The public restroom guide

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May 31, 2004 // UPDATED 1:46 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Tom Carothers and Jennifer Frey
Tom Carothers and Jennifer Frey

Downtown's best and worst public (and semipublic) bathrooms

Maybe it was that extra cup of coffee at breakfast or that burrito platter last night, but we all have to go sometime. And often the need seems to strike at the least opportune time. It can be tough to find a public (or at least a semipublic) bathroom Downtown.

On recent walks through a few neighborhoods, we found the following places to go. Some are welcome mini-retreats; for others, well, suggested coping mechanisms are included.

Take me to the river

Our tour starts on the east side of the river, amongst the cobblestone streets and sidewalk restaurants of St. Anthony Main, 219 SE Main St. Located in close proximity to Pracna on Main and the St. Anthony Main Theatre lies a pair of restrooms.

The men's bathroom is best summed up in one word: creepy.

The lighting goes from a garish orange hue in the outside hallway to a sickly bleached white inside. Signs of graffiti show through the attempted whitewash covering. The stall door locks are broken, the ventilation is nonexistent and the floors are sticky.

All-in-all, this restroom has all the charm of a Bronx subway stop.

Suggested coping mechanism: hold number two, but if you've had a few cocktails at Pracna or the Aster coffeeshop, make it a quick number one.

Top brass

After jumping in the river to wash, the next stop was across the river at the visitor center of the St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam located on the west side of the Stone Arch Bridge at, as the Army Corps of Engineers like to quip, "River Mile 847.6 above the Ohio River."

This was a very impressive facility, that, as the heaters on the ceiling seemed to promise, would be as enjoyable in January as July. A mix of utility and style, the facilities complimented the stainless steel stall doors with a cherry red counter at the sink. Think of it as 'engineer chic.' There is a pleasant, government-issue antibacterial scent in the air and clean surfaces on all fixtures.

A soothing stop

After stopping for a Caf/ Americano, it was time to peruse the facilities at the Milwaukee Road Depot, 225 3rd Ave. S. The rink was closed, but the restrooms (featuring a rubberized floor -- presumably so one can go without having to cut loose of troublesome skates) were still open.

It was a more-than-adequate space, even featuring a bank of lockers to place belongings in while skating or what have you. These bathrooms' decor are far more figure skating than hockey -- the stall walls and urinal dividers are faux marble, and the earth-toned walls make the rooms very soothing.

THE place to go . . . if you're female

In keeping with the upscale appearance of the store, Marshall Field's at 700 Nicollet Mall boasts a downright elegant women's bathroom on the fourth floor.

The black and green tiling on the floors and walls give the area a clean, and classic feeling. The sinks and faucets are very clean and no stray pieces of toilet paper or paper towels were to be found.

Plus, there were at least 20 stalls, so women can forget about waiting in line.

However, just next door to this is a men's room that's hard not to fall over in. And forget soothing cool colors. Upon opening the door, a male patron is greeted by a blinding lemon yellow and white motif -- the randomly patterned yellow and white floor could trigger vertigo. (Of course, if a guy is going to get sick, it's better to do it here instead of in the silk tie wing.)

Nevertheless, the men's bathroom is clean (the hourly maintenance schedule sign-in sheet on the back of the door is reassuring). So besides the aesthetics, the men's room also gets a thumbs-up.

Three doors down

Just down the street, the Target bathrooms on the ground floor of their 900 Nicollet Mall store offers clean, utilitarian relief.

The restrooms are located at the back of the store, as far from the entrance as possible. This is a little inconvenient if someone really has to go (maybe nobody can find them, hence the small size). The fact that it's right next to the pharmacy waiting line also adds a squished feeling. And with just three stalls, the restrooms themselves are on the small side.

Still, they're clean and centrally located, making them a relatively quick and easy pit stop.

A melting pot

The first-floor bathrooms at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, 1501 Hennepin Ave. S., provide restroom relief for a melting pot of urban commuters, college students and faculty, and homeless people who frequent Loring Park just to the north of the campus. They get a lot of use, and they look like it. On a recent visit, the garbage needed to be emptied, the mirrors were a little streaky and the sinks definitely needed a good scrubbing.

The facilities could use some air fresheners, or if there are some in there, they need to be replaced. But you can tell disinfectant is being used; you can smell it in the distinctly unpleasant stale air.

Long-time MCTC students likely know of better on-campus bathrooms, but stalking is neither nice nor necessary with better facilities just down the street.

Tighty whities

About an espresso's worth of a walk from MCTC is the Minneapolis Convention Center at 1301 2nd Ave. S. The Convention Center features many, many places to relieve oneself strewn throughout the spacious structure.

