Photos and illustrations by Zach Kobrinsky
Whether you’re out shopping during the day or bar hopping at night, you may find yourself subject to one of our most basic and necessary human needs: the need to relieve yourself. If you’re looking for a spot to go number one, two, or even three, I offer this downtown bathroom guide in the hopes that you might find the right bathroom to serve your needs. I was unable to investigate the downtown women’s bathrooms for obvious ethical reasons, but should you be a male in need of relief, may this guide point you in the right direction.
Day bathrooms (numbers correspond to map, not to actual rank)
#1: Pita Pit (206 Broadway N)
There’s nothing horribly wrong with Pita Pit’s bathroom, but rather it’s quite plain. Functionality is the key word for this stop. It’s a one man, one toilet scenario, and by toilet I mean a multi-functional toilet. No urinals, just the old fashion john like you might find in your home. It smells quite nice, or at least it did at the time I was there. Other than that, it’s pretty boring. If you can help it, there are far more interesting and comfortable bathrooms to make in. At least the old Pita Pit’s there for you in a pinch, and the staff aren’t likely to harass you if you’re not a customer. Just walk really fast straight to the back of the establishment like you own the place.
#2: Atomic Coffee / Studio 222 / Spider and Company (222 Broadway N)
There is an absolute world of difference between the Pita Pit and 222’s bathroom. For one, you won’t have to hang your head in shame as you leave the bathroom without buying anything, although purchasing a double shot latte from Atomic Coffee might expedite your restroom duration. There is a public hallway, with Atomic on the left, where you will find this soiling sanctum. It has cozy, warm colors, and a general comfortable feel to it. And while I normally don’t particularly enjoy being advertised to, the collection of flyers on the walls makes for good reading material, even if they’re out of date. Decorum and comfort level aside, however, it has the same basic amenities (single stall multi-purpose toilet and sink) as Pita Pit, albeit in a more stylish setting. It may also serve you to know that the ventilation fan was out of order at the time of my investigation.
Erbert & Gerbert's
#3: Erbert & Gerbert’s (300 Broadway N)
Having investigated a significant number of downtown bathrooms, a pattern begins to emerge: franchise bathrooms lack character. I will say that Erb’s and Gerb’s bathroom has more character than a Walmart bathroom, but it remains pretty sterile nonetheless. In a positive light, however, their bathroom is immaculate, and spacious to boot. This is also the first stop on the list that accommodates multiple patrons at a time. It has two urinals and two stalls (one of them handicap accessible). There is a partition between the urinals, which bodes well for urinal users that are perhaps a little self-conscious. Urinal partitions can make or break whether or not you use a urinal at all, for some. If you’re not a customer, make sure you go in the Kilbourne building entrance, and then through the Erb’s and Gerb’s side door. The staff won’t even notice you slip in and out without buying anything.
#4: The Downtown Public Library (209 3rd St. N)
Although it may be on the outskirts of what is typically considered the downtown area, this bathroom is well worth the trip if you can muster the wait. It’s about as spacious as downtown bathrooms get, which is kind of liberating. It has two urinals and two stalls, one of them handicap accessible. The urinals have partitions, and even drip mats to prevent any mishaps from ending up on your shoes. For the father on the go, there is a diaper changing station, complete with stainless steel veneer. The best part of the library’s bathroom is that it has wi-fi. If you have your laptop on you, you can cruise the web while you take care of business. And when you’re done and have washed your hands (assuming you do wash your hands), you have a choice between hand towels or air-drying. You can go green with the air dryer to save on paper, or you can save time by giving your hands a quick wipe. Its only pitfall is that it has kind of a corporate, impersonal feel to it.
Sidestreet Upstairs Bathroom
#5: The Sidestreet / Howard Johnson (301 3rd Ave N)
Time of day is a key factor in determining the worth of the Sidestreet bathrooms. During the day they can be quite pleasant. Upstairs, in the hallway between the bar and the hotel, you will find a one-person setup, although this lock-in bathroom has both classic toilet and urinal. Should you and your buddy decide to go simultaneously, the accommodations permit it if that’s what you’re into. It has a granite-top sink and burgundy walls, which significantly add character. A peculiar point of interest is that the ventilation fan has been inexplicably removed from the wall entirely. In the late hours, the missing fan may contribute to the horrendous odor that accrues. During bar hours, I typically forgo the men’s bathroom entirely and opt to use the women’s. It’s a lock-in private bathroom, don’t worry. No one’s privacy is being invaded in the process.
In the basement on the hotel side, you will find a very different type of bathroom indeed. It has two toilets and no urinals. One of the toilets has a disconcerting permanent stain inside the bowl. It seems clean enough, or at least as clean as it can be. It seems to have suffered the wear and tear of many flushes, and there’s only so much industrial cleaners can do. If the face value of this bathroom makes you apprehensive, there are dispensable toilet seat covers available.
There is yet another bathroom on the premises, but it is regarded as a privileged secret. It is clean, private and secluded. If I were to disclose the whereabouts of this bathroom, it would cease to be all those things.
