Four Reviews of New York Bookshop Bathrooms

Because it is the heart of the bookstore.


McNally Jackson Books
52 Prince St

While McNally Jackson is certainly one of the most beloved and finely curated bookstores in New York, it is no secret that its basement-level bathroom is problematic at best. Located in a narrow hallway behind the store’s open stairwell, patrons will find themselves waiting their turn for the store’s small, single-occupancy bathroom in a makeshift storage space crowded with slats of wood from disassembled bookshelves and large unopened boxes of bathroom tissue. However, this disorganized space is far from being the bathroom’s biggest problem. In fact, it can even serve as a helpful contrast to the crisp, modern look of the bookstore as a whole, creating a fun behind-the-scenes atmosphere, a rough-and-tumble aesthetic that provides an important sense of separation from the well-ordered bookshelves, effectively giving patrons who are answering nature’s call the permission to do so.

The main drawbacks facing the bathroom stem from the coin-operated lock on its door, which requires patrons to insert a quarter to enter. Considering the current rents in McNally Jackson’s neighborhood of Nolita, 25 cents to spend ten minutes in a single room is actually incredibly reasonable. But in order to get around the quarter requirement, a custom has sprung up among McNally patrons in which those waiting stand just outside the door so they can hold it open as you exit. This is not an offensive practice in itself, except that the door in question is incredibly thin. Inside the bathroom the lack of a proper sound barrier becomes incredibly apparent as soon as one hears the crystal-clear shuffling of feet and throat clearing of those waiting outside, meaning that whatever bathroom-appropriate activities one means to carry out must either be undertaken in complete silence or else with a resigned acceptance of the fact that we are all human and certain unexpected intimacies are unavoidable in such a dense city.


Photo: Alejandro De La Cruz.

Beyond that, it should be mentioned that the bathroom is typically clean with everything in good working order. This reviewer was unable to ascertain the exact model of the toilet, but, with its low-slung look and sleek tank set so far back, it is most likely from the Gerber Viper series. The toilet features a horseshoe seat with no lid, which, combined with the toilet’s powerful flush, presents serious concerns with regards to atomized toilet water. The sink is unmistakably a Gerber 12-918 utility sink, a bold choice for the small space. The industrial look of this heavy sink is not without its charm. However, the deep basin and high, thudding faucet presents an unwieldy environment for hand washing that is likely to leave many a shirtfront liberally water-flecked. Overall, this bathroom is a reliable choice for light use. But any bathroom patrons with serious business to attend to or those for whom privacy is a make-or-break issue are encouraged to step out and make use of the nearby facilities in the public library on Jersey Street between Mulberry and Lafayette. 

Strand Books
East 12th Street
East Village

Famous for boasting 18 miles of books, Strand is so large and its stacks so labyrinthine that even regular patrons might experience some difficulty locating its gendered, multi-occupancy restrooms. Adding to the confusion is the fact that Strand has tucked its facilities discretely behind the customer service desk of the children’s section on the second floor. But once found, these bathrooms are almost beyond reproach. The eye is immediately drawn to the floors where the immaculately clean tile is occupied with a prim hexagonal rosette pattern, giving the impression that one has stepped into a public restroom sprung from the imagination of Wes Anderson. A wonderful, though perhaps unavoidable U-shaped layout separates the sinks and urinals from the stalls farther back with a thick tiled wall, allowing a heightened sense of privacy for those who need it most. The gray metal stall doors should be familiar to any attendees of public schools, though take care when securing their locks, since many of them have to be lined up just right to prevent the door from swinging inward.


Photo: Erin M.

The toilets are sleek, tankless wall-hung units, most likely manufactured by American Standard. Each toilet is bright white and fixed with Regal flush valves. Flush is adequate, though the slight humidity of the bathrooms results in a buildup of condensation on the metal valves, thereby necessitating one to flush the toilet with one’s foot in order to avoid unpleasant skin contact with the cold ambient moisture. The urinals are Crane top spud units, also white, all of them sturdy but plain-looking. Above the urinals Strand has posted its events schedule, which is rather helpful given the normal urinal etiquette of staring straight ahead as if gazing off into the middle distance. Whether a patron is interested in Strand’s upcoming events or not, the presence of this paper is at least helpful in making this posture seem less self-conscious. The sinks are all without question American Standard’s wall-mounted Lucerne model, which has a beautiful, nostalgic look. Unfortunately, Strand has decided to fit the sinks with unflattering push-operated faucets. In addition to not quite agreeing with the wistful yet robust style of the Lucerne, these faucets also maximize the amount of knob-to-hand contact required for patrons to wash their hands, a fact which will no doubt be troubling to any subscribers to germ theory. Nevertheless, these faucets represent a single weak point in an otherwise charming public restroom experience. These facilities are recommended for all levels of use with no major caveats.

Housing Works Bookstore and Cafe
126 Crosby St

One only has to step inside either of Housing Works’ roomy and easily accessible unisex restrooms to know that the presiding spirit of compassion of this nonprofit bookstore and cafe extends to everything they do. Walking through one of the heavy doors, one feels immediately separated from the bustling bookstore outside and free to conduct oneself with a sufficient degree of privacy. What looks like a white Gerber Ultra Flush is nestled reassuringly in the corner of this single-occupancy bathroom along with two sturdy grab bars of brushed steel. The presence of dual bathroom tissue dispensers and a sturdy black-rubber toilet plunger help bring home the message that this restroom is a judgement-free zone in which individuals with the best possible motives have prepared for the worst possible contingencies. The wall-hung vitreous china sink is audaciously long (20×27 inches), making great use of the space. In addition to being a handsome and substantial-looking sink, this model in particular is the Gerber Eaton Ada Lavatory, specially designed for wheelchair accessibility and thus reflecting the combined sense of good taste and social responsibility that Housing Works is already well known for. The noticeable chipping on the tile walls as well as the light graffiti on the room’s mirror both actually provide a warm, lived-in feeling.


Photo: DMC Wilcox.

However, the framed and signed event posters on the walls convey less of a celebratory air of Housing Works’ past readings and performances than a mere reluctance to buy art. These bathrooms are highly recommended for light to heavy use in a variety of circumstances. Though users should be advised that the bookstore also occasionally serves as a venue for private events. The result is that its hours can be somewhat irregular, so while these large, friendly bathrooms are convenient, relying on their availability could potentially land one in an uncomfortable predicament.

Three Lives & Company
154 W 10th St
West Village

At first glance, this small shop in the West Village would seem to have everything one could want from an independent bookstore: friendly staff, handsome dark wood shelves full of great titles, beautiful walls of exposed brick, and slow-creaking hardwood floors that make every step of your casual browsing a ponderous declaration.


Photo: Michael Coghlan.

It does not, however, have a bathroom. In one corner of the bookstore is a narrow door that one might suspect to contain the sort of cramped zero-privacy restroom typically associated with used bookstores. But when one finally works up the courage to open that door, all that is revealed is a small stairway leading down into a storeroom, the look of which gives off a distinct please-be-so-kind-as-to-close-the-door-you-just-opened air. This lack of a bathroom for patrons creates an intriguing dialectic that takes the whole concept of the bookstore bathroom and turns it on its ear. One is forced to turn dramatically away from one’s own bodily needs and simply enjoy everything else that this provocatively bathroomless space has to offer.


Image License: CC.