Wednesday 30 April 2008

SkyBar's Toilet Soars

Petro Palace Hotel
Malaya Morskaya Ulitsa 14
Saint-Petersburg, Russia

Where is it?

On the top floor of the Petro Palace Hotel. Take the elevator up and then step into the main hallway. The bar is down the hallway about 20 feet, on your right.

What's it like?

This hotel bar, one of two in the building (the other is in the lobby), positions itself (at least according to the hotel's website) as having "without doubt... one of the best viewpoints for some of Saint-Petersburg‘s most notable landmarks. With its spectacular view over St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the Hermitage and beyond, it is the ultimate venue for your party, event or function, and the same time the Sky Bar is the area of tranquility, providing a contrast to the hustle and bustle of the city life below."

Well, the bar is certainly tranquil, being more like a lounge than anything else -- a fact furthered by the place's two-level interior, which features many pieces of dated furniture that look like they were taken from a 1970s furniture catalog. Pretty kitschy, if you think about it. A sharp step downward serves as the separator between the two levels, and on my visit two women took hard tumbles from the upper level to the lower level because of that step. Ouch.

As for views: Well, I can't say that these were all that spectacular either. The actual window you look through to see the cityscape is small (maybe 6 feet wide and three feet high) and limited in vantage, and several of the hotel's exterior supports cross in front of it, further hindering your view. (The view atop St. Isaac's is far superior.)

Still, it's a quiet place (outside of the house music) and very unassuming, and if you've spent the day walking around this great city and want a quick nightcap before heading back to your room and calling it a day, this isn't a bad place to do it. Not worth visiting if you're not staying here, mind you, but still a nice place regardless. Service was friendly and the beer (including the wonderful Russian brews Nevskoe and Baltica) were cold, flavorful and inexpensive (about 50 rubles per large glass, or about $2).

The toilets hold many similarities to the ones I experienced in the hotel's lobby toilets. They are small, almost closet-like in size, covered in blue tile (whereas the lobby ones are covered in black tile) and are spotless and well-kept (with two air fresheners mounted to the walls to keep these compacted environs free of foul smells -- something I wish other recently visited places like the Hermitage, Catherine Palace, and Russian Museum would incorporate).

More importantly, these are a little more spacious than the lobby toilets. Not by much, mind you, a foot in length and a foot in width, but that makes all the different here. They are still tight (but only accommodate one person at a time), but they are a vast improvement over the ones downstairs.

Marks out of 10:

8. You really appreciate that little bit of extra space that the lobby toilets lack.

Comments to the Management:

A fine toilet, as unassuming as comfortable as the bar in which it's set. Now if only your bar had a better view of the city.....

Tuesday 29 April 2008

Petro Palace Toilets May Just Be Smallest Facilities in Russia

Petro Palace Hotel
Malaya Morskaya Ulitsa 14
Saint-Petersburg, Russia

Where is it?

From the main entrance, head through the lobby area, which is filled with several couches and lounging chairs, and head towards the bar at the back of the lobby. At the bar, turn right and wrap around it into the hallway behind that area. Do not go so far as to enter the concierge area or the gift shop, however.

While facing the entrance to the gift shop, turn left, then follow that ever-narrowing hallway to the right. After making a right, you will enter a narrow but stretching hallway. The bathrooms will be right as you enter that passage way.

What's it like?

This modest, homey hotel, located just five minutes by foot from the Hermitage Museum, offers comfortable rooms, fine dining and plenty of friendly service -- for a fraction of the cost of some of the city's higher-end hotels, such as Grand Hotel Europe (which is about a mile away). Granted, it's not in the same league of luxury as Grand Hotel Europe, but if you're looking for a comfortable, not-to-flashy place to stay in the city's tourism center (it's about 30 meters from St. Isaac's Cathedral), you can't really beat this place in terms of affability and price (about $120 per night during this off-season visit).

Having said that, the public restrooms available to non-guests here aren't much to consider. In fact, they are some of the smallest I've ever visited -- including such recently reviewed tiny spaces as Club Quarters Philadelphia and Marathon Grill. Yes, these are very, very small -- even for European standards!