I must preface the night bathroom section by pointing out that you must reduce your expectations of quality when dealing with bar bathrooms. I’ve already pointed out the disparity between day and night trips to Sidestreet bathrooms. Basically, smell and cleanliness are expected to degrade a notch between the hours of 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. Keep that in mind.
Dempsey's Main Floor
#6: Dempsey’s / The Aquarium (226 Broadway N)
The main floor of Dempsey’s has quite recently undergone some serious renovations in their bathrooms. The walls are adorned with granite tiling, which is not a cheap undertaking. It has two urinals with a partition, and a single toilet stall. What’s remarkable about the stall is that it has an actual door, as opposed to your typical metal rectangle and latch. There could be 500 people in the bar and you would still feel completely comfortable and secluded in this stall. A full-on door adds significantly to this bathroom’s quality.
The upstairs of Dempsey’s is a different world entirely. The Aquarium is one of the premier venues for both traveling and local musicians alike, and you can find evidence of this in the bathroom. Although some of the graffiti can be both lewd and crude, it also touts band stickers and logos from across the nation. Minnesota’s White Iron Band has made its mark prominently on the hand towel dispenser, for example. However, these bathrooms can get significantly grosser than other bar bathrooms throughout the course of an evening. But again, that is to be expected. There is a direct correlation between the amount of traffic a bar gets and the cleanliness of its bathrooms. Late night cleanliness aside, the artwork and graffiti make The Aquarium’s bathroom an unforgettable experience… in a good way.
#7: The Hotel Donaldson Lounge (101 Broadway N)
The HoDo has the best bathroom in all of downtown Fargo, hands down. I doubt anyone would dispute this claim. It’s clean, classy and elegant. It wouldn’t seem out of place for a bathroom attendant to reside their, although those guys are kind of creepy, and they’re probably better off without one. Like the rest of the HoDo, the bathroom has all original artwork. You can also solicit your wares or get informed on upcoming events via the flyer wall near the exit. This bathroom also has some kind of magical ability to stay clean and fresh-smelling, regardless of time of day. Ultimately, though, what truly makes the HoDo’s bathroom great is quality toilet paper. Very few establishments will go beyond the single-ply, but the HoDo has made it clear that it cares about its patrons by means of soft, quality T.P.
#8: Monte’s (220 Broadway N)
Monte’s is one of the closest contenders to the HoDo. It’s a single-person lock-in bathroom, but Monte’s doesn’t really need to accommodate more than that. Their traffic is significantly less than some of the other locations listed, so a bigger bathroom isn’t really necessary. Monte’s bathroom needs no bells and whistles. It stands strong by simply providing the basics, and providing them well.
The general feel of Monte’s is just comfortable. What more can you really ask for in a bathroom other than comfort? You could ask for quality T.P., but the HoDo has cornered the market on that. I was a little perplexed by the random chair sitting in the corner, but then it occurred to me that this likely serves as a changing table for single dads. A changing table the HoDo does not have, I’m afraid.
#9: Empire Tavern (424 Broadway N)
Now we begin to delve into an entirely different type of bathroom altogether: the dive bar bathroom. Dive bars are a very different kind of monster — monster being the operative word. The Empire has two urinals (no partition) and one toilet stall (handicap accessible). When choosing one of the two urinals, the issue is not if you’re comfortable urinating next to a stranger with no partition. Rather, the issue is whether or not you want random bar-goers to potentially see your business. Should you choose the urinal on the right, not only will anyone who walks in get a clear view, but under the right circumstances, a few lucky folks in the bar may just get to see the full monty. The conditions are what you might typically expect from a dive — nothing to write home about. However, it serves its function. Just keep in mind that if you’re not entirely comfortable in your skin, choose the urinal on the left if you can help it.
#10: The Bismarck (522 Broadway N)
The Bismarck bathroom is probably the smallest bar bathroom yet addressed. It has two urinals, no partition, and one toilet stall. The problem with the toilet stall is that there is no door whatsoever. Should you choose to go number two, you will be on full display for anyone who might peak around the wall. There is no mirror above the urinals, however, so at least anyone utilizing a urinal won’t catch you in the reflection. There is a mirror near the door, but it’s distorted to the point where you almost feel like you’re in a circus fun house by using it.
#11: The VFW (202 Broadway N)
For its age, the VFW bathroom is in reasonable condition. It’s kind of gross regardless of what time a day you use it, but not to the point where it’s too repulsive to use. It has two urinals and a toilet stall. There is no urinal partition, which I find is normally no big deal. However, these urinals are so close together that you’re literally going to be rubbing elbows with your neighbor. Like the library, the VFW offers a choice between hand towel or air drying, which is nice. I prefer hand towels, personally. There’s a spot on the wall near the mirror that looks like it may have been subjected to a drunken telephone conversation with a girlfriend gone horribly wrong. There a couple dents in the dry wall that appear to have been created by a fist or two. All things considered, though, its semi-dilapidated state almost gives it charm.