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From live animals to architect touches: 10 quirky restrooms vying for the title of America's best

Lisa Micheal 2 Aug 11

If you travel for business or pleasure, you know the value of a clean public restroom.

Smart business owners know that too. And in this age of selfies and social media, some venues are gaining extra attention by giving guests unusual and creative spaces to do their business.

Now 10 of those lovely loos are in the running for this year's America's Best Restroom contest. Finalists were chosen based on cleanliness, visual appeal, innovation, functionality and unique design elements and this year the list ranges from loos in a museum and a zoo to lavs in restaurants, cafes and airports. This year's list also shows a clear trend toward communal sinks and buzz-worthy style elements. 

Through Sept. 13, the public is invited to cast votes for the coolest commode from among the finalists. The winner takes a throne in America's Best Restroom Hall of Fame and receives $2,500 in facility services from contest sponsor Cintas Corp.

"Having a sparkling business isn't enough. Customer service needs to extend everywhere, including the restrooms," said Sean Mulcahey, marketing manager at Cintas.

There are animals – behind glass – in two restrooms at the Nashville Zoo in Nashville, Tennessee.

A lush exhibit that's home to six cotton-top tamarins is visible through a floor-to-ceiling glass window in a women's restroom, while a ball python snake exhibit can be viewed from a men's restroom.

"It's one of the many features that sets us apart from your standard zoo visit," said Jim Bartoo, Nashville Zoo marketing and public relations director. "It creates conversation after the guest leaves. They share it with their friends and family. They put it on Facebook and Instagram. This organic, word-of-mouth advertising is extremely valuable to us."

The lobby restrooms at the Jupiter NEXT hotel in Portland, Oregon, have seven stalls with floor-to-ceiling gray stone-paneled walls arranged in a semicircle around a trough-style shared sink. Special features include gold faucets and candelabra light fixtures.

"We pride ourselves on creating community wherever possible," said Katie Watkins, community manager for the Jupiter. "Our low-lit separated sink area offers a space to connect and say hello to other guests — both local folks and hotel patrons — before heading out to make the most of your stay in Portland."

In Charlotte, North Carolina, La Belle Helene is a brasserie-style restaurant designed by noted Parisian architect Richard Lafond.

"We invested in every part of the restaurant, from the pewter-poured bar and the gorgeous chandeliers and leather banquettes to the bathroom," said Scott Steenrod, managing director at Constellation Culinary Group.

The vanity in the unisex restroom offers a shared space for guests and the hand-painted mural reflected in the mirror offers a great backdrop for selfies.

The restrooms at Mourad, a Moroccan fine dining restaurant in San Francisco, California, blend old and new; tradition and innovation. Each fully enclosed stall is decorated in a different color of floor-to-ceiling Moroccan mosaic tile, and features a handy marble shelf and mirror. The stalls open to a communal marble-countertop sink.

At the Natick Mall in Natick, Massachusetts, the women's restrooms include a waiting room with a chandelier, makeup stations and two private changing/nursing rooms with a lounge chair and outlets. Each stall also includes a marble shelf to hold your bag.

Each of the four single-user washrooms at Jianna Restaurant in Greenville, South Carolina, uses color, texture, tiles, lighting and accessories to reflect a different aspect of Italian culture.

"Our client challenged us to design the restrooms so that they added something special to the great food and the drinks and the overall atmosphere in the restaurant," said project manager Missy Games, from McMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture. "The restaurant has been open a few years and you still have people coming back to the table saying, 'Oh wow, did you see the blue bathroom?' It's not your typical dinner conversation."

The Butcher and the Brewer brewpub in Cleveland, Ohio, has an in-house butcher and charcutier and a sense of community that extends to the bathrooms. There, a communal entryway leads to green subway-tiled accent walls and a communal sink. Private stalls for men are on the right; stalls for women are on the left.

If the restrooms at LaGuardia Airport's Terminal B are among the finalists for America's Best Restroom, there may indeed be hope for the overall success of the airport's current rebuild.

With an eye to efficiency, aesthetics and innovation, these new restrooms have stalls large enough to accommodate luggage, trough-style sinks with a raised counter above; live orchids, custom mosaic tiles at the entryway and over the urinals and graphics depicting New York City on the stall doors.

Swanky new restrooms are part of a massive renovation project for the North Satellite at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

These feature a flushing system that will harvest rainwater to the tune of more than 750,000 gallons a year. The modern loos also have separate sinks inside the ADA-stalls, family restrooms with changing tables and built-in custodial support closets.

The minimalist design of New York City's New Museum of Contemporary Art is the work of Pritzker Prize-winning architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of the architecture firm Sanaa. When it came time to create the restrooms, the Tokyo-based architects settled on a super-graphic wall pattern featuring pixilated cherry blossoms against bright fields of turquoise or orange.