The facilities themselves aren't much more than a five-foot by two-and-a-half-foot room, with a toilet on one end and a sink on the other. There is barely two feet separating the edge of the toilet and the edge of the sink, and while peeing men can actually position themselves in a way so that they can lean against the edge of the sink for balance and still hit the target. This is definitely not a place for people who suffer from claustrophobia.

On the plus side, it was considerably cleaner than most of the other public restrooms visited on this trip, including the toilets found at former royal residences like the Hermitage, Catherine Palace, and the Russian Museum and at rival in-city hotels like Grand Hotel Europe, which was much roomier but not cleaner. On the plus side, at least it was a one-bagger facility, not a multi-person one, like the toilets at the ridiculously assembled Club Quarters Philadelphia.

Inside, you'll find the floor and walls covered with shiny, sparkling black tile (arranged in a very straightforward design, not in a way that makes it look elegant and sleek, like at Sensi and the sublime Okada in Las Vegas). White porcelain toilet and sink, also gleaming and well-cleaned and in perfect working order.

They may be tight, but they are well kept, so if you can handle the claustrophobia they are certainly worth visiting if you find yourself in need of a toilet and are in the area (nearby St. Isaac's Cathedral doesn't have public restrooms, for example, so this might be a good stop to make after visiting that).

Marks out of 10:

7. Very clean and well-kept, but the tight fit keeps its score from being higher.

Comments to the Management:

Everything is fine here, except the limited amount of space. If you can, expand a little. Doesn't have to be much -- a little room here will go a long way. You were able to coax a little more space out of you Sky Bar bathroom -- reviewed tomorrow -- so I'm not sure why you can't do it here as well.

Monday 28 April 2008

Russian Museum Toilets Showcase Dingy Tiles, Stinky Pee Smell

The State Russian Museum
Inzhenernaya str., 4
St. Petersburg, Russia

Where is it?

Finding the entrance to this mammoth museum is much trickier than finding the toilet, believe it or not.

First, to locate the building, head towards the Church of the Savior On Spilled Blood, a majestic onion-domed structure a few blocks from the nearby Hermitage Museum. The Russian Museum is located to the right of that church.

To get a general idea of where the museum is (and it's funny that the entrance is this hard to locate because it's a massive building), look for the sprawling Mikhailovsky Gardens, which are across the street from the aforementioned church. The big yellow building at the far end of the gardens is the museum.

However the entrance is not there. To get to that, you need to back track some on that main street where the church and gardens are on. Go about halfway down until you see a modest door with windows around it -- inside the windows is a set of metal detectors. That's the entrance.

From there, go in, buy a ticket and head for the cloak room. Check your coat and then continue down that hallway, past the cloak room, round the corner beyond it, and you'll find the toilets there. Phew.

What's it like?

Founded in 1898 by Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia, the museum houses the country’s largest collection of nationally drawn art, occupying three wings of the Mikhailovsky Palace. Whereas the Hermitage is stately and elegant, this museum boasts a more playful, down-to-earth side, hosting exhibits by both modern and classical Russian artists alongside its main collection. What's most surprising here is how visitors can witness the way Russian art, especially over the last two centuries, has evolved in a similar manner as American art. Make a point to visit the rooms devoted to modernist and cubist styles for proof.

Like many of the other Russian bathrooms visited on this trip, the toilets here are somewhat dismal and smelly. Design-wise, they feel like a cross between the bathrooms at Catherine Palace and the Peter and Paul Fortress. Like the former, they consist of dingy, often mildew-strewn white tile and boast the foul odor of urine. Like the latter, they are positioned in a way that keeps them recessed from the rest of the building and make you think you are going into an environment that's much nicer than it really is.

The main detraction here is the dark-tiled floor, which clashes poorly with the white tile on the walls -- so much so that it somehow manages to further accentuate the many water stains found throughout the place. Toilets and urinals are your standard European white varieties, and they are separated by the floor-to-ceiling dividers I've seen throughout the toilets experienced in this country; they are filled with hard water stains and the stink of urine emanating from the urinals is quite pungent, and they look downright filthy when backed by the dark-tile floors of this place. (In fact, these and the Hermitage toilets may be the smelliest toilets I visited on this trip, and there were plenty of smelly toilets here.)

