Thursday 31 January 2008

Expect Zany Gag When Leaving Toilets at Macaroni Grill

Romano's Macaroni Grill
7123 Red Bug Lake Road
Oviedo, FL USA 32765

Where is it?

From the entrance, you'll see that the place is split into two halves. On the left is the dining room and bar, on the right an open kitchen. A somewhat wide walkway separates the two. Walk along that walkway until you reach the back wall of the place, then step through a hallway to the right there and enter the enclave found there. The bathrooms are there.

What's it like?

This Italian chain rivals Olive Garden for quality of food (some of it is good, some is okay, some a little ill-thought). Decor-wise, the dining room looks like a mix between Francis Ford Coppola's version of Little Italy (lots of dark woods, wires of light bulbs hanging overhead and plenty of loud Italian music in the air.... "When the moon hits your eye/like a big pizza pie.....") and a modern Tuscan villa (stone-tile floors, sleek counter tops, etc.).

Unlike its competitors, the emphasis here, as anyone who has visited will tell you, is on drinking. When placing your order -- even if it's for an 11am lunch meeting, as was my visit -- the waiters waste no time in offering you their "wine deal," which states that if you pay for a glass of house brand wine (and I do mean "house brand -- the chain's name proudly displayed right there on the label!), all subsequent glasses will be charged to your bill on the "honor system." Which, of course, implies that if you get too drunk drinking this stuff, at least you won't be drunk and poor. Right?

Being that my visit was at 11am, I didn't explore the possibilities of having many glasses of cheap wine with my ravioli lunch special. Nevertheless, I did venture into the bathrooms, where I found a classy little environment filled with old-fashioned (more dark woods, dark brass fixtures) and modern touches (like a granite vanity and sunken stainless steel sinks). Medium-toned tile covered both walls and floor, which looked darker than it was because of the low lighting in the place. (The experience reminded me much of my visit to Bennigan's, except with an Italian-American slant instead of an Irish angle. Hmm...)

It was clean for the most part; the only bit of uncleanliness I found was the spilled water on the vanity counter. Still, as mentioned earlier, this was a visit made at 11am, so I don't imagine the place had been used much by customers. Given the boisterous nature of the place -- and packed dining room, even for 11am -- I imagine the toilets can get pretty unruly after a lunch or dinner rush. Once again, I was reminded of my Bennigan's experience.

Of course, it should be noted that the bathroom's best moment comes when you're leaving: The door leading in and out has two unique sides to it: From the outside, a sign on it states (in English and Italian) that you are entering the men's room; from the inside a sign on it reads "Women," which implies that once leaving the men's room you will be entering the women's room. Pretty zany, no?

On a side note: I should say that one of my female lunch guests got very confused by this little gag (except she saw a sign for the Men's Room instead of Women's Room) -- mostly because she didn't quite understand it -- and that in turn made the gag (which I initially rolled my eyes to) quite amusing. Go figure.

Marks out of 10:

8. Same score are Bennigan's, ironically enough.

Comments to the Management:

It's a good chain restaurant bathroom that has some fun with its concept -- which I like. Just make sure it stays clean throughout the day and you've got a winner.

Wednesday 30 January 2008

St. Raphael Restaurant Provides Room With a View

Restaurant Le Toukan,
2112. Route de la Corniche,
83700 St Raphael, France

Where is it?

From the seaside terrace on the first floor head towards the back of the restaurant. The toilet is smack bang in the middle at the back.

What’s it like?

I guess I’ve said this before, but my friend and I spent a bit of time avoiding the floods last summer. If you didn’t believe me here’s some evidence. Look the end of the village was defiantly under water. See the van in the water. It is wet – people are sailing radio-controlled boats on the water. Accept it, it was WET!

St. Raphael by contrast was hot, sunny and sumptuous. The Mediterranean glistens in a way you can’t describe without being there. This was really the sort of place that makes you decide you’re moving home and never going back. I’m still there – it is only my body sitting here in the UK right now!

And Le Toukan is a fantastic restaurant to have lunch at as well. Meant for the beach crowd, but also the local ladies that lunch, this place has a relaxed feel but just that little bit of swagger to make it a special place to visit. A table looking over the sea where you can spy on the passers by makes this a fantastic place to hang out for lunch.

And the food is great. The salad was fantastic and served on a plate that has to take the prize for humour. The seafood platter, and pineapple and ice cream all hit the mark. Sorry people of Florida you may have the beaches, but I’m not sure you can beat the food, especially at these prices.

