the Clock with your bowels to let the next guy pee. The other side of that is that neon conjures images of a Red Light District, and the activities taking place in the bathroom could be much more suited for one, too.
155 Varick Street
City Winery wound up on the bad list with a heavy heart and a big asterisk. Yeah, the whole pee-onto-TV-screens bit is cool and fun and I’m on board there. I still can’t get behind urinal troughs, though. It’s bad enough when people go rogue from the “eyes front” code of ethics in the bathroom, but when you introduce troughs you’re basically inviting people’s eyes to wander. Add television screens at crotch level and it becomes almost a guarantee. Do I appreciate the TV screens? Sure. Are they cool as hell, and do they make every Yelp review a bright one? Probably. Am I going to go back to City Winery for shows? Totally. I’m just going to make sure I go to the bathroom before I leave the apartment.
Madison Square Garden
Seventh Avenue and 32nd Street
The cold, loveless surfaces of an MSG bathroom make you feel like a ghost passed through you while you were going #2. The stalls have all the graffiti of these other bathrooms but with none of the rich cultural background. Drawing penises doesn’t make you Banksy. Writing bathroom-based limericks doesn’t make you Maya Angelou. The main problem with MSG’s bathrooms is that they’re not viewed as part of the experience. There’s no intimacy there for what is arguably the most intimate thing you should be doing at a concert. They’re an off-chute, a bare necessity and nothing more. Obviously, no one’s lingering in the bathroom for its artistry, but that doesn’t mean it needs to feel like all hope is lost for the three minutes you spend in there.
484 Union Avenue
Despite literally not having a bathroom until fairly recently, forcing people to go pee on each other’s cars and then be caught by bouncers and police and not allowed back in, the bathroom at Union Pool smells as if a group of wet dogs were eating a block of old cheese in there. It reeks like if a pack of sewer rats all opted to spew in this one space. It’s the smell of boundless sorrow filling your soul. I would say it’s haunted by the ghost of every turd that’s ever existed, but even turd-ghosts think it smells too bad to haunt the place.
Music Hall of Williamsburg
66 North 6th Street
I can’t imagine going to the bathroom during a show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg to be very different from Christ wandering through the desert. To get to the bathroom, you need to make your way though the crowd, down a flight of stairs, to the lobby, past the merch guy, down another flight of stairs, into the basement bar, through that room, around a corner…only then are you there. By the time you pee and make your way back, you’ve missed about two songs. I once was at a show there that started out acoustic, and by the time I got back from the john, the band all had electric guitars and there was a synth player. In short, going to the bathroom at the Music Hall of Williamsburg is embarking on a journey rife with confusion.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 7, 2015