Boise's Best Bathrooms 

Where to be in the City of Trees when nature calls

It's a place we all have to go, eventually. But it's also a place many of us dread. Even the phrase "public restroom" conjures involuntary images of decrepit gas station facilities with grime-streaked walls, blackened sinks and questionable substances accumulating in the corners that make a pit toilet look positively sanitary.

But it doesn't have to be that way. We asked Boise Weekly readers for a list of their favorite local bathrooms, and what we found were a few, brave potty pioneers boasting water closets without urinal pucks or air fresheners, places where luxurious lavatories come with artwork, plush lounges and fully stocked bars.

Armed with our list of reader favorites from culled responses on Facebook and Twitter, we checked out some of Boise's most creative cans, which are listed by no other rating than the alphabet.

After several days of running around checking out posh private privies, we were pretty impressed: These are places where we might actually want to hang out, not just do our business and leave.

But beyond just the flashy and fancy cans, we also decided to highlight a few of what we're calling landmark loos, places with some historic or social significance like the governor's new private commode in the remodeled State Capitol, because, let's face it, everybody's going to see a bathroom at some point in the day, even the governor.

Barbacoa

Stalls: Women's, three; Men's, two plus one urinal

Gilded Mirrors: Five

Cow Skulls: Two

Towel Dispenser: Decorative stacks

Like the rest of the restaurant, Barbacoa's bathrooms are decked out in eye-catching, rich detail. Women are greeted by a painting by co-owner Martine Castoro of a matador, discreetly covering his eyes. The bathroom is awash in rich reds and golds, with ornate, gilded mirrors lining one wall. The vessel sink sits atop a custom-made glass counter created by Boise Art Glass, and even the safety bar in the handicapped stall is done in brushed bronze. This is one of the rare occasions that the men's room may be better than the women's. The guys' loo is distinctly masculine, in deep hues of blue and green with a heavy, rough wood counter and two stone vessel sinks. Painted bull skulls hang above each of the toilets. The guys have no reason to whine about being neglected here.

China Blue, Women's Room

click to enlarge FRANCIS DELAPENA

Stalls: Eight

Sinks: Seven

Bar: One

Couch: One

Men joke that women can only go to the bathroom in pairs, but with a bathroom like China Blue's, they head there in packs. In fact, women are known to actually hang out for most of the night in the expansive room. Why? There's a bar in the bathroom. Women can pull up one of the barstools lining the fully stocked bar, or lounge on the couch. Smaller stools line an elliptical counter in the middle of the room, where ladies room patrons can check their makeup in a massive, double-sided mirror suspended from the ceiling. Club owner Ted Challenger said that when he opened China Blue, he knew the importance of having a good bathroom for the women. "If it's gross, that's what they'll remember," he said. "Don't underestimate the bathroom." China Blue's men's room is about to undergo a makeover, and Challenger promises not only upgrades, but a special surprise for the guys over the urinals.

Modern Hotel and Bar

click to enlarge LEILA RAMELLA-RADER

Stalls: One toilet in each

Gnomes: Two

Record Players: Two

At this hip urban space, those who need a bathroom break share their space with a gnome. While some may be creeped out at the thought of doing their business in the company of a leering lawn gnome, these little gnomes each support a small record player, letting restroom visitors provide their own soundtracks, whether it's some old-school Michael Jackson or classic Elvis. Forget running water: A shelf full of 45s collected from garage sales across the city let those with full bladders pick a tune. Hotel staff say some even invite friends in to party. Unfortunately, thieves recently struck the men's room, taking the record player. The lonely little gnome now only holds a sign, pleading for its return. So, if you, or someone you know, has the missing record player, please bring it back. The gnome is sad.

Visual Arts Collective

click to enlarge LEILA RAMELLA-RADER

Stalls: Women's, five; Men's, two plus three urinals.

Sinks: Three in each.

Artists: Two

Doors from a junior high school: Two

Visual Arts Collective has always had art in the bathrooms, but when it moved to its new headquarters in Garden City, owner Sam Stimpert wanted to make sure it was art no one could steal or break. This time around, the art is everywhere in the bathrooms, and thanks to local artists Erin Ruiz and Rick Walter, they're worth a special trip. Ruiz decked out the men's room with murals that go from the ceiling, across the floor and everywhere in between. Rasputin can be found on the back of one stall door, while Pancho Villa and Marie Antoinette also make appearances. The theme: People who have met gruesome ends. Little treasures can be found everywhere, including one of Ruiz's Batman figures who whispers, "The sound of your voice makes me want to drink whiskey." Walter decked out the women's room with more of a graffiti style: papper-bag characters dance across the stall doors and giant, pink-faced characters stare down from around the mirrors. VAC's bathrooms are like an art treasure hunt and may have visitors headed in repeatedly, whether they need to go or not.