And the toilet? What more would you expect in such surroundings than a room with a view, with the smell of lavender wafting through the window. This is really the most relaxing place to pee. And the fixtures are clean and modern, cool – in fact the perfect place to spend a couple of minutes away from the heat. Indeed, this is the most serene pt stop I’ve ever had. So, the fixtures are nothing special, but hey, you’ll be so relaxed you’ll not care!

Especially if you're avoiding flooding.

Did I say it was flooded back home?

Marks out of 10:

9. Pretty damned good.

Comments to the management:

You can’t buy the view, but the lavender and cool context makes this a great place to pit.

Tuesday 29 January 2008

Krappy Facilities at Kappy's

Kappy's Submarine Sandwiches
501 N Orlando Ave
Maitland, FL USA 32751

Where is it?

The bathrooms are around the back corner (south end) of the building. Having said that, the trip needed to get there isn't as easy as you might think. It requires courage -- and perhaps some manner of keeping those mind-over-bodily-function urges under control.

Walk along a rather dilapidated concrete walk path, around the structure, during which you'll see the environment around you growing increasingly darker and less civilized. Once there, you'll see a pair of red doors, each one looking like something you'd find in a haunted house movie. As in those movies, your better judgment tells you not to enter, but -- as is not always the case in this line of work -- your body tells you differently. In this case, listen to your better judgment.

What's it like?

This diner/sandwich stand in Maitland (about 15 minutes north of Orlando's city center) may be one of the most modest eateries in Central Florida. The interior consists mostly of a grill and food storage area, with just a small counter and a handful of stools set aside for customers. Outside, in the parking lot houses about five or so worn down picnic tables, which tackle the seating surplus when the inside gets full (which is often, believe it or not).

Menu-wise, the options are limited. Steak sandwiches, hamburgers, fries, etc. They're all greasy, and bad for you, but the food is also surprisingly tasty -- some of the best sandwich stand food in the area, if you ask me. Probably only the Fillin' Station rivals its greasy goodness. It's unpretentious, somewhat old-fashion, and very affordable -- and the fact that it tastes great (and isn't less filling) makes it all the more impressive.

I wish I could say the same about the bathrooms. The men's room was this little tiny closet, set behind an ominous red door. Lighting is poor outside, worsening my impressions. I should say that my visit was in the evening of a cooler fall day. I recommend that if you do visit, and feel you might have to use the facilities, go during the day and during the cooler months of the year. At least that way you'll see fewer bugs and, of the bugs that are there, you can see what might jump out at you. I have the feeling that in the summer the place is overrun with cockroaches and other nasty creatures.

Inside, you'll find little more than a worn down toilet, a sink and a towel dispenser hanging over the sink. It's so small, there's barely any room for yourself. Grime and wear and tear can be seen everywhere, especially on the faucet (where I chose not to touch -- thank heavens for the bottle of Purell in my car.) The walls are nothing more than white-painted concrete block. The floors are dark-painted slab. Clearly not a lot of thought was put into the decor of this joint.

Some interesting highlights: The lighting here was somewhat bright when I first stepped inside, but the longer I stayed, the dimmer it became, and for a moment I wondered -- if I had to make a longer pit stop -- would I eventually end up in the dark and left at the mercies of whatever lurked in that little hole once the light was gone? (This is the stuff of nightmares, really.)

Also, the soap comes in an old ketchup squeeze bottle -- something I've never seen before. Granted, the ketchup bottle looked a bit on the worn down end, so I didn't test out its flow capacity, if you will. Still, you know the thing gets used because the state demands all restaurant employees to wash their hands after using the bathroom. All I can say to that is: Poor, poor employees.

Marks out of 10:

2. Very scary.

Comments to the Management:

The food is wonderful, but the place is nearing 40 years in age and it looks like it still has most of its original fixtures and decor. Perhaps time for a spruce up, no? Not only will the customers appreciate it, but so would your employees.

Monday 28 January 2008

Little "Fresh" at This Market's Toilet

The Fresh Market
5000 Dr. Phillips Boulevard
Orlando, FL USA

Where is it?

A little hard to find, because of the many culinary distractions found here. Still, the easiest way around it is to head for the cashiers. Go past them and, while facing the front of the building, head right. You'll come to a small hallway just past the line of registers, in which you'll find a manager's office and -- ironically enough -- the bathrooms. Gives new meaning to the term "throne room," don't you think?