Top all that grime with some shoddy construction, namely in the two-station sink vanity found here, which looked like it'd been pieced together out of found fiberboard. This reminded me of Cecil's toilets in Orlando, which also seemed assembled out of found goods, only these are in much poorer condition. Those at least looked solidly constructed. These looked like they'd fall apart if you put any weight on them.

Worse still was the noise factor: Though the toilets were around the corner from the cloakroom, the chatter and noise of that area still carried well down the hall, making it sound like you were actually doing your business in the cloakroom, if you catch my drift.

Marks out of 10:

3. Though the museum is a wonderful place to tour, these toilets were wholeheartedly unpleasant.

Comments to the Management:

Lots of work needed here. Start by changing the floor to a tile or covering that doesn't look like someone's just tracked mud or slush across the floor. Then shine up the porcelain and tile and put a solid vanity in there and then add some air freshener.

Friday 25 April 2008

Watch Out for Toilet-Kicking Madmen Inside Peter and Paul Fortress Bathroom

Peter and Paul Fortress
St. Petersburg, Russia

Where is it?

Head into the ticket office on the side of the complex facing Suvoroskara Pl. bridge. Once inside the ticket office, you'll see the signs for the bathrooms immediately on your left.

What's it like?

Built in 1704, this military complex is the oldest building in St. Petersburg. Ironically, it never saw battle but instead became one of Russia’s most notorious political prisons. Some of its former tenants include legendary authors like Dostoyevsky, Chernyshevsky and Gorky, as well as Vladimir Lenin’s brother, who attempted to kill Tsar Alexander III and was executed here soon after he was incarcerated.

The centerpiece of the fortress is the Peter and Paul Cathedral, a modestly sized (at least compared to the city’s other offerings) yet ornate church that happens to be the city’s first religious meeting place. In addition to its glorious Baroque architecture and stunning frescos found here, it also holds the sarcophagi of all of the Russian Tsars, from Peter the Great through Nicholas II -- a feature that also adds an air of creepiness to your visit.

Also on hand in the Fortress are a dozen or so small museums dedicated to topics like Russia’s military past, Russian space exploration and the national mint. Particularly charming is the 28-room exhibit devoted to the evolution of the city of St. Petersburg, which tracks its history from its Norse roots through its communist heyday and its current role as Russia’s cultural capital.

The bathrooms in the ticket office are a strange creation indeed. They feature two toilet stalls, which are separated by the standard floor to ceiling dividers that are common in Europe (I have to say, I like this feature -- American stalls on the whole just don't offer you enough privacy), along with two urinals (without dividers) that are hooked to a very primitive automatic flush mechanism (the mechanism, essentially, is that they flush continuously, no just when you're done).

Given that set up, you expect the toilets here to be devoid of the stench of urine. Sadly, that's not the case. They are a bit smelly, though nothing as sharp as what I encountered at Catherine Palace or the Russian Museum.

There are two pedestal sinks here, with flash mirrors and soap dispensers positioned over them. They were somewhat clean but could have used a bit more of a scrubbing. The walls here are covered with classy rust-colored marble tiles, the floors with off-white square tiles. The divider walls separating the two stalls are a deeper rust color than the walls and are made of fiberboard and covered with a patter that makes them look like they are made of fine-grade wood. Kind of strange, I thought, to design a place that has some great tile work but then undermines that quality by putting up tacky stall dividers and other add-ons.

Also unique here is the floor mat placed outside the entrance to the bathroom. It was more like a burlap rag than a mat, and it had been so overused and was in so desperate need of replacement that when you stepped on it to sop up some of the slush your feet picked up from outside (I visited in the winter), it did little more than stick to your feet and threaten to tear apart like a soaked, poor-quality paper towel. Pretty gross.

Finally, and most upsetting, I found a person inside the back stall here kicking the toilet repeatedly. And I mean kicking! He was yelling at it and kicking it, and every now and then you heard the bonk of his shoe as it made contact with the basin. Why he was doing this, I had no idea -- perhaps the idiosyncrasies of the design had finally taken him beyond the breaking point?

