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Bryant Park’s surprisingly refined public bathroom gets a $280K upgrade

Peeing in Midtown has gotten a whole lot better

The exterior of a public bathroom in Bryant Park. The facade is concrete and the door is arched. Jane Kratochvil Photography/Bryant Park Facebook

The nicest public bathrooms in New York are now even nicer.

The 315-square-foot Beaux Arts bathroom building tucked behind the New York Public Library in Bryant Park is already a singular urban bathroom experience, with self-flushing toilets (equipped with sanitary seat covers that rotate between uses!), fresh flowers, ambient classical music, and a pair of attendants who “mop and shine until everything gleams.”

It is, the New York Times declares, the “Tiffany’s of public restrooms,” but it seems that even Tiffany’s needs an upgrade sometimes: It’s the recipient of a recent $280,000 makeover, and park-goers have none other than Brooke Astor to thank.

According to lore, Astor was on her way to the library for a meeting in 1979 when a “hooligan” tried to sell her drugs in the then-blighted park, Dan Biederman, president of the Bryant Park Corporation, told the Times. She “complained to her friend David Rockefeller that the area needed to be cleaned up,” and Rockefeller, in turn, made it happen. (If there is a lesson here, it is that it is always best to have friends in high places.)

And yet—despite its society origins—the legendary bathroom is a deeply egalitarian institution. “Anybody from homeless people to Mrs. Astor could use it,” Biederman said. And they do: as of 2016, an average of 3,266 people use the bathroom every day, sometimes waiting in 40-plus-person lines for the privilege.

Running such a bathroom, though, inexpensive venture. It costs $271,000 annually to keep up the bathroom: $27,000 goes toward 14,040 industrial-size rolls of single-ply toilet paper, says the Times. $14,160 goes toward flower deliveries. Bathroom attendants earn between $25,000 and $30,000 a year.

Understandably then, decisions about the space, which is funded entirely through private revenue, are not taken lightly. “Any change—even to the playlist of classical music—is discussed at length at staff meetings,” the Times notes, adding that park manages have gone so far as to convene “focus groups on the bathroom.”

The bathroom’s forthcoming upgrades will include the following:

sleek Toto toilets and fixtures, wall tiles in warm, earthy shades to reflect the trees outside and a modern air-conditioning system for the dog days of summer. The attendants, fresh flowers and seat covers will all return. And for the first time, original artwork depicting Bryant Park will be displayed, selected from the park’s collection of 225 works by painters-in-residence.

As you can see from the photos, taken by Bryant Park photographer Jane Kratochvil, the facilities are looking spiffier than ever.

The bathroom has been closed since February, and it goes without saying that regulars are excited for its new-and-improved return. “I’m going to come here more,” a messenger who uses the bathroom once a week told the Times. “I thought it was already good enough and now they’re going to make it even better? I may live here.”