Urgently needing to find a bathroom is a New York City nightmare on par with getting clobbered by a falling air conditioner, bringing home bedbugs, or accidentally giving bad directions. An extra cup of coffee before your morning commute, or one too many glasses of wine at happy hour, collides with a train delay you shoulda seen coming, and suddenly you’ve got to find a restroom in a city stingy with them. What most people don’t realize is there is a smattering of facilities built into the subway system. Your MetroCard swipe not only gets you on the train (eventually), it’s also your ticket to almost 50 restrooms operated by the MTA. Nearly all are closed from 12am to 5am (peak bathroom hours) and most are hidden from public view, making finding a place to pee quite the adventure.
Now, I hate public bathrooms, I hate being dirty, I hate the subway -- I don't even really like New York anymore. Yet, I threw myself into an amalgamation of filth -- a grimy triad of disgust close to 200 feet under the ground -- to go to the bathroom. Many bathrooms. Ten bathrooms. For you. Because someday, when you need to find a toilet like your life depends on it, I want you to think of me, Jeremy Glass.
Surprise! They’re all the worst.
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THE METHOD: After drinking my weight in water at work, I visited stations around Manhattan. Why Manhattan? You think I’m schlepping all the way out to Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island on a weekday? What am I made of? Lithium batteries? And odds are, if you’re ever struck by the kind of urgency that drives you to use a bathroom maintained by the MTA, you’re going to be in Manhattan. If you’re traveling to the outer boroughs, you’re probably taking peecautions before you board. (And if you haven’t been, you’ll certainly start after reading this roundup.) I was officially limited to men’s rooms, because here in the most progressive city in the world, all of these bathrooms were still divided into two gender categories. But when you gotta go... you know.
THE RATING SYSTEM: Your standard five-star system. Five is good, one is -- as you imagine -- not as good.
Best for straphangers who can’t be bothered to wash their hands: 125th Street
Accessible via the A, B, C, and D trains Bladder ready to party, I sprung into action searching for the 125th Street bathroom. It took 15 minutes and a several wrong turns to find, and boy was I conflicted when I found it. On one hand, I had to use the bathroom, on the other hand…
How to describe this bathroom: small, white, tiled, boxy -- a single toilet with a soapless sink -- an uninspiring space, within an uninspiring space, within a city where dreams are made or whatever. This first bathroom on my list provided me with a bleak vision of my future. A vision filled with grit, grime, and the stench of ripe pee. I did not love this bathroom. STARS: 1 out of 5, but age is just a number.
Best for the graffito enthusiast: 86th Street
Accessible via the B and C trains I wasn’t expecting much on the second stop of my list. I knew I’d get lost searching for the toilet, I figured I’d be stepping in some trace amounts of urine, and I assumed there’d be meaningless graffiti here and there. (In this case it was the word “BAD” scribbled on the upper right hand part of a stall.) Boy, do I hate being right. What I didn’t expect was to walk into a metaphorical, all-encompassing wall of piss. Friends, that smell will stay with me forever like the advice from a parent on his or her deathbed. On the bright side, I can now think of the 86th Street station next time I’m trying to will down an ill-timed boner. STARS: 2 out of 5, but only because I had a satisfying pee.
Best for people who smoke cigarettes indoors: 57th Street
Accessible via the N, Q, R, and W trains Perhaps it’s because my expectations were immediately set so low from the first two stops, but the bathroom at 52nd Street actually wasn’t as terrible as I expected. Another detail I quickly learned from my tour de piss was that every single one of these bathrooms are tiny. Not like overhead-storage-on-a-budget-airline tiny, but more like: “I’d probably have a psychotic episode if I had to stay here overnight, but why would I have to stay here overnight?” tiny. This, like all but two bathrooms, was completely deserted and completely bare bones. One stall, one urinal, one hand dryer, all urine smell. Can someone hire a gaggle of Swedes to redesign these things? STARS: 2 out of 5, I have to throw out my shoes now.
Best for hyposmia sufferers: Times Square
Accessible via the N, Q, R, S, W, 1, 2, 3, and 7 trains I gotta say, I was pretty disappointed with this bathroom. I mean, I wasn’t expecting it to smell like the M&M’s store, or to walk onto a giant revolving stage like Hamilton, but I was hoping for a little more spirit. Some pizzazz! It’s Times Square! The Chili’s of neighborhoods! Elmo’s ancestral home! Guy Fieri’s wet dream, I assume! For real, this actually might have been the smallest bathroom I’ve ever seen and I felt a pang of jealousy for the fine men and women in jail who get to pee in a space larger than 2 feet wide. To its (minor) credit, this is probably the least crowded place in Times Square. STARS: 2 out of 5, would it kill them to pump in some M&M’s smell?
