In the short film, Out of Order, Kareem Rahma plays a man on the way to a big date — but he urgently needs to use the bathroom. He runs around the streets of New York City hoping to avoid an accident (we’ve all been there, right?). He finally makes it to a coffee shop, only to be hit with a statement New Yorkers have heard thousands of times “Sorry this bathroom is for customers only.” Rahma buys a small item to finally be able to use the restroom, only to be told that it it’s out of order.
Does this sound familiar? Finding a bathroom in working order in NYC can feel like a scavenger hunt — but without the element of fun. When restaurants and businesses closed and increased their Covid-19 precautions during the pandemic, many New Yorkers sought out public bathrooms only to find out that there were rarely any in the city. There are fewer than 1,200 public restrooms for 8.4 million people in NYC, making it the city with the fewest public bathrooms per person than any big city in the United States.
When you gotta go, you gotta go. Here is a guide to help you understand your rights when it comes to using a bathroom and where you can find the ones considered best:
Entitled to a bathroom
Did you know that some New Yorkers are entitled to a bathroom if they have a certain medical condition? Crohn’s and Colitis Fairness Act in New York State requires businesses to let people with eligible medical conditions to use employee-only restrooms if no public restrooms are available. Eligible conditions include Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, any other inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome or any other medical condition that requires immediate access to a toilet facility.
New Yorkers who qualify should carry a statement or identification card that states their medical condition and that they are entitled to have access to the bathroom. This can be a statement signed by a physician, or nurse practitioner, a form by the department of health or an ID card from a nonprofit organization that serves people with this condition. If you have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, you can sign up for a card here. The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation has an app called ‘We Can’t Wait’ with a map of accessible and sympathetic establishments that provide restrooms for people with medical conditions.
Delivery workers in New York City are also entitled to a bathroom. The Local Law 117 allows for app-based delivery workers to use the bathroom of the restaurants where they are picking up food. Delivery workers can also take advantage of the Chick-fil-A “Brake Room,” a space where any delivery worker, whether they made a delivery for Chick-fil-A or not, can rest, stay warm and recharge. The space is located in the Upper East Side at 1477 Third Ave. All they have to do is show proof of a delivery within the past week via the food delivery app, get more information about it here.
For other New Yorkers who don’t fall into these categories, bathrooms are hard to find, but there are many people and organizations who have compiled lists and maps of New York City’s bathrooms. Take your pick and save it for when you need to go:
The map was created by university professor Dr. Wansoo Im in 2004 after looking for a bathroom and not being able to find one when he visited the city with his family. The map shows bathrooms all over the five boroughs — although most are in Manhattan. The map is divided by facility type: public restroom, restaurant, coffee shop etc.
Toodle Loo is an app that not only shows a map of all bathrooms available, but also includes codes needed to enter and user reviews. The app also lets you filter your bathroom search by amenities such as wheelchair accessibility or baby changing tables. You can also add your review.
Got2GoNYC is a Tik Tok page that went viral after its creator, Theodora Siegel, began posting videos of Manhattan’s bathrooms. The account has videos of bathrooms all over the city, she shows its cleanliness and many users leave reviews in the comment section, as well as other bathroom recommendations. If you don’t have a Tik Tok account, you can also check out her Instagram page.
A database of New York toilets for the “discerning, on-the-go defecator who is brave enough to use a public restroom, but still demands a hygienic and private bathroom experience” on your phone when you need to go.
Thrillist lists some of New York City’s cleanest bathrooms that are available to the public.
This maps all of the bathrooms located in the city’s parks.
In New York City, the law only requires restaurants with 20 or more seats to provide a public restroom, so if you’re visiting a smaller establishment, plan accordingly.