What's it like?

Fresh Market is a competitor of Whole Foods. It offers high-end gourmet foods at somewhat elevated prices (you pay for the quality, to so speak) and features aisle upon aisle of high-quality foods, from breads to veggies to baked goods, to name a few. The deli and meat and fish counters are supreme, rivaled only by Whole Foods and some small specialty butchers in Orlando.

The place itself is neat and well-maintained, offering visitors plenty of culinary distractions to temp them while they are here. However the bathrooms, at least upon my visit, were anything but that. The small "one bagger" was covered with trash and water and held a funky odor to it -- a strange mix of urine and trash, it seemed like. Not quite what I was expecting from such an "upscale" store.

More so, I was also surprised by the small quarters available here. If you think about it, this is essentially a supermarket, and it caters to a lot of people and has a lot of employees -- shouldn't it provide more spacious facilities that can accommodate more than one person at a time?

Furthermore, the facilities themselves are nothing special: Sterile brown tile on the walls, rust-colored tiled on the ground. White porcelain sink and toilet, and a hand drier and a towel dispenser. Nothing I haven't seen at an above-average gas station, really. How disappointing. Who knew you'd get more comfortable services from Publix (albeit not by much)?

Marks out of 10:

4. It's serviceable, sure, but as with our recent visit to Bed Bath and Beyond, you expect something better than this from an upscale locale. The fact that it smelled bad and was pretty dirty dropped the score even further.

Comments to the Management:

Some upscale additions would be welcome, or even some gourmet-minded decor. A place like this makes us feel elite when we enter, so why shouldn't we feel elite when we're doing our business here. Other than that, the place needs to be monitored more closely, to ensure consistent cleanliness, and to cut the smell quotient some. Yuck.

Friday 25 January 2008

Product Placement Does Little to Elevate Bed Bath and Beyond's Bland Bathroom

Bed Bath and Beyond
Waterford Lakes Town Center
397 North Alafaya Trail
Orlando, FL USA 32828

Where is it?

Enter the store, turn immediately and head down the hallway found there. The bathrooms will be about 20 feet down that passageway. If you pass the enclave housing the wedding registry desk -- which is directly past that hallway -- you've gone too far.

What's it like?

These housewares superstores tend to be pretty stylish in design, with shelves upon shelves of higher-end home-based products. Given that, you expect the bathrooms to be immaculate and ingeniously designed. Sadly, that isn't the case. On my visit, I found a dirty environment filled with spilled water and bits of trash on the floor -- plus a rather strong aroma of urine in the air.

Worse still, this is a small place, offering only one sink, one urinal and one stall, and because it's set next to the store's main entrance, one hears a lot of foot traffic while inside. Even though only a fraction of that traffic actually reaches the bathroom, the place is still pretty noisy because of the other people walking by. At one point during my visit, the conversation level outside the door got so high I thought a crowd had materialized outside the door to greet me (seeing that I'm a celebrity now after my immensely popular and influential radio interview on KJUG).

Amenity-wise, the place is pretty bland -- a fact that's made all the more disappointing because of all the high-tech bells and whistles found on the sales floor. Visitors will find white tiles on the walls, gray tiles on the floor, and the standard white porcelain toilet and sink you would find in just about any other public restroom. (It's a sad affair when a place called Tacos El Rancho has more stylish and cleaner toilets than Bed Bath and Beyond, don't you think?)

As a means to be clever (I'm assuming), and perhaps seem more stylish and innovative than it really is, the bathrooms have installed two products from the sales floor in them so customers can give them a try "in the real world," so to speak. The first, a soap dispenser pump selling for about $40, stood next to the sink, with a big "Try Me" sticker hanging beside it. Common courtesy (the need to wash my hands after I did my business, essentially) led me to actually give it a whirl, but I didn't think it was anything special and certainly was not worth the asking price (a bottle of soft soap from the grocery store provides a similar effect, I thought, and they're only $1.50).

The trashcan on the floor across from it, also with a "Try Me" sticker on it, along with a price tag offering it for appx. $200, left even less of an impression on me. It's one of those foot-pedal models in which you step on a pedal to lift the top latch and open the trash compartment to you. The latch itself seems stuck in a "partially open/mouth agape" stage, and the fact that there was so much trash on the floor here proved to me that few people were enticed by the product's invitation to trial. Possibly the $200 price tag deterred people as well.