Needless to say, after witnessing that bit of bathroom violence, I took my pictures and got the hell out of there. Ironically, I almost tripped on the ratty rag on my way out.

Marks out of 10:

5. Nice tile work, and somewhat clean, but why are there all those strange additions that negate your positive points. That made me wonder what was going on here, really. Is this bathroom some sort of postmodern expressionistic art? Or something far more frightening?

Comments to the Management:

Get a new mat for your feet. Scrub the sinks and toilets a little more. Add some air freshener. And post a guard out front to make sure no more toilet-kicking crazies get in to satisfy their fetishes.

Thursday 24 April 2008

Bathroom at Majestic Catherine Palace Not Worthy of Royal Attention

Catherine Palace
(Tsarskoe Selo)
Pushkin, Russia

Where is it?

The mens and ladies toilets are across the hall from the building's only cloak room. Since you must check your coat to get in, you can't miss them.

What's it like?

This majestic summer house rivals the opulence of the Hermitage (located about 20 minutes away in nearby St. Petersburg), especially in its extravagant decor and impressive art collection. (Though the Hermitage's collection dwarfs this one considerably.)

Built in the mid 1700s, it served as the summer residence for the Tsars, including Catherine the Great, who took it upon herself to remodel the building from its original design into its current glory. Highlights inside include the legendary Amber Room (which surround you in ceiling-high amber walls) and the Great Hall, which stretches more than the length of a football field and boasts the biggest single-piece ceiling mural I've ever seen.

I visited in winter, so I didn't get to experience the vast gardens of the palace, though I've seen pictures and have been told that they rival Versailles in terms of grandeur. Hopefully I'll get to return one day.

Ironically, the bathrooms here have much in common with the ones I visited at the Hermitage. No, they don't have fixtures made of stainless steel, nor did I find much unflushed human waste in the commodes here when I visited. But the sharp smell of urine tinging the air was unavoidable and unmistakable, and many of the urinals contains unflushed urine.

Of course, given that, these were also much cleaner than the Hermitage toilets (though still were not perfectly clean, if you know what I mean). A strange, very dated wallpaper pattern hangs on the walls, and large dark beige tiles cover the floors. The stalls are similar to the Hermitage's in that they stretch almost from floor to ceiling and the urinals have very long white-painted plywood dividers between them.

Toilets and urinals are both made of white porcelain though show significant wear and tear. Unlike the Hermitage, they had the capability of flushing (even if that wasn't used in regards to the urinals). The sink area features three simple basins fitted into a fiberboard counter, with three mirror panels hanging overhead and divided by dim fluorescent bulbs, which hang vertically -- almost like a thematic extension of the humble toilets found at Country Ham 'n' Eggs in Sebastian, FL, if you think about it.

Marks out of 10:

5. That pungent stink of urine keeps the score low, I'm afraid and almost was a 4 but it's still far and away better than the toilets I visited in the Hermitage, and for that I had to give them some credit.

Comments to the Management:

Air freshener. Air freshener. Air freshener. Then give the fixtures a good scrubbing, because they need it.

Tuesday 22 April 2008

Hermitage Museum Toilets Hold Many Less-Than-Regal Surprises

The State Hermitage Museum
Dvortsovaya Naberezhnaya, 34
190000 St Petersburg, Russia

Where is it?

This mammoth museum, the second largest in the world behind the Louvre in Paris, spreads itself across five ridiculously large and ornate buildings. There are more then 350 rooms of art and design work collectively here, and ironically only a handful of public toilets.

The ones visited here are at the bottom of the Council Staircase -- which, given the complex layout of the place, you will most likely need a map or guide to find. (Most of the attendants don't speak English, and while they're eager to help understanding their directions can be difficult.)

What's it like?

Visitors here literally can step into the shoes of the Tsars and easily imagine what life was like for the rulers who once lived within these walls. Walk up and down the many grand staircases in the palace. Marvel at elaborate stucco work surrounding many of the passageways and doorways, much of it encased in gold leaf. Stroll through rooms of intricate granite and marble work. Saunter down hallways that stretch for hundreds of yards, many of them covered with ornate murals and frescos. This is regal living at its finest, an experience as opulent as Versailles, but without all intentional ostentatiousness.