El Korah Temple, Women's Room

click to enlarge LEILA RAMELLA-RADER

Stalls: Three

Tissue Boxes: Three

Couch: One

Curio Nook: One

This is a ladies room with an emphasis on "lady." From the plush pink carpeting and muted, pink wallpaper to the long, mirror-lined vanity and abundance of silk floral arrangements, this is one girly bathroom. It's easy to imagine well-heeled ladies heading to the powder room, to take a break from the gentlemen, and lounging on the over-stuffed loveseat or ornate upholstered chairs, glasses of chilled white wine resting on the marble-topped coffee table. And as a sign of any true ladies room, there are three, count them, three boxes of tissues on the vanity. Sorry guys, your bathroom is the standard affair, but if the women disappear for a while, you know where they'll be.

Flying Pie

click to enlarge LEILA RAMELLA-RADER

Stalls: One toilet per bathroom

Diaper Decks: One each

Themes: Four

Aquatic Nymphs: One

Lesley Juel, Flying Pie's official "imagineer," loves funky bathrooms in public places. Hence, the pizzeria's customers can enjoy mermaid- and pirate-themed johns at the State Street location, and nature- and space-themed potties on Fairview Avenue. With floor-to-ceiling murals painted by Chelsea O'Sullivan, anyone with a full bladder is plunked down in the middle of a loo that's been taken to the next level of themed. Plastic fish and kelp stick to the walls of the mermaid bathroom, while the pirate bathroom boast pirate booty in the corner and a treasure map behind the door and"Ye Olde Diaper Deck" made to look like a treasure chest hung on the wall. Guys might get a little self-conscious trying to go No. 1 while a pirate who looks distinctly like Captain Jack Sparrow looks down on them, but the skull in the corner provides a distraction. Juel said the restaurant gets 300 comment cards a week, and many of them praise the bathrooms--a rare occurrence in the business. "It's a place where everybody goes, generally, when they visit a restaurant," she said. "They're not expecting that."

Downtown Macy's, Third Floor

click to enlarge LEILA RAMELLA-RADER

Stalls: Five

Couch: One

Wingback Chairs: Two

We love this hidden little gem for two reasons. No. 1: It's actually called the Ladies Lounge. It has a big sign over the door and everything. No. 2: It's in the men's department. There's something absolutely wonderful about the irony of a posh potty being located across from the entrance to a men's changing room, as if to say, "even in your territory, we get better accommodations." And it's not a bad place to take a shopping break, either. With a small couch, a couple of upholstered chairs and a full-length three-way mirror, all in a separate waiting area outside of the main restroom, we're betting it's a fair shade nicer than what the guys have.

Landmark Loos

Boise Train Depot

click to enlarge LEILA RAMELLA-RADER

Stalls: Four

Giant Windows: Two

History: Yes

For decades, the Boise Train Depot has overlooked the City of Trees from its perch at the top of Capitol Boulevard. Countless numbers of travelers in the early days of Boise made their way through the depot, and we're betting that a good number of them made a pit stop in the bathroom. While trains no longer pull up to the historic station the depot still attracts visitors for tours and private events. While updated, the bathrooms have maintained their classic characteristics with cream-colored walls and massive, dark wood-framed windows letting in plenty of light. It's not really the city's gateway restroom anymore, but we tip our nostalgic hat to it.

Governor's Office, Idaho Capitol Building

click to enlarge IDAHO STATE CAPITOL COMMISSION
  • Idaho State Capitol Commission

Stalls: One toilet

Sinks: One

Shower: One

After all the controversy over former Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne's $235,000-private-bathroom remodel while he served as secretary of the Interior, we decided to check in on just where Idaho's future governors will discretely excuse themselves once the remodel of the Idaho Capitol is completed. What we found was a surprisingly modest affair, with simple blue and white tiles and a white pedestal sink--all keeping with the historic nature of the building. One thing the gov does have that the rest of the state's leaders won't is a small shower, emphasis on "small." "Man, is it tight," said Gary Daniel, spokesman for the Capitol Commission. Daniel said all the Capitol's bathrooms were once slated for the upscale treatment, with marble stalls and all, but to stay within the $120-million budget for the full restoration, bathroom decor was sacrificed. That includes the governor's own getaway. The water closet with adjacent sink won't impress any swanky foreign visitors, but Idaho is all about being fiscally responsible. And what shows that value better than a simple, but elegant restroom?

Old Idaho Penitentiary

click to enlarge LEILA RAMELLA-RADER

Stalls: None, really

Soap Dispenser: Don't drop it

Towel Dispenser: Don't count on it

Since the days when Idaho was just a territory, the lawbreakers who couldn't get away fast enough ended up behind the sandstone walls of the Old Idaho Penitentiary. The accommodations would have had civil liberty groups of today speechless. Early prisoners who found themselves in Two House—in use from 1911 to 1968 --were given a bucket, or honeypot, in the corner to share with their cellmate. The honeypots were placed below a corner vent that wafted the vapors upward, but since there was no vent in the roof, and with room for 160 inmates, you had to pray you didn't end up in a cell on the fourth floor. Honeybuckets were emptied out each day at the privy, which eventually had flush toilets. The screened-in abode gave prisoners an open-air sort of experience when they had to relieve themselves outside of their cells. Other cell blocks at the prison had flush toilets in the cells, but prisoners didn't have much privacy, although some of the padded, decorated toilet backs added in the 1970s in Four House gave it an odd dorm-room feel—if dorms came with bars and the need to look out for an enemy with a shank.

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