Marks out of 10:

4. Serviceable, but nothing more. Actually, I dropped the score from a 5 because I expected so much more from it.

Comments to the Management:

A better monitoring system should be implemented, so the place looks more presentable. Also, consider installing some actual innovative products for trial here -- it's your store's sales angle, after all!

Thursday 24 January 2008

Chic Shiki Houses Cozy Sitting Room and Ornate Toilet Paper Holder

Shiki at the Beach
4192 S. Atlantic Ave.
New Smyrna Beach, FL USA 32169

Where is it?

From the main entrance, round the sushi bar set in the right-hand side of the place and then head to the back of the place. Pass through a set of curtains separating the dining room from the bathroom area. Once through, you'll enter a comfortable sitting area (a nice touch). The bathrooms are just behind that sitting area.

What's it like?

This fantastic little sushi restaurant just south of Daytona Beach offers a friendly, if slightly funky, atmosphere and some truly delicious offerings -- which rivals the quality of sushi I've had at other better-known sushi restaurants in Orlando and Vegas.

The interior is unimposing and inviting. The sushi bar takes center stage, with the rear of it opening up into the kitchen. (Nearly all the cooks, front and back, greet you as you walk in, which is kind of neat.) The interior design mixes traditional Japanese decor with a beach-lover mentality -- ornate, formal wall hangings backed by bits of pastel colors, if you will.

The bathrooms extend the style quotient of the dining room, albeit with a minimalist approach. The walls and floor are covered in rust-colored marble tiles and as such contrast the black colors found outside. Bits of elegant Japanese decor stand in the corners or hang from the walls, including a slick stand/podium that seems to be there solely to provide a place for the air freshener to sit on (it's such a neat twist that it makes me rethink the comments I made previously about Mr. K's and Tacos El Rancho, about where the air freshener should be placed). The sink and toilet are your standard white porcelain variety, but they contrast so much with the walls of other bits of decor that they take on a sort of artistic quality (much like what we found at Sensi and the sublime Okada in Las Vegas, though not quite as Zen-like as those).

Also noteworthy: This is one of the few places (with the exception of maybe the American Signature Furniture store in Orlando) that utilizes trendy add-ons to good effect. Case in point: The toilet paper holder found here. A sort of two-prong stand, it fits perfectly with the other decorative touches in the room. Talk about making good use of bargain basement finds!

The fact that they designers have placed a cozy sitting room outside the toilets makes it all the more impressive. These are "one bagger" bathrooms, if you will, so knowing that your guest can wait for the next available loo in a plush chair instead of just standing there impatiently while waiting for a door to open certainly shows they care about their customers. (And we love sitting rooms, as evidenced by our naming the Mall at Millennia our favorite toilet experience of 2007.)

Marks out of 10:

9. A great, cozy, stylish toilet made better with the inclusion of a sitting area.

Comments to the Management:

You've outdone yourself here. Nothing more to say.

Wednesday 23 January 2008

Strip Mall Oasis Found at Mr. K's Chinese Cuisine

Mr K's Chinese Cuisine and Sushi
10395 Narcoossee Rd
Orlando, FL USA 32832

Where is it?

The place is small, so the toilets aren't hard to find. From the entrance, pass through the modest dining room towards the back left of the restaurant. The bathrooms are located there.

What's it like?

Mr. K's is one of those cut-above neighborhood joints -- both worth a drive and worth a visit. The food, a mixture of standard Chinese restaurant fare with some unique original dishes thrown in, is fresh and expertly prepared. The service is fast, friendly and efficient. The decor is muted and elegant, yet never ostentatious (you'll find some traditional paintings and wall hangings, and one lavish painting on the ceiling, but nothing overbearing or overtly tacky). And the prices are low. What more could you want?

The bathrooms follow suit, offering small, tidy environment that houses some understated decor and modern design touches -- some of which you wouldn't expect from a strip mall restaurant bathroom.

Beige-patterned marble tile covers the floors and walls, as do a handful of oriental items, like a bamboo wall hanging. The highlight is the ornate sink and vanity area. The sink is one of those trendy glass-wash-bowl units set atop a marble vanity counter. The mirror hanging above that station is framed by an ornate metalwork combining glass and bits of silver. The toilet is your standard white Porcelain model -- clean and functional, nothing more.

