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The Top Bar & Night Club (424 Haight at Webster)
On a particularly grim night of our expedition, we visited about a dozen bars on the 15-block stretch of Haight Street. The bathrooms in the Upper Haight are staggeringly vile. The ones in the Lower Haight are worse. We started at Stanyan Street and worked our way down -- way down -- to Webster. Each disgusting bathroom we visited was somehow worse than the one before.
It's with dreadful irony that the bathroom topping our list is a bar named "The Top." It's the only place in the city that has a pit toilet. No, wait. We see what appear to be urinals against the wall. But if they are indeed urinals, why doesn't anybody use them?
Well, regardless of whether this is an official pit toilet or not, we can tell you the floor (or alleged floor) is absolutely drenched in urine. To make matters worse, depressions in the floor have created multiple putrid potholes of pee. The smell in here, of course, defies description. The only other item of note about the Top is that the garbage can is always up on the counter by the sink. Which sort of makes sense, because who'd want to ruin a perfectly good garbage can?
Blue Restaurant (2337 Market at Noe)
A few years ago, David Foster Wallace wrote an essay about his experience on a luxury cruise in the Caribbean. There's a memorable eight-page section where he describes his cabin's impossibly tiny yet perfect bathroom. This is what the head is like at Blue.
At 3 feet square, it's smaller than your average broom closet. Yet even a claustrophobe would find it charming. There's a tiny sink and a tiny window and a tiny toilet and a tiny ... well, you get the picture. Everything's really small, but it's all in there: hand soap, seat protectors (which should be named ass protectors, if you think about it), and plenty of free-range toilet paper. The place is ergonomically perfect, like it was designed by a small Japanese automotive engineer.
But the best thing about Blue's bathroom is gaining access to it. This is one of those bathrooms where you get to march through the kitchen. OK, this is admittedly not all that rare. However, at Blue you walk through the entire kitchen, rubbing shoulders with literally every employee in the joint, from the busboy to the head chef. They all stand at attention and smile, and you feel like shaking everybody's hand, as if you're a head of state on some official visit.
Art's Cafe (747 Irving at Eighth Avenue)
Blue Restaurant is the exception. Most small bathrooms are nasty. And the smallest bathroom in the city also happens to be one of the worst. It's at Art's Cafe in the Inner Sunset, which you should have known because Art's Cafe itself is ridiculously small. But the cafe works because the single row of seats is actually quite comfortable. And you get to sit across from the kitchen, which is very entertaining.
The bathroom, on the other hand, is not. It's a bit of a physical IQ test trying to figure out how to enter the minuscule water closet and close the door without having the door push you back out. (Hint: It's a samba-type maneuver -- forward, back, then over the toilet.)
Once inside, we find ourselves wishing we were in a comparatively spacious airplane bathroom. A single naked bulb and a lack of breathable air contribute to the deathly claustrophobic feel. But most disturbing is what's behind the toilet. Instead of a plunger, there's a pair of metal tongs. We decide not to ask.
Mission Police Station (630 Valencia at 17th Street)
Yeah, that's right. The Mission Police Station has a really good bathroom. But if you're expecting some scandalous tale about how we discovered it, forget about it. Besides, it's irrelevant, because these facilities are open to the public. The separate male and female bathrooms are spacious, clean, well lit, and amazingly quiet. They even have extra amenities, such as seat protectors and a half-decent mirror. And if you're one of those people who fear someone barging in on them, this is the best bathroom in the universe. Because you have your own personal cop guarding the door. We shit you not.
To get into the bathroom in the first place, you have to get clearance from the officer in the lobby sitting behind a bulletproof window. Once he decides you're not a threat to national security, he unlocks the steel door with a sophisticated remote-control-type device. And then you're in, as safe and secure as a bar of gold in Fort Knox. Politicians and movie stars don't get such protection.
The Uptown, An Bodhran, and any other bar bathroom that has a trough
Is there anything more horrifying than having to urinate, shoulder-to-shoulder with your fellow man, into a fucking trough? When we say trough, we mean trough. Like a long, skinny, knee-level dirty bathtub that pigs eat out of. To make matters worse, certain Neanderthal guys like to toss garbage in there, too, like chewing gum, cigarette butts, and condoms. (And no, adding ice to the trough doesn't do a damn thing.)
We contact a friend, who happens to be the former head of the California Psychological Association, and ask him about our fear of troughs. He tells us of an anxiety disorder called paruresis (DSM IV, Code 300.23), which is essentially a fear of voiding in a public restroom. Has he ever been to a restroom that had a trough? Yes. Does he think that troughs contribute to paruresis? Absolutely. Does he think we can get troughs banned in S.F. on account of the Americans With Disabilities Act? Sadly, no.
Public restroom at the Marina Green (ooh, nice breeze!); Noc Noc (holy graffiti, Batman!); Macy's Union Square, sixth-floor women's room (now we know where the term "the throne" comes from); Hobson's Choice Victorian Punch House (the green fluorescent lighting in the women's room may cause instant seizures); Universal Cafe (fresh flowers); The Attic (they've improved the place by getting rid of the dreaded "puffy toilet seat," but still); Mecca (a bathroom straight out of Gotham City); The Eagle Tavern (this bar has a trough and a mirror that runs the length of the trough, and this particular mirror is really friggin' low, so unless the Eagle is frequented by midgets we suspect the looking glass has ulterior purposes).