With Porcelain New York, our goal is to celebrate the toilets we have, shine a light on facilities that need attention, and inspire more public bathroom discourse in the hopes that New Yorkers will someday be able to move about our town with a little more dignity, knowing that a respectable privy is always within striking distance.
For our first installment, we traveled to the Lions Gate Field Comfort Station, located at 313 Broome Street inside Sara D. Roosevelt Park, between Chrystie and Forsyth Streets. We'd heard from a friend that this was some freshly renovated porcelain, and Lions Gate did not disappoint.
On a recent, steamy Tuesday afternoon, the men's room smelled faintly (sweetly?) of disinfectant. Two big, dumb houseflies buzzed around, knocking their bodies against the recently scrubbed tile. Sinks and drains were clear, hearts were full.
The (tiny) urinal placement is a little strange. They are also unusually pointy, which could create an unintended catch-basin effect for effluvia.
But overall, this was a relatively dreamy public bathroom to stumble upon.
Ralph Knowles, who is from the Bronx but spends time in Sara D. Roosevelt Park, exited the bathroom and gave Hell Gate his assessment. "It's pretty good. They haven't had this open for a long time, and it's really clean," he said. "I expected it to be worse!"
Lions Gate is open 7 a.m to 7 p.m., one of the roughly 600 public bathrooms maintained by the Parks Department, according to a spokesperson (here's a map of them all). Parks restrooms are supposed to be serviced three times a day, and on Tuesday, Lions Gate was patrolled by a jovial man wearing a Parks visor, large square shades, and gold fronts.
"You gotta have a little faith," said the man, who declined to give his name, citing the Parks Department's media policy. "Some people have a total negative, oh those bathrooms are gonna be messed up like all the other ones, blah blah blah blah. No. Not if you got workers who care and they're gonna maintain it."
Visor Guy said that his restrooms were receiving a lot of traffic from subway riders who were exiting the B/D train a block away. (The MTA station's bathrooms have been closed for two years.)
"A lot of people get off the train and have to use the bathroom. It's very convenient when they can go somewhere where they can sit down—actually sit on the toilet if you want to," he said. "Somebody's always here so you can say, 'Hey, can I get a little spray on the seat so I can sit down?' And I’ll do that because that’s my job."
Jason Rojas, a 16-year-old skateboarder from Queens, was slightly less impressed with his restroom experience than we were.
"It smelled a little like piss, there were unclean mirrors, and unpleasant vibes. But I'm here because this one is the best one in the area," Rojas said. "I think they should have public restrooms everywhere. People need to use the bathrooms, clean themselves off."
As several Parks employees pulled out of the "creative" parking spaces they had carved out for themselves (one unofficial license plate read "Retired and Loving It"), Visor Guy explained that he tried to strike a balance between letting the people living in the park use the restroom to wash up, and preventing it from being abused.
"Wash your face, wash your hands, but you can't take a bath," he said. "You can even brush your teeth if you got a toothbrush—that's hygiene. But you can't put your foot in the sink and try and get off the fungus, no, no. You can't do that."
Donald Lopez exited the restroom with a bounce in his step. As a delivery cyclist, he said he frequently has to use public restrooms, and confirmed that this one was top-notch.
"Oh it's good, man. It's perfect."
Porcelain New York Rating for Lions Gate Field Comfort Station: 8.7
Do you know of a public bathroom that Hell Gate should review? Let us know! Send an email to email@example.com with “PNY” in the subject line.