Best for baby boomers who still think NYC is a 1980s-era smouldering hellscape: 42nd Street Port Authority
Accessible via the A, C, and E trains Let me just say something… I get the appeal of hyperbole; it makes whatever you're describing come to life and fuels 99% of BuzzFeed headlines, but such language can also handicap you as a narrator. I mean, would you really “fucking die” for a piece of avocado toast? No. That being said, I’d rather drag my balls through a mile of barbed wire and broken glass than spend more than one nanosecond in the Port Authority bathroom. I’d rather tongue-kiss Tucker Carlson’s thin, wet lips than touch anything in this bathroom. It wasn’t the filthy walls or decidedly haunted baby changing table shoved in the corner, but rather the strangely sweet smell hanging in the air. A filthy ghost lives here and I hate him. STARS: 0 out of 5, just try to squeeze another one out of me you miserable poltergeist of piss.
Best for superhuman mutants with regular human urinary bladders: 14th Street
Accessible via the A, C, E, and L trains Wow. Truly and remarkably disgusting. This was the bathroom that actually inspired me to buy hand sanitizer (plus gum, seltzer, and a piece of chocolate to meet the $6 minimum) from a concession stand. On that note: These bathrooms aren’t easy to find. In fact, I’m positive I’ve been to train stations with bathrooms that I’ve never even seen before. There isn’t an illuminated sign or any indicator that they exist -- you just have to look for them. The people running the concession stands were gracious enough to guide me. At every station blessedly appointed with refreshments, they provided quick and accurate directions to the nearest toilet. I guess that makes sense, come to think of; surely, concession stand guys pee too, right? Anyway, yeah, this toilet made me want to vomit and die. STARS: 0 for the facilities, 5 for the concession stand proprietors.
Best for LES revelers drinking on their parents’ dime who are due for some comeuppance: Delancey/Essex
Accessible via the F, J, M, and Z I used to live right off the Delancey/Essex street stop and went to this subway stop every day. In the three years I passed through the station at least twice a day, I never once saw these bathrooms unlocked. Perhaps thanks to a benevolent Jewish god who has forgiven me for all those years of eating pork, both bathrooms were open on a recent visit. And, likely due to its location beneath NYC’s answer to Bourbon Street, I finally learned that this is the most disgusting bathroom. Not just in the subway, but on earth. The smell? Brutal. The graffiti? Fresh. The pee on the floor? Way more fresh. Plus there was no soap or paper towels anywhere in sight, meaning whatever you touch stays with you. STARS: -1 out of 5; I can do this because I invented the system.
Best for the harried commuter who cannot ruin another pair of chinos: Fulton Street
Accessible via the A, C, J, Z, 2, 3, 4, and 5 trains If I had to pick a “winner” -- i.e., a bathroom that didn’t make me want to burn my clothes, I guess I’d have to pick Fulton Street. I was expecting something nice; I mean, this is the very same Fulton Street station that houses Irving Farm Coffee Roasters, Dunkin’ Donuts, and bunch of other crap! In fact, I would say this bathroom was suspiciously nice, though in no way glamorous. It looked like a real bathroom -- like the kind you’d expect in a Barnes & Noble (RIP) or the basement of a museum. Multiple stalls, multiple urinals, and multiple people! To the person who walked in on me taking a picture: See, I’m not a weirdo. STARS: 3 out of 5, but let’s keep in mind that a “NYC Subway Bathroom 5” is a 0 anywhere else. Like when the best actor from your high school drama club leaves Iowa to seek their big break in LA.
Best for the sadist who gets off on the notion of spending eternity in hell: Whitehall Terminal
Accessible via the 1, R, and W trains This bathroom was 20 degrees warmer than the rest of the station. The temperature was almost enough to distract me from the bathroom’s permeating atmosphere of piss, and its size. This place was tiny, cell-like, and overly lit. How is it that the overwhelming lighting situation was vigorously approved by the Subway Bathroom Elders? I felt like I was on an operating table. The least they could have done was hang a bare bulb to swing from the ceiling. Just to set the mood, ya know?! Oh, and whoever used this bathroom last didn’t flush. Can ya blame them, though? STARS: 1 out of 5, lighting was not up to snuff.
Best for the tough guy who eschews chlorine, vaccinations, and pasteurization: Chambers Street
Accessible via the A, C, E, 2, and 3 trains Hey, remember pools? Like public pools? Remember how the floor of the changing room would always be covered in pool water? This was similar, except we all know what liquid was seeping into the cracks of the tile floor in this particular spot! Piss, more piss. I guess I can’t prove it was piss, but my heart and my brain know it to be the truth. At this point, it feels redundant going into detail about the Chambers Street bathroom, but it certainly fulfilled the checklist of being an NYC subway bathroom. Dirty? Check. Small? Check. Soap? Nope. Often used by men who like to pee on the floors of public restrooms? Checkmate. STARS: 2 out of 5, because let’s end this nightmare on a high note.
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