Boston is a tough place to pee. But we have a map…
Let’s face it—everybody poops.
And everybody pees.
Whether you are abled, differently abled, somewhat abled, brown, pinkish, somewhere in-between-ish, gay, cisish, polyamorish, tallish, stoutish, fitish, or whatever, you will need to use the bathroom at some point in your life. Maybe you’re thinking, Oh, I should probably get up and use the facilities right now if Max is going to keep on exploring down this path.
Parks, beaches, public buildings, and other egalitarian spaces are made more egalitarian and open when they have well-maintained public restrooms. They are infinitely more important than trendy initiatives like “rewilding” initiatives, creating Instagrammable backgrounds, and opening beer gardens. To bogart the insufferable trending descriptor one might find on certain socials, bathrooms are infrastructure.
With this in mind, I set out to look at six “public” bathrooms as offered up by the official Boston Harborwalk map. All of these commodes are within a 15-minute walk of the New England Aquarium, which struck me as a good place to begin.
First, a bit of my modus operandi, or my way of conducting this highly unscientific public restroom audit. I decided to specifically appear as if I was consulting my phone as I approached the host stand/entrance/public doorway. I would then look up and say, “Hey, I am using this Harborwalk map and it says you have a public bathroom here. May I use it?”
That’s it—my deep philosophy for going undercover and appearing as if I was just a babe wandering the waterfront with a pressing need to pee.
Long Wharf Marriott
This hotel is probably best known for hosting a COVID super-spreader event last year. Not its fault, of course, but you know—mistakes were made. When I walked in the main entrance, I immediately noted a freestanding sign prominently displayed that gave clear instructions to the bathrooms. You walk past the Starbucks (closed) in the first floor lobby, through another set of doors, and there it is. There’s no signage to indicate when the bathrooms might be closed, but overall a job well done.
Joe’s American Cafe
The only other time I’ve been to any part of Joe’s American empire was a time that I wound up sharing nachos with some type of “disruptor” I met via Twitter who wanted to pump me for free information and work. I’m pretty sure he didn’t even pick up the tab.
Anyway, I walked up to the host stand and as I started my spiel, the hostess said, “Let me take you to the bathroom.” She did and I did what I had to do. Leaning up against the restroom wall to scribble a few notes, a man said to me, “Taking notes on the hand dryer, huh? I do that too sometimes.”
Long Wharf North Ferry Terminal
Despite this long and grandiose title, this is just a modest but well-designed outdoor public bathroom installed by the city of Boston in 2001. I’ve been by it hundreds of times over the past decade and it’s usually offline—which defeats the purpose of having a public bathroom, wouldn’t you say? [Ed note: Also read our article from January about how it’s harder than ever to find a bathroom in Boston for vulnerable populations that need them most. As for accessibility, when it’s open, this single-stall unit at Long Wharf is fitted for use with a wheelchair and provides privacy while being relatively safe smack in the middle of a major tourist area.]
Heading around to the water-side entrance, I noticed a sign posted next to the unit’s digital display screen: “Due to COVID 19 this toilet is out of service.” Like some other public services, this facility has fallen victim to this global pandemic. But wait—other toilets have reopened, so what gives?
I gave a call to JCDecaux, the company that manages this loo, and have been told that it has since reopened for business, with “pay toilets fully operational” as of July 1 and “open seven days a week from 6 am-9 pm.”
The price will remain 25 cents.
I made my way past six or seven tables of diners and into the dark interior of this venerable surf and turf joint. I paused to look at a brunch display, glanced at my phone, and as I caught the eye of a waiter balancing a troika of lobster rolls on a serving dish, I started my—
“The bathroom is around the bar and on your right.”
Well, that answers that.
The New England Aquarium (or more specifically, the IMAX Theatre at the New England Aquarium)
Don’t you need a ticket to enter the aquarium?
Of course you do.
With that in mind, I made my way over to the IMAX Theatre entrance. There’s a sign that reads “TICKET REQUIRED FOR ENTRY”—OK, sure—still I opened the door and made my way to the attendant. And for the sixth time today, I began my recitation. As I approached the end of my prepared remarks, the attendant informed me, “Sure, you can use the bathroom. It’s upstairs via those stairs behind you.”
Clean and commodious this bathroom is—and by this point, I actually needed to use it.
Bonus: Does this toilet exist?
There are more public bathrooms to talk about—there always are. We’ll get to those another time.
But first, to complete this adventure, I wanted to know more about a particular pay toilet that evaded the Harborwalk map. You’ll find it in this area, but on the front of the stainless steel doors you will also find a note that reads: NEED A RESTROOM? GO THROUGH LONG WHARF MARRIOTT HOTEL (STRAIGHT AHEAD). PUBLIC RESTROOMS ARE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE HOTEL ON YOUR LEFT.
As your guide in these parts, I can confirm.