Food Porn Pondering the smuttiness of D.C.'s restaurant bathrooms

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Men's bathroom at Proof
Photo by Darrow Montgomery

Some people are just plain put off by the sight of God with a raging erection.

When Sax, a lounge and restaurant in downtown D.C., held its splashy opening party this past spring, some pretty striking artwork debuted. Murals in the stairways depicted various political and religious figures in precarious situations: priests engaging in ungodly acts with young boys, presidents carousing with harlots. One image showed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas weighing his ample manhood on the scales of justice. To the side, a red can of soda stood in obvious reference to certain subjects last discussed during Thomas’ confirmation hearings.

The pièce de résistance: a parody of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling, featuring Our Heavenly Father sporting some hefty wood under his divine robe. “Michelangelo’s God is a sexy old man,” artist Balage Balogh, the creator of the scandalous acrylics, said at the time. “He’s surrounded by all these younger angels....I played on the same idea, but accentuating the sexuality of it and simply giving him an erection just to give it a big, big, um, tongue-in-cheek point.”

The proprietors of the place had publicized these paintings as a “catalyst for forbidden dialogue in an otherwise conservative town.” It certainly got people talking—though not necessarily in a good way. Within weeks, management had covered up those very conversation catalysts.

Some might conclude from the incident that there’s no market for filth in a nice downtown restaurant. They’d be wrong. Plenty of other white-tablecloth joints are offering titillation and trash to D.C.’s well-heeled diners. But they’re doing it in the restroom.

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Like a tour of Washington’s marble monuments, an amble through the capital’s lurid bathrooms might begin with Lincoln—the restaurant, not the memorial.

Last spring, before opening his presidential-themed eatery, owner Alan Popovsky took the online news service Dining Bisnow on a video tour of the ornate Vermont Avenue NW establishment. The videographer spent an awful lot of time in the bathrooms.

First up: the ladies’ room, decorated with shiny stenciled patterns and a number of illusory paintings, some depicting friends of both Popovsky and Maggie O’Neill, the artist who designed the restaurant, bathrooms and all. The men’s room, meanwhile, is awash in innuendo. Old hand-crank drills and other workman’s tools are framed on the walls. If you don’t immediately get the joke, look back at the slogan above the door: “Keep Your Tools Clean.”

Tools also play a background role in the various glossy portraits mounted above the toilets. “We have different models working with the tools,” Popovsky explains. One is a close-up of a woman’s bare midriff. She’s wearing only lacy underwear and a thick steely chain hooked around her waist. Another features a buxom, curly-haired blonde in a black bustier and top hat crouching spread-eagle while she clutches the heel and leg of another gal seen only below the waist, wearing knee-high fishnet stockings. One well-manicured hand rests on the disembodied dame’s upper thigh; the other hand disappears into the shady crevasse between her crossed legs. “I think guys are going to really enjoy it,” says Popovsky.

You’d get the same vibe from making a pit stop at similarly upscale places like Penn Quarter’s wine-centric Proof (its men’s lavatory theme includes photos of women’s rear ends) or the Logan Circle tapas titan Estadio (shirtless soccer players in the ladies’ room). And it’s just as pronounced when you go a step down the price scale to Thunder Burger, the Georgetown restaurant known for its wild-game specials. In the men’s room, you find a large mural of a playing card, the queen of hearts. The two cartoonish women depicted therein are entirely nude, save for the bright red flowers protruding from their nether regions.

“I feel that it’s the one area that most restaurateurs ignore because they think a bathroom is a bathroom. It just needs to be acceptable and clean. I find those bathrooms a bit boring,” says Thunder Burger co-owner H. Ben Kirane, also proprietor of the more upscale Spanish tapas restaurant Bodega, located just to the west on M Street NW. “My idea is, why should a trip to the bathroom be a boring experience when a little creativity can make for an interesting and memorable experience?”

Kirane’s bathrooms at Bodega feature a unisex common area. The décor reflects this. “We have a poster of flamenco dancers, male and female,” he explains. “She’s basically sitting on his lap in fishnet stockings. We cropped the picture so you can just see the legs.”

If the coed vibe in the bathroom is at all awkward, Kirane says the intimate image is quite the ice breaker. “I think it does encourage socializing and flirting, which is one of the reasons people go out in the first place,” he says.