On top of this splendor is the museum’s art collection, which was started by Catherine the Great in the 1700s and now consists of more than 3 million items, 150,000 of which are displayed at one time inside the museum. Here, you’ll find rooms devoted to the works of Gaugin, Titian, Picasso, Rubens, Van Dyck, British art, French Impressionism, Egyptian and Greek artifacts and much more.

Given that, you would expect to find some seriously impressive toilets here, something along the lines of the Bellagio or Wynn Las Vegas, which have become benchmarks now for high-end toilet design and comfort. Sadly, you don't even get something as straightforward as the toilets found at the nearby Grand Hotel Europe.

The entrance is impressive enough, at the bottom of the Council Staircase, which is a mammoth staircase that has been built to look like it has no supports -- almost like it's being held up by some sort of magic (the secret, you learn later, is that the support beams have been built into the structure instead of underneath or over it).

The entrance chamber comes filled with beautiful marble tile on the walls and floor. The sink vanity, found in this area, contains two sink stations set into a marzite-like counter. A stretch mirror hangs over the counter, with soap dispensers and towel dispensers to each side. The sinks are both stainless and have stainless faucets over them with automatic flow control.

A nice beginning, yes, but step in further and it turns into a place fitted solely for function -- and a gross one at that. The two urinals here, found on the back wall, are made of stainless steel and look more like those water fountains that you used to drink out of back in grade school than actual urinals. They hold no urinal cakes in them, making the smell of urine emanating from them quite sharp as a result.

More surprisingly are the commodes. they sit behind these monolithic stall doors, which make you think you're in for a major surprise when you open them.

Boy, is that right! The commodes here are some of the worst I've ever seen. Like the urinals, they are also made out of stainless steel. They are small, tiny bowls with a couple of black plastic strips nailed to them, which apparently stand in for a proper toilet seat. I can't say I felt tempted to sit on those two strips -- they looked more like a place to plop your shoe so you could tie your laces than to rest your bottom.

If that weren't enough, there was no paper in the stalls, only a wastebasket and a toilet brush. And of course the toilets came filled with much rank human deposit -- I didn't see a flush option on the toilet, and apparently neither did the other people who visited before me. The odor was pretty horrific. The site of all that excrement was far worse!

Marks out of 10:

3. Not very regal at all.

Comments to the Management:

Several million people visit this museum each year, so you'd expect the cleaning crew to be on these bathrooms the minute a mess was made. So that definitely needs to be fixed. Also, the addition of some toilet paper in the stalls would be nice. And a clearcut way on how to flush! Finally, how about a proper toilet, not a stainless steel one with two plastic bars taped to it. I'd prefer a hole in the ground to using this, I must admit. Ick.

Monday 21 April 2008

Toilets at This Grand Hotel Not Quite As Luxurious As You Expect Them To Be

Grand Hotel Europe
Nevsky Prospekt
Mikhailovskaya Ulitsa 1/7
St. Petersburg, Russia

Where is it?

Across the hall from the hotel's Lobby Bar. From the main entrance, enter the hotel. When you reach the first cross way of hallways, turn left and go up the carpet-covered stairs. At the top of the stairs, you'll find the Lobby Bar will be on your left and a sunken hallway on your right. Enter that sunken hallway to find the toilets.

What's it like?

This high-end luxury hotel located on the heart of Nevsky Prospekt, St. Petersburg's main tourist drag, is often cited as being one of the 50 best hotels in the world. Having stayed here, I can say that it's a very upscale place, with comfortable, ornately furnished rooms, a helpful staff, a great location that puts you within walking distance of many of the city's big sites, and some terrific dining options.

Given that, you would expect the public restrooms here to be something that rivals the quality of the toilets at, say, the Bellagio or even the Luxor in Las Vegas. Sadly, they're not quite in that league, showing neither the creativity or opulence of those locations. Instead, they are better than average facilities with a few unique design touches and little else.

