Looking for loos

Seattle has sold off its five automated public toilets, so where's a person supposed to go?
One of five self-cleaning public toilets in Seattle, this one on the waterfront. (Chuck Taylor)

One of five self-cleaning public toilets in Seattle, this one on the waterfront. (Chuck Taylor) None

I recently stopped in at Seattle's Palomino restaurant for a quick Chop Chop Salad and ran into a semi-frantic woman in the third floor restroom of City Centre. "Where in the world are the public toilets in this town?" said the frustrated mom. She had three kids in tow, and two of them had to go. Her rant continued and I asked her where she was from. "California," she replied, "but I used to live in Seattle." From there she went into an additional grumble about how Seattle's downtown scene had changed so drastically, what with all the mall-type stores and chain restaurants. I sympathized and gave my usual, "Yeah, the country is becoming Generica, that's for sure."

But back to the lack of loos. Seattle did have five automated public toilets that were installed in 2004 at a price of $5 million. But the costly thrones were closed in 2008, as chortled over by The New York Times. They eventually sold online for $12,549 to Racecar Supply in Rochester, Washington. With five less toilets in the town, many folks have to be wondering where to whiz.

I went to the City of Seattle's website and did a search for public restrooms. The main items that came up were the aforementioned automated public toilets and utilizing water-saving toilets in the city. A search for public restrooms on the city's website resulted in links about the restrooms at the Seattle Public Library.

Under the Visiting section on the website, there's everything from Points of Interest to Tips and Guides. But nary award about where to find relief.

I next tried Googling Seattle public toilets, ending up on a website that listed Five Favorite Seattle Restrooms. One of quintet is the Columbia Tower Club's loo with a view — not exactly a public toilet, but legendary. And Canlis' restroom is in the running for America's Best Bathroom Award sponsored by Cintas — no word as to which of the ten nominated restrooms garnered the most votes, but Canlis' washroom is indeed a winner.

In 2004, The Stranger compiled a list of 101 Favorite Restrooms. It's a fun read, complete with PG-rated photos. Frommer's Seattle guide has this to say about where to take a potty break: “There are public restrooms in Pike Place Market, Westlake Center, Pacific Place, Seattle Center, and the Washington State Convention and Trade Center. You’ll also find restrooms in most hotel lobbies and coffee bars in downtown Seattle.” And for global tinkling, a website called SitorSquat.com, is "a place to find and record bathrooms all around the world."

As a frequent visitor to Seattle from Whidbey Island, I long ago figured out where to go. My first choice is the WAC Garage, located on 6th between Union and Pike, where I usually park my car. The restroom is clean, there's never a line and it's usually perfect timing after the ferry and freeway adventure into town. Otherwise, my restroom of choice depends on my location. Here they are in no particular order: Nordstrom, The Fairmont Olympic Hotel, Pacific Place, and my husband's office in the 1411 Fourth Avenue Building. That's also where Crosscut is headquartered, but for both offices, you need a key. Give me a call.

Sue Frause is a Whidbey Island freelance writer and photographer. You can reach her at sue@suefrause.com.


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