Restaurant bathrooms have become a tourist destination. Ever since Bang Bang wheat-pasted photos of Ryan Gosling on every available wall inch of their women’s room, it’s been a competition to make your relief as inspirational and entertaining as possible. People have begun Instagramming photos of their nature calls. This is not advisable, and really, barely human.
But it speaks to how far the restaurant bathroom has come, from its lowly beginnings as a place to plan escapes from creepy first dates, or a place to monkey-preen food off your face.
As a restaurant critic, I’ve always taken a cursory look at bathrooms. If the bathroom is gross, then I don’t quite trust the kitchen to not also be gross. Very few things turn you off a restaurant experience like a powder room that looks transplanted from an area frat house. But now I’ve had to spend extra minutes in each restroom, taking note of the chandeliers and Champagne vending machines and funnyisms. Ironside in Little Italy has Descartes’ famous phrase, "SH** HAPPENS" engraved in the ceiling above the line of bathrooms.
Point is, I now have a personal favorite bathroom. During my review of Pamplemousse in this month’s issue, I was standing in position. We men tend to stare at the wall directly in front of our business dealings, unless we’re staring down at our phones (which I’ve never felt too comfortable with because one day I’m sure I’m going to accidentally take a photo of what’s below my phone and accidentally post it to the internet—quite frankly I’m shocked I haven’t by this juncture).
Anyway, in the Pamplemousse men’s room, they have this TV screen right in front of you. At first, it looks like some generic promotional effort from the restaurant, cascading pretty images of food and the dining room. There’s a sepia-toned shrimp dish. Here’s a dreamy photo of beautiful people enjoying beautiful Dover soles. Here’s an obscene closeup shot of a chocolate dessert.
Fine, nice, boring. But then it gets interesting.
I’m looking down at the time. Aim is important in life. I hear someone snickering. I look up and it’s chef-owner Geoffrey Strauss and his right-hand chef on the video screen. They’re standing there looking down at my manhood. Taking peeks and chortling empathetic chortles. Strauss says, "Sorry, bro." As he says this, he’s looking up into the camera (which is at my eye level, so basically he’s looking into my eyes, which is uncomfortable in its own right during this particular moment).
I can’t remember what else they said. (I was incapable of transcription at the moment). They point at my place of esteem and shame. And they mock me. Or it. Or me and it. They are the older boys from my middle school gym class.
I’m both fascinated and impressed. Outside in the dining room, people are paying $40-plus for a grilled cheese sandwich. Tonight’s meal will cost me a car payment. There are fine Italian truffles on everything. I believe there are truffles in their cleaning solvents. There are men of class and decorum and great empires. And when they come to pee, their chef ridicules their member. This is the kind of humor that I expect when I’m chugging chicken wings at my local sports TV emporium.
I’m not sure if Strauss is now my personal hero, a man with the ease and gumption to tease his high-end clientele, who can tend to take themselves a little seriously at times. Sure, he’ll cook for them, master-crafting ahi towers for their enduring luxury. But in the bathroom, this is his time to alter that power paradigm, to alpha the alphas in matters of lower waist. To rib them a little, not in the ribs.
Or if he’s kinda sad like that male relative who bought me every available penis joke t-shirt ever made by the penis joke apparel industry.
Whatever. Laughing at yourself, even at that part of yourself, is important.
Returning to the table, I tell Claire. She’s a New Yorker. Her people are immune to crude humor, since life in New York is itself a crude humor. She gets up to inspect the women’s restroom.
She returns to the table and announces, "This is bullsh**. They didn’t make fun of any of my parts."
So, it seems, the biggest offense of the night is not the men’s room humor, but the assumption that this sort of humor is too much or not appropriate for today’s modern woman.
By not being slighted, Claire feels slighted.