The annual Cintas Best Restroom Contest is an online popularity contest. We visited the current Toronto-based finalists and previous local contestants to see if the supposed best in the business are really the best places to do your business.
If it’s odd that I’ve come to use a nightclub’s ladies’ room at noon on a Tuesday, it does not register on the face of the bottle-service manager.
Debbie Goncalves leads me through the cold, unlit space, to a third-floor powder room the size of my apartment. After explaining where the make-up counter and hairstylist would be, Goncalves remembers that I’ve come here to make a complete use of the facilities, and leaves me alone. The pink room is surrounded with private pink stalls. Newspaper folded under my arm, I pick a stall and close the door behind me.
This Is London is my first stop on a tour of Canada’s so-called “best” restrooms. The third annual Cintas Best Restroom Contest has boiled down to the ladies’ rooms at Toronto’s This Is London and Earls Kitchen & Bar, the Centre for Professional Training in Repentigny, Québec, the Georgian Court Hotel in Vancouver, B.C. and the Langley Street Loo, a public restroom in Victoria, B.C. In addition to the two finalists, Toronto boasts three hall-of-fame winners and runners-up: E11even, Spice Route, and the Allstream Centre at the CNE. The restaurant supply–company’s contest rules allow for self-nominations, whittled down by an unelected committee based on “cleanliness, visual appeal, innovation, functionality and unique design elements.”
With online voting making it a popularity contest, an expert opinion is clearly needed, from someone who spends serious time in the bathroom. When I use a bathroom, what I want is serenity, an untroubled escape from the outside world. My ideal restroom would be hermetically sealed with a soundproof six-inch steel door and the lock would be one of those two-handed wheels like on a submarine. A bathroom should be judged by the comfort it provides, privacy, Wi-Fi strength (a gentleman leaves the table to return emails and texts), cleanliness, design, the quality of its gentleman’s paper—or, as you probably know it, toilet paper*. Soundproofing is of great importance. But because several of the contestants are ladies rooms, I need to test them during off-hours. Same goes for cleanliness. The rest of our scientific ratings rank from one to 10 (I assessed the Wi-Fi signal by emailing myself a 5MB file), with one being the toilet from Trainspotting and 10 being an asteroid that exists solely for your private bathroom use.
This Is London (364 Richmond St. W., #ENT)—2012 finalist
Toilet paper: 5 (White Swan)
This ladies room is more like a salon. Sprawled with pink and white Louis XVI chairs, a sofa, a chaise lounge, oval mirrors, flowers, and thickly framed paintings of flowers, the only touches that break character with the Palace of Versailles theme are the DJ booth and the pink wall-mounted hair-curler. It’s a bright, man-free wing of the club, worlds apart from the utilitarian men’s room, which has no place in which to sit and bro-out. “It’s all about making the women happy,” says general manager Yigal Bensadoun. “Happy women bring happy men.” The 12 women’s stalls are small but uncluttered. Their spacing, and the layout of the room, means that a queue of women needn’t be standing outside the door while you use it. The toilets are curiously short, even for me, and I am only 5’6″.
Earls Kitchen & Bar (150 King St. W., #DTN)—2012 finalist
Toilet paper: 5 (two-ply Tork)
The occupied signs on the doors limit the likelihood of strangers jiggling the knob, bumping up the privacy factor. The ladies room (the one nominated) is the same as the men’s, except for brown paper towel in place of a Microban hand dryer. (It was not in service, so I can’t say how it compares to a Dyson Airblade or an Xlerator.) Edison bulbs denote the company’s penchant for five-year-old trends. A ceiling papered with vintage Earls menus presumes nostalgia for the chain’s food. Though I’m taller than the average Canadian female’s 5’4″, my feet barely touch the floor from the toilet.
Spice Route (499 King St. W., #KGW)—2010 runner-up
Toilet paper: 5 (Scott)
On the surface, these seven private bathrooms are the ideal places to commit any number of deeds. Each stall could almost fit a queen-sized bed and looks out, through a floor-to-ceiling window, onto a slice of garden with a running fountain. The ceiling is a single red light panel. The doors slide along an overhead track, a button engaging a lock mechanism at the top. But without a bottom track, anyone can lift the door like a curtain, at least enough to poke their head in. And no matter how often the walls are cleaned (daily, I’m told), I can’t help but wonder if the surface of uneven, protruding bricks—with their infinite crevices—is a potential breeding ground for bacteria.
Allstream Centre (105 Princes’ Blvd., CNE, #LIB)—2011 runner-up
Toilet paper: 5
Privacy is not an option if you’re using the ladies room in this building on the CNE grounds, since you’re probably at a conference or convention with hundreds of people. But a non-porous, easy-to-clean white corian countertop and the hands-free soap, water, and toilets are thoughtful touches for any germaphobe. Environmental choices may not add physical comfort to the experience, but they are appreciated. So: for low-flow, auto-flush toilets that run on collected rainwater, the use of natural light, and the 100 per cent post-consumer waste paper towels, we’ll add a few points to design for this otherwise grey, drab room.
E11even (15 York St., #HAR)—2011 Hall of Fame winner
Toilet paper: 8 (Cottonelle)
This is the only place on the list—and one of the only restaurants I’ve ever been to—that has soft toilet paper. But that’s not what makes this ladies room a champ. Nor is it the thick marble walls. It’s the Japanese-style heated-seat toilets with a control pad for a “rear-cleansing” spray. Common in Japan, this feature includes a wand located in the toilet that sprays upwards and allows you to control direction, softness, oscillation, and pulse. What does it feel like? Imagine discovering R2-D2 to be a very attentive lover. When you’re done, press the dryer button.
* If the scores for toilet paper seem low it’s because, other than at E11even, I wouldn’t wipe my wiping place with most of this stuff.