public restrooms

Posh public potties in airports, hotels & parks

Tampa Airport

Twenty recently renovated restrooms in the airport’s main terminal now have automated, hands-free fixtures and glass murals depicting scenery, animals and plant life native to the Sunshine State. “We’re overflowing with pride to be nominated for our restrooms,” said an airport spokesperson.

Travelers on the go know it’s sometimes difficult to find a welcoming and clean place to, uh, go.

So it’s encouraging to see the 10 posh potties, cool commodes and imaginative public washrooms that restroom supply company Cintas has flushed out as nominees in the 12th annual contest for America’s Best Restroom.

The family-friendly restrooms at Chicago’s Field Museum won top prize in 2011 and last year the 83-stall restroom at a Buc-ee’s convenience store in New Braunfels, Texas, just outside of San Antonio, was named king of the thrones.

“Guests look at the public restrooms as a clue to how the entire operation is run,” said Katie Davin, associate professor and director of hospitality education at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I.

“If the bathroom is clean, that’s a good indication that the kitchen is probably clean. If the restroom is out of paper towels, maybe management isn’t really on top of things. And if a restroom has TVs in the mirrors and cool music playing, that’s a good sign the business is probably modern and hip,” she said.

Among the nominated restrooms this year are those at the Waldorf Astoria New York. The very definition of swank since the 1930s, the landmark Park Avenue hotel oozes elegance at every turn. That includes the lobby-level ladies lounge, which has an Art Deco staircase, faux fireplace with oversized marble vanity, attendants and private stalls with toilets, vanities, sinks and Salvatore Ferragamo bath amenities.

“We often see harried female midtown investment bankers in early evening entering our lobby ladies room. They emerge transformed from dark business suit to gown and fabulous shoes,” said Matt Zolbe, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing. “We play a small but really helpful role. Sometimes the event is not even here; still we are part of her plan. The men? I suspect they change in their offices.”

Guests have surprising recall about whether or not a hotel restroom is unkempt and in need of renovation or whether or not it’s “wow,” said Bjorn Hanson, divisional dean of the New York University Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management. “And many non-guests expect hotel restrooms to be especially clean and safe and will stop at hotels, en route, whether they’re walking or driving, to use the restrooms.”

So, like that bit of toilet paper that sometimes gets stuck to the bottom of your shoe, the condition of a restroom can linger and, said Hanson, “enhance or harm a hotel’s image beyond the experience of hotel guests.”

Voting for America’s Best Restroom continues through Oct. 31. This year’s winner will be announced later this fall.

For a slide show of the nominated restrooms, see the original version of my story 10 Posh Public Potties on CNBC.

Vote for America’s Best Restroom

Do you worry about where to ‘go’ when you’re on the go? Then take note of the beautiful and sometimes bizarre public bathrooms that get nominated for America’s Best Restroom.

Whether sightseeing or heading down the road to visit a new town, finding a clean place to “go” when you’re on the go can be a traveler’s most urgent challenge.

That’s why word gets around when a hotel, restaurant, museum, ballpark or other venue goes out of its way to provide bathrooms that are not just sanitary, but distinctive, inviting and somewhat eccentric.

There’s even an annual award for America’s Best Restroom. For this year’s choice, people can cast their vote online through Sept. 19.

The contest is hosted by bathroom supply company Cintas Corp., which gathers restroom recommendations through the year and then invites the public to help flush out the best loo in the land from a list of 10 finalists.

The 2010 winner was The Fountain on Locust, a vintage ice-cream parlor in St. Louis, Mo., where the bathrooms have hand-painted murals, luxury fixtures and designer mirrors.

This year’s nominees include the dragon- and gargoyle-themed restrooms at the Castello Di Amorosa Winery in Calistoga, Calif., and the loos at the Renaissance Arlington Capital View Hotel in Arlington, Va., where bird silhouettes on the mirrors light up when the faucets are turned on.

Restrooms on the ground floor of Chicago’s Field Museum have also been nominated. “They’re large and family friendly, with changing stations and sinks set low enough for kids to easily wash their hands,” said museum spokeswoman Nancy O’Shea. “Our housekeeping staff does a great job of keeping those restrooms clean, and we are just delighted to be in the running.”

Other nominees this year include the restrooms at the Main Street Casino in Las Vegas, where urinals hang on a graffiti-covered slab of the Berlin Wall, and Ninja New York, a restaurant where the décor is 15th-century Japan (complete with ninja-dressed wait staff), but the up-to-date restrooms sport built-in seat warmers, water sprayers, deodorizers and driers for the derriere.

There’s even a posh portable potty on the list. Created for President Obama’s 2009 inauguration-day festivities, Don’s Johns DJ5000LX Presidential Luxury Restroom Trailer has granite counters and shelves, heat and air conditioning, an audio system and, for those waiting their turn, a 37-inch exterior-mounted flat screen TV. It’s available for rent by any organization interested in an outstanding outhouse.

(This story first appeared on msnbc.com’s Overhead Bin)