The only flaw I found was the air freshener, which was positioned atop the towel dispenser as if it were part of the decor. Placing it out of view (like Tacos El Rancho, for example) might have been a better option here, since its current position kind of disrupts the flow of the decor.

Still, this is an impressive strip all bathroom -- one that the owners truly tried to make different, unique and comfortable -- and for that they should be commended.

Marks out of 10:

9. Realistically it should be an 8, but they tried hard to offer something unique to customers and succeeded. They have to be rewarded for that!

Comments to the Management:

Store that air freshener somewhere else and you've got a near-perfect strip mall bathroom. Kudos to you!

Tuesday 22 January 2008

Readers Vote Sani-Fair as Top Toilets

Poll Result

Readers voted Sani-Fair as their favourite of the Where’s the Toilet top rated 2007.

Sani-Fair provide the toilet facilities in many Autobahn service stops around Germany and have managed to provide a modern, clean service with enough gadgets to keep the average technophile in the facilities for hours. Our readers seem to have developed a fascination with the companies’ products as well, with 47% voting Sani-Fare as their favourite of our top toilets.

Wynn Las Vegas came in second with 23%, Hotel Jerome, Aspen coming in 3rd with 14% of the vote. Both are tip top as far as the readers are concerned!

The Results:

1st 47% Sani-Fair (August 9th)
2nd 23% Wynn Las Vegas (November 6th)
3rd 14% Hotel Jerome (December 29th)
=4th 4% Lumley Castle Hotel (February 14th)
=4th 4% Okada, Wynn Las Vegas (November 12th)

Go see more at

Monday 21 January 2008

Tacos El Rancho Features Smartly Placed Air Freshener

Tacos El Rancho
4433 Hoffner Ave
Orlando, FL USA 32812

Where is it?

The place has two entrances, so the best starting point would be to go from the ordering counter. When facing the order counter, turn right and head to the eastern wall of the establishment. Look for a small hallway there. Enter it and you'll find the bathrooms.

What's it like?

This humble taqueria on the south end of Orlando's Conway neighborhood, serves decent Mexican street food, though I wouldn't say it's the best in town. If you're in the mood for a quick taco or burrito at a fair price, and you're in the neighborhood, then this would make for a good stop. The carnitas and al pastor tacos are my favorites.

The inside looks much like a fast food restaurant, with a stainless steel ordering counter, a huge menu board overhead, a grill in the back and heating trays of food and toppings. Service is friendly and fast.

Given that this is a Mexican joint, you would expect the joint to have a filthy bathrooms (like the now infamous Ay Jalisco). But that isn't the case here. The toilets, though your standard strip mall variety, are surprisingly clean and enjoyable. One toilet, one sink, in a roomy closet that is spotless and smell-less -- which is no easy feat, considering the food served here. (Has anyone ever really smelled tacos al pastor? You would think the food would create smells that would reverberate for hours in the bathroom!)

Granted, the decor here is a little bare bones: No wall hangings, no nothing. Just drywall walls and standard off-white tiles on the floor, nothing else. It's a bit dim, lighting-wise, as well, but not as dark as other places I've visited (and certainly not in the same realm as Shari Sushi, which essentially asks you to do your business in the dark). Still, as said before, it's well-kept and private and for such an establishment, you couldn't ask for more.

The highlight of course is the automatic air freshener, which is placed above the door here instead of in clear view of the visitor. Most places, like Country Ham and Eggs in Sebastian, keep their air fresheners out for everyone to see, which has always made me slightly uncomfortable. I don't mind doing my business in these places, but I don't really want to see any part of the cleaning process restaurants and businesses take to eliminate the remnants of my business after the fact. By placing it above the door, Tacos El Rancho has managed to separate the visitor from the cleaning process in ways I never thought possible. Who knew such a simple design change could have such ramifications?

Marks out of 10:

8. Would be a 7, but I raised the score because of that ingeniously hidden air freshener.

Comments to the Management:

Keep up the good work.

Friday 18 January 2008

High Tide Harry's Far from Ship Shape

High Tide Harry's
925 N. Semoran Blvd.
Orlando, FL USA

Where is it?

From the entrance, head to the back wall of the dining room. Once there, look for a hallway that leads to the rear of the building. The bathrooms will be on your left, about halfway down that hallway.

What's it like?