Well maintained and pleasant, these are high-functioning bathrooms, featuring towels, hand dryers, baby-changing stations, shelves between the sinks and multiple SHARPS disposal containers (for needles).

There are ads everywhere, which is nice when you don't have any other reading material. And, as an added bonus, the lights are on timers, meaning if no one has been in the restroom for a while, it's dark and the lights turn on as you enter -- making this whole to-do feel like a much more significant event.

A word of curiosity/caution: about a month ago, a Skyway News intern entered a men's room outside of Hall D where a one-legged man stood at the sink brushing his teeth, naked but for his Homer Simpsonesque tighty-whities.

Still, an overall positive feeling and an unwavering thumbs-up.

Ghost in the machine

The Leamington Transit Station at 1001 2nd Ave. S. feels like it was meant for a grander purpose than that which it is currently serving. The lobby is wide and spacious, the ceilings high. It almost has the feel of Union Station, Jr., yet only a few people are there.

The bathrooms require procurement of a key on a stick, which requires a trek across the spacious hall to the security guard's desk. The key requires a photo ID and, at least when we tried to acquire one, a five-minute wait for a seemingly nonexistent tenant to return.

The bathroom itself is fine, but consider moving on if you're short on time.

Trickle treat

The vibe in and surrounding the big, stoic "H" that is the Hennepin County Government Center, 300 S. 6th St. practically forces people to go. Whether it's the fountains outside or the three cannons steadily flowing water into the reflecting pool inside, the entire property is a bladder-shrinker.

The main bathrooms are on the skyway level, right next to the aforementioned water cannons and are to be avoided if at all possible. It's not that they're in bad shape, but on one recent visit, a throng of users had made them intolerable; the trash was overflowing, all surfaces were dirty and a the scent of urine hung in the air.

If you can hold it, however, paradise awaits on the upper floors. There are many floors with few workers occupying them and, if you can find one, you'll have one of the cleanest bathrooms in the city all to yourself.

RT-approved

Across the street at Minneapolis City Hall, 350 S. 5th St., lies relief with a retro feel. As the faces of past Hennepin County Commissioners welcome you, the first floor public bathrooms harken back to a time long past: fogged and cubed glass windows, high ceilings, a seafoam blue tile and heavy, flushless, porcelain urinals. It's easy to be whisked away to a more romantic time -- well, OK, maybe not, but they are very nice facilities.

Bonus: If the fellas can make it to the third floor, the men's room is directly across from the mayor's office. That's right. If you're lucky, you could pee with RT!

Hidden but sanitary

A hike up to the fourth floor of the Neiman Marcus wing of Gaviidae Commons on Nicollet Mall between 5th and 6th streets brings us to State Fare, a nice spot to grab a fast-food lunch or a fast wee-wee.

The women's room is located in plain view on the east side, but the men's isn't so quick to spot. Guys: Behind "Bayou Cajun" is a long, twisting hallway. At the end of this long walk is a very clean, if not slightly institutional-looking men's room. It's a good bet that it's cleanliness is attributable to the fact that it is harder to find than Shangri-La.

Quick and safe

After the desolation of the bathroom hidden by the bayou, you couldn't blame a bathroom surveyor for wanting to be around as many people as possible, and what better place for that than Minneapolis' unofficial town square, the IDS Crystal Court.

Yet, the beauty and overall open-air aesthetic of the Crystal Court belies its restrooms. Located on the skyway level between 7th and 8th streets on Nicollet Mall, these are very cramped, Spartan facilities. (The presence of a nearby security officer could be discouraging or encouraging, depending on your perspective.)

For the dearth of charm, however, the rooms were tidy and odor-free and OK for a quick stop.

Wink for the camera

The bathrooms at City Center, 615 Hennepin Ave. S., feature a sign with a stern warning: "PREMISES MONITORED BY CLOSED-CIRCUIT TELEVISION" making this the hot bathroom for the exhibitionist set.

Besides the ominous feel of Big Brother, the rooms are tidy enough. The sinks, regulated by sensors, will put forth water at annoyingly random intervals and the door is missing on the middle stall in the men's room. But since bathroom goers are on television anyhow, who cares, eh? Not quite.

As for the women's room, it seems alright and has all of its doors intact.

Absolute tops

Last but certainly not least on our Downtown bathroom tour is the coup-de-gras, the grand banana, numero uno. And it is a shocking number one at that. The best public access bathroom in Downtown Minneapolis is: the Hawthorne bus station at 950 Hawthorne Ave.

With a tip of the hat to its relative newness, this is a bathroom that does nothing but impress. It has a clean, yet not overbearing cherry aroma, excellent design and style, and, from what we could find, the only full-length mirror in a Downtown public lavatory. There are not only separate rooms for men and women, but also for women with kids and men with kids.

Form and function, Hawthorne has it all.