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

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Kirane explains the more overt imagery in the restroom is simply an extension of a subtler sensuality underlining the décor of the entire restaurant, what with its curvy chairs and curtains patterned like fishnet stockings. “It does look a little bit like a whore house,” he admits. “But it is not a whore house. Many people think it is sexy, but they don’t know why.”

(On occasion, the overall sexy vibe has apparently inspired actual sexiness. “We’ve had one or two incidents in the past where a couple went to the bathroom to have sex,” Kirane says. “Did that picture contribute to that? I don’t know. Maybe they were just drunk and they figured, in a unisex bathroom, no one would notice…The manager got involved and gave them a hard time, so they left.”)

Meantime, intentionally grungier joints aren’t abandoning their smut just because the swells are now partaking. At Trusty’s, the filling-station-themed tavern and grill in Capitol Hill, for instance, visitors to the men’s room are greeted by a voluptuous redhead with green eyes wearing black boots and clutching a big, long wrench. Her light blue shirt is completely unbuttoned, revealing ample décolletage and a dark thicket below her belly button. She is the work of prolific local bar artist Lee T. Wheeler. And she’s positioned right above the porcelain pot. Her come-hither stare is unflinching to the last drop.

“The comments are just usually, ‘What are you doing with a painting of my wife-slash-girlfriend,’” says Trusty’s manager Adam Maradian. “It was funnier five years ago.” But that was before the city’s bathroom art got undressed.


Smutty or not, restrooms are a point of differentiation between competitors in a ferocious industry. “At this point, I sort of feel like we have some pressure, as much internal as external, with any restaurant we do, to have the bathrooms be a talking point,” says Proof owner Mark Kuller.

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Competitive bathroom design, at least in the District, is a phenomenon of the past five years or so, says architect Griz Dwight, who is responsible for the décor of top eateries including Fiola, Proof, and Estadio. He’s also behind PS7s, where the restrooms feature one-way mirrors allowing nose-powdering voyeurs to see out into the dining room, but not vice versa. “It’s the idea of doing something different,” says Dwight. “I don’t want to say it’s a gimmick. It’s adding another layer of interest.”

Dwight attributes the prevailing interest in bathrooms to a sort of marketing strategy. “I find that restaurants really need a couple of talking points. They need a couple of cool things about them. One person will say, ‘Have you been to that restaurant with the really great bar?’ And somebody else will say, ‘No, but I went to this restaurant the other day with these really cool bathrooms.’ And they could be talking about the same place. It’s just different things mean different things to different people.”

The bathroom boom, Dwight suggests, is a lot less pricey than other newly ornate aspects of modern restaurant design. “We try to be clever with them but not overly expensive,” he says.

Enter the Proof girl.

Kuller’s Penn Quarter eatery is known for many things, including its prodigious wine list. Visiting the john is a pretty big hit, too. “Guys come into these bathrooms here, and they go, ‘Oh, I love your bathrooms.’ They go back to the table, they start talking about it. Other guys go, ‘Oh, I want to see it.’”

What they’re talking about is the beautiful brunette whose image hangs above both urinals. In each shot, she is seen from behind. In fact, if you step up to one of these urinals, her buttocks appear right in your face as you try to pee. Along the opposite wall, where the sink is, the lengthy image of another unclothed lass is embedded right into the wall. Look down to the right below her bare breast, if you can, and you’ll eventually find the faucet.

How Kuller found his passion for erotic bathroom art is actually sort of a love story. “When I was practicing law, we would do a Christmas dinner in New York, and for many years we did it at the old Montrachet restaurant,” he recalls. “It was a very intimate restaurant. The men’s room was tiny. You walked in, there was this little sink on the side and a towel bowl. That was it.”

Well, not entirely it. “Above the toilet, they had a photograph by Laurence Sackman and it was of a woman lying face-down on a bed with covers sort of up to her thighs and her butt was a little bit up in the air, and it was incredibly…hot,” Kuller says. “So you would go into this bathroom—usually, by the time I got there, I was drunk—and you’d be mesmerized by this photo.”

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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