Bathroom Wars

People often ask why there are two toilets in the women’s bathroom at my bar but no partition between them. The answer: because we want to get the kitchen up to code. Makes sense, right?

The kitchen at my bar is currently undergoing extensive renovations. We’re installing a new custom hood vent with built-in flame suppression system. We need not one but two hand-washing stations, since a partial wall makes the kitchen technically two separate rooms. We also plan to install a new grease trap, resurface the walls, raise the ceiling, and completely redo the electrical system. It’s all just as exciting as it sounds.

When we submitted our plans, we were also told that, in order for all of this to be approved, we needed to have at least one more bathroom fixture for a total of four, even though we were doing just fine with two toilets and a urinal. Our square footage (which includes the area that’s taken up by things like the juke box or pool table) determines our official capacity, and our official capacity requires that we have at least four bathroom fixtures for guests to use. The men’s room has a urinal and a toilet, so it’s doing its part. The women’s room, however, just had the single throne. We need more from you, ladies’ loo!

Of course, the building is a hundred years old, so the restrooms did not conform to modern standards for disabled access. The city and state were adamant, though, that making any changes to the restrooms would require that we also make them wheelchair-accessible. Since this did not appear to be an option with our existing bathrooms, our initial plans had us taking a huge chunk of our floor space to build out an entirely new, accessible bathroom. Once I saw these plans, it became clear that to do this would more than double the cost of a project I already could barely afford.

I had no viable options. To upgrade the kitchen meant that we needed to add a toilet, even though our current bathroom capacity seemed to suit our needs just fine. To add that toilet meant that we had to improve wheelchair access, and it seemed that to improve wheelchair access would require an entirely new bathroom. The added cost of the new bathroom would push the total cost of the project out of the range that I could afford, which meant that there was no way to do the project.

So we fought back, arguing that creating a wheelchair accessible bathroom would essentially derail the entire project, and in the end we won. I was allowed to just move a wall and add a new fixture in our existing, non-ADA-compliant women’s room. But through it all, I kept feeling like a libertarian tool. (No offense - some of my best friends are libertarian tools.) I wholly agree, at least in theory, that if we’re taking the time to renovate the restrooms then it makes sense that we’re required to make a reasonable effort to increase access. Instead, I found myself fighting back: ‘This is my building, and my business! How dare you try to force me to make it possible for someone in a wheelchair to take a dump here!’

Somewhere during this process, a local nonprofit (I forget the name, sadly) that deals with disabled access to public spaces approached me about doing a consultation for us to determine steps we could take to improve our space. I was a little hesitant at first. What was I going to say when the bathroom issue came up? “Oh, yeah, the government tried to get me to do that, but I was like, ‘No way!’” But it seemed like letting them come and look around was the least I could do, given how hard I had just fought against changing the bathrooms.

The actual consultation was much less painful than I feared, and in the end it turned out that we could, in fact, create enough space in the existing women’s room to make it largely wheelchair accessible. All we had to do was widen the door and arrange the fixtures in a way that allowed for a sufficiently wide turning radius. So now, despite not being required by the government to do so, I actually have a bathroom that meets most ADA requirements for wheelchair access.

The only setback is that in order to have the needed turning radius we can’t really put up any partitions to separate the two toilets. In the new configuration, the toilets are on opposite sides of the door from each other. If we put up something to block the left toilet it would no longer be wheelchair accessible.

We could put up something to block the right toilet, but then someone using it would still have to exit past the person using the left toilet. Imagine entering the bathroom and thinking you’re alone and then hearing a flush from the other side of a curtain, and then, while you’re sitting on (or squatting over) the toilet, someone walks out past you and opens the door, exposing your business to the whole bar! That just wouldn’t do.

So instead, we just have two toilets. Pal’s Lounge, on the opposite side of Mid City, gets away with it, so I figured there wouldn’t be too much pushback. There wasn’t - more curiosity than anything else. Now, though, since most women don’t want to pee next to a stranger, people still mostly use the bathroom one at a time. As a result, while we voluntarily made the space wheelchair accessible, the renovations haven’t actually affected our capacity, which was ostensibly the whole reason for doing them in the first place.

At least now we can get on with the kitchen work. Progress!

1 Comment

Mr. Newton

September 21, 2016 09:32 AM by Squirrel Stevens

I really enjoyed reading your article. I think it is great that you are learning so much about renovations.  It seems like when all you want to do is a small thing, it is followed by many other small things, creating a big thing. I would love to hear about any updates. Congrats on your opportunity as an owner to have these


Squirrel Stevens

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