READERS' PICK: Once again, our readers have voted the restrooms of the Main Library as their favorites. The exact reason for their perennial popularity remains unclear. (Though we suspect our itinerate readers may have stuffed the ballot box on this one.) Is it for aesthetic reasons? Not likely, as the dimly lit, institutional black-and-gray tiled interior is strongly reminiscent of a NYC subway toilet. Is it the ever-replenished supply of reading materials? (Possibly, but this is strongly discouraged by the library staff.) Perhaps it's the too-friendly greeting from the stranger loitering near the far stall (lending an air of devil-may-care adventure to even the most mundane bathroom trip). More likely, it's the "We Are the World" vibe of these particular restrooms, which seem to attract the area's most diverse range of relief-minded individuals (this is downtown, after all). Young, old, black, white, wealthy, homeless...all social barriers are washed away under the sweet smell of urinal cakes. The reasons for their popularity may not be clear, but it's comforting to know these library restrooms will always be available to bring us all a little closer together.
READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Hotel Congress, 311 E. Congress St. A clean public restroom is one of those things you don't properly appreciate until it isn't there. If said restroom happens to be stylish, too, the effect can be downright elevating. In the Club Congress, renovations last year were dramatic: split pantry doors of bright stainless steel beckon. Inside, the walls are covered with steel, and the stall doors are impressive, hollow-steel giants with no more than spot-welding pocks for decoration. Encircling triplicate sinks, the grainy, sand-colored concrete countertops warm the room with an earthy influence. Disney-proportioned, gold-framed mirrors add a touch of the rococo. Altogether, the effect is indeed elegant, and both (his and hers) retain that newborn quality that says "clean." Even more recently renovated, the Hotel's lobby lavatories are porcelain-pretty and true to their own histories. Original, quarter-sized tile (a nice clean white with black details) still adorns the floor, and the fully tiled walls absolutely dazzle. The old stalls remain; their fortress-weight doors shut with a solemnity that echoes back from high ceilings.