What's neat about the place is that it fits into a sort of irregular heptagonal shape, instead of being merely a round or rectangular room. The toilets, each in roomy stalls that barrier you completely from the rest of the bathroom (thanks to floor to ceiling stall doors), are found on the left side of the toilets. Opposite them are a stretch of three urinals, each separated by thick tiled dividers that only go up waist high (so that they merely mark territory instead of offering privacy as well -- something I didn't care for, despite the pretty look of the design).

In between the commodes and urinals are a set of three sinks, each of them fitted along the angular curve of the room's heptagonal shape (the room's most impressive design flourish, I must say). The sinks are all pedestal models with bronze fixtures. Ornate mirrors hang over each of the three sinks, respectively, with ornamental lighting (turn-of-the-century in style but also with a touch of modernity to them) interspersed between. A wicker waste basket sits to the right, below the paper towel dispenser.

White tile covers the walls, and a single sheet of black linoleum covers the floor. No wall hangings or other decorations are found on the walls (a complete contrast to the immensely ornate lobby outside, which looks like an extension of the nearby Hermitage Museum). Some art inside the bathrooms would have been appreciated, I think. Not to the extent of Savannah's Mansion on Forsyth Park, mind you, but at least a little to extend the mood of the lobby some, which really is very impressive.

Cleanliness-wise, the place is also a little hit or miss. Overall, it's very clean, but one of the urinals was leaking pretty badly and floor below it was drenched in water. Also, there was a slight-but-noticeable smell of urine in the air, which could have been avoided with some air fresheners.

Marks out of 10:

7. It's a nice bathroom with some neat design flourishes -- a worthy pit stop to make while strolling Nevsky Prospekt. But it's certainly not up to par with the rest of the hotel.

Comments to the Management:

The key here is to make the bathroom an extension of the hotel's grandiose lobby. That doesn't mean carpet the whole thing, or include marble statues in the free spaces, but at least put some effort into it. Don't just leave it as white tile, black linoleum and a wicker basket. Add some art or classic Russian-royalty-inspired items to the mix -- and keep it clean and odor-free. Your hotel is often cited as being one of the best hotels in the world, and you're public bathroom should live up to that hype as well, I think.

Friday 18 April 2008

Toilets at Club Quarters Philadelphia A Little Too Close for Comfort

Club Quarters Philadelphia
13th Floor
1628 Chestnut St
Philadelphia, PA USA

Where is it?

This restroom can only be visited by guests of the hotel, as the elevator will not take you to the 13th floor, where this restroom is located, unless you place your key card into the security slot on the elevator. (Those visiting the hotel and in need of a toilet should head to Davio's, the high-end restaurant attached to the hotel, as an alternative, since you do not need a key card to get into that bathroom.)

If you do have access to this bathroom, then you will need to take the hotel's very slow-moving elevator to the top floor (13th floor), which is where its conference room facilities are. Once on the floor, take an immediate left outside the elevator and journey down the small hallway just past the elevator shaft. The toilets are there.

What's it like?

I thought I experienced small toilets at Marathon Grill, which were very small but at least tried to cover up their smallness with interesting design flourishes. These facilities -- perhaps because they are not as available to the public and thus do not get used as regularly -- shy away from that mentality. These are indeed some of the tightest bathroom quarters I've ever stepped into.

Of course, what makes it feel so small is that unlike Marathon Grill, which is a one-bagger, these toilets try to accommodate more than one person at a time -- and as a result the space feels even smaller than it would if it were to accommodate only one person at a time.

The bathroom itself isn't more than 30 square feet in area, and in that tiny space it holds a sink, urinal, toilet stall, soap dispenser and paper towel dispenser. The walls are beige-painted drywall, the floors covered in beige tile. There are no decorations on the walls, and everything is kept pretty clean and in working order. Fixture wise, it's your standard white porcelain model, except for the sink which has this strange oblong shape to it -- making it look like a it was originally designed for an airplane bathroom but eventually rejected.

Opening the door to get in is a bit of a problem, because if you're standing at the sink at the time, both you and the person coming in have nowhere to go -- you can't get out, and he can't get in. A similar situation arises if you're washing your hands and someone's either at the urinal or in the stall -- they can't really move until you're done (and I imagine the person in the stall will have some issue with this, because he won't be able to leave the stall at all if someone's at the sink OR at the urinal).