High Tide's is a local's fish join in Orlando that serves decent seafood in a somewhat lowbrow atmosphere. As far as reasonably priced fish restaurants go in Orlando, this one of the better options, though since Orlando isn't known for it's seafood restaurants (it's a chain restaurant haven more than anything else), I'm not sure that's saying much. It isn't on par with coastal eateries of the same vein, like the vastly superior Ozzie's Crab House, but still it tries to achieve the same spirit, and for that it should be commended, especially in this seafood-deprived town.

The restaurant, like most fish houses, comes covered with nautical-themed decor, some of which is quite imaginative (I really like the fancy paper lantern shades that cover the dining room ceiling lights -- they look like floating schools of fish), some of which is expected and tired (cargo nets on the walls, etc.). The food, as said earlier, is decent, and the fish is often of good quality, though a 45-minute road trip to Rusty's in Port Canaveral will yield far superior results for the same money.

The bathrooms here are tired and worn down and in need of some serious updating. Dark tile covers the floor. White tile with blue trim covers the the bottom half of the walls. Both house clear spots of grime and wear and tear, as well as holes, chips and stains. Blue-painted drywall covers the top half of the walls, and it's in slightly better condition than the tiled portions (you get the impression that the place paints this area regularly as a means to keep the colors bright and distract visitors from the tile flaws) though it's still nothing to brag about. The sink is your standard white model though it too reveals some grime and wear and tear. The stall is surrounded by walls colored in that same blue found on the walls; it's a dark place and has seen better days, though it would certainly do in a pinch (pun intended, naturally).

The best part of the bathroom is that it doesn't have a strong fishy smell in it, which is often the case in such restaurants. Otherwise, it's one of those places you'd prefer to visit only if you have to.

Marks out of 10:

4. Needs a serious makeover.

Comments to the Management:

I realize the establishment wants to evoke the rustic "Key West fisherman" personality of old-time Florida to some degree, but is it worth sacrificing customer comfort for the sake of authenticity? Somewhere, a line has to be drawn -- and that line, I think, should start in the bathroom.

Thursday 17 January 2008

Viera SuperTarget a Super Snooze

Viera SuperTarget
8455 N Wickham Rd
Viera, FL USA 32940

Where is it?

This is a SuperTarget, as opposed to a regular target, which means the store includes a full grocery in addition to the standard Target offerings. Because each half has its own entrance from the parking lot (though the who halves are connected inside), finding the bathrooms can be slightly tricky.

The safest bet is to enter the store from any entrance and then stroll along wall directly behind the cashiers, which has a number of third-party stores like a hair salon, cafe and such built into it. You'll see a sign for the Restrooms overhead about halfway down the wall.

What's it like?

As with most Target bathrooms, the ones found in the Viera location are your standard department store facilities. Teutonic and clean but with little sense of style or creativity. Standard assembly line stuff, if you will.

Visitors here will find a predictable two-stall, three-urinal, three-sink set up, with beige tiles on the floor (along with strategically placed drains for easy mass-rinsing) and blank white tiles on the walls. Metallic stall walls separate the commode stations. Three uniformed mirrors hang above each respective sink, along with soap dispensers (one to each station) below them.

There isn't much to quibble about here. It's clean and boring. One of the sink dispensers was hanging crooked, but it wasn't enough of a design flaw to bicker about, I thought. Who cares, really? Also, the trashcan in the handicap stall was overfilled and some towels had made their way onto the floor, but I assumed it would be cleaned when the next shift started. Yawn.

Since Target positions itself as WalMart's more sophisticated and trendier cousin, you might expect to find some flashy additions to their bathrooms, like automatic sinks or toilet flushes (and that's just for starters). That's not the case here, which is a little surprising considering this is a relatively new store. Still, for outright functionality, it certainly can't be beat.

Marks out of 10:

7. Bland and boring but useful and clean. Go figure.

Marks to the Management:

Some high-tech add-ons would be great, as would a touch of personality -- or even a wall hanging or two. Then again, I imagine trying to change the system in any way will involve loads of paperwork, and no one wants to bother with that, so I've got nothing.

Wednesday 16 January 2008

Glossy Sheen Can't Hide Bagel Bar's Missteps

Note to readers: The pictures formerly associated with this review have been taken down at the request of the business owners. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

Roasters and Toasters
18515 NE 18th Ave.
North Miami Beach, FL USA 33179

Where is it?

From the main entrance, head right, past the deli and bagel-ordering bar, and through the dining room. Look for a door in the back left corner of the dining room. Go through. You'll enter a hallway that contains some storage areas as well as the bathrooms, which will be on your right.

