New York’s most luxurious public loo is open for business, with fresh flowers, music and original art

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 April, 2017, 10:19am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 April, 2017, 10:19am

In a park amid Manhattan skyscrapers, a gem has emerged: a posh public bathroom that cost nearly US$300,000, complete with freshly delivered flowers, imported tiles, classical music and artwork.

The free-of-charge, air-conditioned splendour— inspired by visits to the city’s priciest hotels — is open to everyone, even homeless New Yorkers. More than 1 million people a year are expected to use the facility, park officials said.

On Thursday, two bathroom attendants held toilet tissue that a park official cut as the inaugural ribbon for the high-tech facility housed in a landmarked Beaux Arts building behind the New York Public Library. The toilets — in 310 square feet divided between the women’s and men’s sides — are reopening after a three-month renovation.

The eye-popping, LED-illuminated elegance is unusual in a city where public toilets are scarce and generally grungy.

“I’m really surprised. It’s very clean and the flowers are alive,” said Irena Marentic, a tourist from Slovenia, as she left the space whose walls and floors are lined with tiles from Spain and Italy and adorned with art created by Bryant Park’s painters-in-residence.

The women’s side has three toilet stalls, while the men’s side has two stalls and three urinals — the same number as before the renovation. The facility can’t be expanded because the space surrounding it is landmarked.

The public luxury was funded privately by the Bryant Park Corporation, a not-for-profit that manages the city-owned park and works to improve business in this neighborhood that includes Fifth Avenue.

“We strive for perfection and only settle for excellence,” declared Dan Biederman, the executive director of the Bryant Park Corp.

The team behind the new posh public bathroom visited the Waldorf and other luxury hotels for inspiration.

A few out-of-town companies provided donations not included in the facility’s US$280,000 cost. The Japanese luxury brand Toto contributed self-flushing, energy-saving toilets and hands-free faucets and wash basins. Brill Hygienic Products Inc, of Delray, Florida, supplied sanitary, electronic seat covers that rotate with each use.

Attendants armed with mops keep everything clean from 7am till midnight, when the bathroom closes along with the park. By park rules, no tips are allowed.

The bathroom is most often used by visitors to the leafy, grassy refuge of Bryant Park, which draws them with its seasonal attractions including a skating rink in winter, holiday shops, outdoor movies on summer nights and free-for-all tables and chairs.

The park itself went through a makeover some years ago after decades of urban decay and crime that spilled into the bathroom, which was closed for years and reopened only in the 1990s.

With the improvement of the park, the number of visitors has increased. So, too, has the daily use of the toilets — from an average of about 1,800 in 2013 to about 3,300 last year, or 1.2 million a year, according to park officials. On the women’s side, the wait could be as long as 20 minutes.

On Thursday, with the line growing, park workers directed people to the massive library building and more public toilets, though not quite as fancy.