Photo Slideshow: D.C.'s Smuttiest Restaurant Bathrooms

Our Readers Say

I can dig these folks pushing DC's conservative envelope. Let's keep the conversation pieces going!
You should check out the wallpaper print in the Brasserie Beck Men's room. Not quite as graphic, but tittilating nonetheless.
Leave the priests with little boys out of it.
Interesting, I hadn't thought of it from the nostalgia angle before. I feel like it's meant to seem both provocative and playful. All of these things are sexy, but sexy in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way, like the peeping Tom pictures at Proof. It's meant to surprise you and then be something you can laugh at and tell your friends about. Sax was going for that angle but much of it was just downright offensive.
Ladies, we're getting jacked. These people need to step it up in our loo, or I'm going to start going where the guys go...
i'd rather just have a trough for in/out efficiency, higher volume, and saving water.
I am super annoyed that the ladies' rooms at Proof and Thunder Burger are so lame! What sexist decorated those bathrooms? Why don't women get to oogle men's buns? They're also very nice to look at. Let's start with Cristiano Ronaldo's and go from there. I'm not going to either establishment until they're more equal-minded.
I agree with Julie. Women are definitely getting the short end of the stick. That was literally my first impression when I decided to take my own tour of Lincoln's men's room (back in September). By comparison, my first impression of the women's room was *ugh*... "what's this all about?!" It's blindingly, shocking pink and non-sensical swirls made me feel: a) dizzy, and b) as though I was inside of a box of some random feminine hygiene product. And that's how it started. I came back and shared with my friend (quite randomly) the horror of the decor in the "Ladies" room. It was enough to make me lose my appetite, although I did enjoy the "Lady Lincoln" and whatever it's called that they serve in that cool little metal cup -the Lincoln Sour? YUM! He responded, "oh...it's not like that in men's room at all." When he described it, I flat out didn't believe him and went to see for myself (with his assistance, of course). It was a giggle (I "get" the joke) but at the same time, I was also absolutely incredulous, stunned, and mildly outraged. I even took photos with my phone camera. In my 'humble' opinion, the message was crystal clear -women, you're supposed to be all sugar and what? since there was no "spice" there! Keep your libidos in check? I couldn't decipher it. Did the "pink" have a whole other subtext (I'd prefer not to contemplate too seriously)? Really? I mean really? The decor and "vibe" in the men's room? I could appreciate it (on one level) for what it was. Well done -even though I felt the message ultimately suggests that women are simply objects or to be objectified. The space and lighting was warm, relaxing, an oasis, a sanctuary -Zen, almost: Enjoy them (women), fantasize about their 'parts' (while you take take care of business), just make sure you "Keep Your Tools Clean." So, what are you saying -be safe about "it"? Which tools, exactly, are you referring to (since recent stats suggest most men do not wash their hands -a whole other issue)? The juxtaposition could not be more sexist (and even humiliating). I confess, Estadios' women's room was a much more pleasurable experience and at least the 'object' of attention is a real person - A "Marilyn Monroe" of hot boys, if you will. "Like." A+ for the attempt at 'art' and providing customers with a pleasurable experience in "The John." Very cool and much welcomed. There are establishments in Paris that mastered that years back and I'm pleased we've finally 'caught on' -but dear Lincoln, your women's bathroom is not 'art' or 'pleasurable.' Maybe I'm just not enlightened enough? The "illusory paintings of "friends" did indeed illude me, altogether. It's a shock to the system (visually, psychologically and emotionally). How about another attempt? A re-do (which I heartily suggested to one of your employees that night). How about a message for all the single and/or married ladies that also encourages them to indulge their fantasies as well? Heads up! We have one (or many) and they are definitely more vivid than your interpretation and perhaps even more vivid than the average male for that matter? I'll leave it to you to figure out what that is. But all signs currently point to "clueless." And just a bit of additional advice, I'd take a pass on a theme featuring "cartoonish woman" the Thunder Burger in Georgetown apparently employes (and advocates?). Webster's defines cartoonish as "a ludicrously simplistic, unrealistic, or one-dimensional portrayal or version." Nuf said. I truly feel for the woman who's on a date with a guy she barely knows. She goes to "potty and powder" and gets one experience while her date gets something all together different. If they barely know one another, she will likely never know this. But since they've both been "marketed" to and hence, stimulated based on your interpretation of what men and women 'want', in entirely different ways...the end result could likely be an epic fail. Yet, who can say for sure since I did enjoy my meal and my company. The thing is, if I come back, it would likely be for the sole purpose of exhibiting the disparity of the restrooms.

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