What's it like?

Roasters and Toasters is a Floridian take on the New York City bagel bar and deli. It offers delicious bagels (some of the best available outside of NYC), as well as fresh roasted coffee, delicious deli meats (including superb corned beef shipped from NYC) and cheeses, breads and other bakery items, and various smoked fish products. Outside of NYC, you can't do much better, really.

The interior loses the NYC wear and tear in favor of modern chain restaurant design, which seems built around their brand identity. You'll find plasma televisions on the some of the walls, most of them broadcasting CNN or ESPN, as well as sleek-looking cafe tables, plenty of beige paint and tile and sparse, almost minimalistic, decor on the walls. It's like an upscale Denny's crossed with a Starbucks Cafe, only with much better food and drink.

As expected, the bathrooms extend the stylishness of the dining room. The floors and walls are covered with elegant tile, marble on the floor and granite (it seems) on the walls. The stall door to the lone toilet is made of metal but looks like dark wood -- which adds a some sophistication to the design. It's generally clean too, though you can start to see some wear and tear building on the fixtures, especially around the seems.

Sadly, it's also a small place, with only one urinal, one commode and one sink available to the public at one time. Considering that the place doubles as a coffee house, you can imagine that the bathroom sees its share of line-ups.

Also, the location makes the place feel busier than it really is -- the hallway outside gets a lot of foot traffic, from both customers and employees (a closet containing all the beverage syrups sits right next door), and you hear that traffic constantly while you're inside, which makes you feel rushed.

On top of that, during my visit I found a few things out of order: The toilet paper roller in the stall was split open, with half of it sitting on top of the garbage can found in the stall. Also, a "Wet Floor" sign stood prominently in a major walking space, making it hard to maneuver around it once other people entered the bathroom.

Marks out of 10:

7. Would have been higher were it not for those missteps.

Comments to the Management:

If possible, I would consider moving the storage items (including the drink syrups) further down the hall and then extending the bathrooms some so people can have a little more room to do their business.

Tuesday 15 January 2008

Soyka's Trendy, Bustling Atmosphere Showcases Classy Mix of Old and New

Soyka Restaurant Cafe and Bar
5556 NE 4th Ct
Miami, FL USA 33137

Where is it?

Quite a trek from the entrance, since the place (a converted railway station that's now a bustling, hip eatery just north of Miami's downtown area) is literally huge. To get to the bathrooms, head down the left side of the place (leaving from the hostess stand) until you reach the back of the dining room. There, you'll find an open kitchen line. Turn 90 degrees (so you're facing the back corner (the exact opposite corner from where you entered), and head that way. Once you're there, enter a little hallway just past that corner, turn left, and go down about 100 feet. The bathrooms are on the left, in a little enclave that also holds an ATM. It's dark back there, so use the illuminated ATM screen as a destination marker.

What's it like?

This trendy Miami hot spot used to be a railway station, and the decor here doesn't forget that past. There's an old train station clock against one wall, a slick concrete floor that evokes a late-Industrial Age vibe, and plenty of brass, bronze and pewter lighting fixtures and decorations. Because it inhabits such a large, open space, the dining room is very noisy -- clearly it's a place to mingle and be seen -- and there's an emphasis on cocktails here (the martini menu is huge). The dining menu, in turn, contains many Jewish comfort foods, like matzoh ball soup, liver pate and more. A clever, ironic touch, I thought, especially since you expect such a place to serve trendier fare.

The toilets extend the dining room's motif. This is a dark place, with a two-sink vanity to one side (and an ornately framed mirror hanging above them), two classic urinals (stretching to the floor and without dividers or auto-flush features), and two stalls, one to each side, both behind dark beige stalls that mingle well with the rust-colored tiles on the floor and the deep gray floor tiles. It's a clean place (impressive, considering the place was humming during my visit) and cave-like, because of the lighting and location. It's anything but private-feeling, though. I didn't have much solitude here, and as a result I often felt hurried and even a little disjointed.

Marks out of 10:

7. Great decor, but the busy atmosphere knocks it down a notch. Sometimes, you just want a little peace.

Comments to the Management:

Since the place thrives on its hustle and bustle atmosphere, I would suggest changing the bathrooms so they better prepare people for this. Increase the lighting some so the environment doesn't seem so cave-like. Also, consider piping in some house music -- perhaps at a volume that's a little higher than standard conversation level -- to evoke the spirit of the dining room more here.