Likewise, if you're at the sink or peeing and there's a person using the commode, you'll realize soon that there's very little privacy between the two of you. If I had to use the commode and someone was already at the urinal, I would wait until he left. If I couldn't wait, then I would have to start apologizing for the sounds I produced the minute I got inside. Yes, it's THAT cramped in here.

Marks out of 10:

5. Clean and well-kept, but just too small for two or more people to experience comfortably and without embarrassment.

Comments to the Management:

Turn this into a one-bagger. I don't see what else you can do about it.

Thursday 17 April 2008

Turn-of-the-Century Feel Dominates Davio's Restroom

111 S 17th St
Philadelphia, PA USA 19103

Where is it?

This sprawling restaurant is about the length of one city block, with its grandiose, spacious dining room taking up almost three quarters of its space and its bar tucked into the back corner of the place.

To find the toilets, head to the bar. When facing it, go to the right and sneak down the hallway to the back right of the bar. The toilets will be there.

What's it like?

This high-end Italian-inspired restaurant describes itself as a "northern Italian steakhouse," however it feels more like an upscale turn-of-the-century dining parlor than anything else. The dining room decor, from its stucco walls to its light bulb-studded ceiling to its enormous and vast dining room, make you feel like you've just stepped into a chapter of E.L. Doctorow's "Ragtime," like it was once a place where union reps once drew masses and organized protests. (I asked and was told the building used to be a bank. Go figure.)

The menu, on the other hand, offers a mix of familiar Italian and steakhouse offerings, as well as some inventive dishes (Philly Cheese Steak Spring Rolls, for example). The steaks are phenomenal, as are the fish dishes and vegetable sides, which come prepared simply so that you can taste the freshness of the ingredients, and the desserts are near-legendary in quality (the molten chocolate cake was so rich I could only eat half the serving, which was small to begin with).

It's an expensive place too, and dressy -- not your everyday eatery, and great for special occasions. Ironically, the restaurant is attached to an inexpensive business traveler hotel I was staying at (Club Quarters Philadelphia). This made me wonder how much more expensive restaurants would be if were attached to a high-end hotel. Kind of scary if you think about it, no?

The toilets here follow the motif of the dining room, in that when you step in you feel like you've stepped into the bathroom of a turn-of-the-century parlor. They are not as spacious as the dining room, mind you, but they do make good use of space, particularly in the central area, which provides lots of room for visitors to maneuver in and out of places.

The lighting is dim (perhaps too dim, as you can see from the pictures -- perhaps the same person who lit this place lit nearby Le Castagne?), though it's used to good effect, especially the candles placed on the counters, which draw the eyes to the place's more decorative features. The walls and floor are covered with simple-yet-elegant tile work that feels both functional and sophisticated -- kind of like what I saw at Marathon Grill, but with a greater emphasis on grout work. The sink station featured antique-inspired faucets (not automatic), free-standing stainless steel soap dispensers and baskets holding high-end paper towels (again, reminiscent of Le Castagne, only a bit more refined here).

Fixtures were standard white but also felt old-fashioned because of the way they complimented the tile work. Stalls and urinals were separated by beige metal barriers, which melded with the decor thanks to the way the lighting was used. Clearly, the person who lit this knew what he/she was doing -- it's the bathroom's great unifier, if you think about it.

It's very clean and well-maintained. I stepped in three times over the course of a long evening and never found a mess or a smell awaiting me. If I had to complain about anything it's that you can hear the bar area a little too well when you're inside, especially if the bar's busy (as it was on my visit). Not to the extent of Soyka's in Miami, but still even when I was alone in here I didn't feel like I would have the place to myself for very long.

Marks out of 10:

8. Well-kept and very unified in design thanks to its tile patterns and expert lighting.

Comments to the Management:

I would suggest increasing the lighting here some, so it's a little easier to see, but that might ruin the turn-of-the-century effect. However, you might consider piping in some music so that people in hear don't hear the bar area so well.