No matter how you get into the city — whether it’s by foot, bicycle, private automobile, bus, train, taxi, or boat — chances are that you will be confronted with a concern more pressing than where to park. And unlike parking lots and garages, toilets are generally not marked with a bright red and yellow sign.
Some of the bathrooms listed here may be technically “private” or “patron use only.” Years ago I worked at a place that kept its bathrooms locked, requiring employees to unlock them for customers. When this store remodeled, they removed the locks. I am sure that this decision had something to do with the number of times customers would relieve themselves in the hallway when nobody arrived in time to unlock the restroom. If owners enjoy cleaning up human waste, or are able to demand their employees do so, then by all means, keep the doors locked. Any restroom requiring a key or password is not included here, as that’s much too much hassle when in a rush.
Proximity (Can I make it in time?), cleanliness (Was it cleaned since 1985?), and accessibility (Is it on ground level/main floor? Are toilets unlocked during business hours?) are taken into account. These are all places that one can waltz in and out of without pressure to buy anything; no fuss, no muss..better even, no mess.
Suitable Places for a Rest
- Hartford City Hall: When I mentioned this list to one of our local politicians, he insisted that City Hall be included. As a taxpayer, it was going to be my first choice anyway. The public absolutely has the right to use this building, which includes the older-than-the-hills facilities. Given how dirty politics can be, the restrooms are surprisingly clean. There’s dusting that could happen in there, but I have never found piles of toilet paper (or worse) on the floor. Also, it’s fun to make jokes about “doing one’s civic duty.” If you enter the building from Arch Street (the side facing the library), you simply take a left and the bathrooms are there. Sometimes the restrooms on other floors are locked.
- Hartford Public Library: This one gets mixed reviews. The bathrooms, in my experience, have never been as horrifying as a newspaper article a few years ago reported them to be. That is to say, I have never encountered people having sex there. Some might find this to be a disappointing revelation, but not me. The mixed review comes because not all of the building’s restrooms are open; the main floor ones typically are accessible. Many of the stall locks are nonfunctional in the women’s room and the mirror is useless. If I look in it, I can tell there is a human being reflected, and that’s about it. Forget about trying to use it to touch up lipstick or mascara. On the plus side, the restroom has always been acceptably clean and there are several stalls — have never needed to wait. There is a single stall bathroom in the children’s section; it’s in much better shape and includes a changing table.
- CT Convention Center: These have the best signage. I have wandered into the building during conventions I was not attending just to use the restrooms which have been clean and accessible. These are what one would expect from a fairly new building — high tech with no lingering odor from yesteryear.
- Marriott: It seems legit to use their lobby restrooms because there is a Starbucks, night club, and restaurant mere footsteps away. Because it’s The Marriott, everything is clean. No, actually, it goes beyond clean. The stall doors are made of thick wood, possess working locks, and have hooks for holding bags/purses/coats. There are cloth towels by the sinks and a hamper to toss them into when finished drying one’s hands. It also scores big points for not having a restroom attendant, which some fancy places decide is necessary.
- Starbucks: The Starbucks on Trumbull Street is always saturated with suited businesspeople, but most are working on other floors of the building and are not congregating to use the single-stall bathrooms. As with most Starbucks, the bathrooms are predictable: reasonably clean and harassment-free; the employees do not care if you buy anything there or not…but you do have to walk past the pastries to get to your destination.
- CT Science Center: At time of publication, the easy in/easy out restrooms are not accessible to those coming into the building from the Riverfront Walk, but they were in the past and will be when the construction happening around the building has been completed. These toilets are plentiful, clean, new (no lingering odors from the Depression Era), and ultra newfangled. These are dual-flush toilets, which means that the user presses the handle up for one type of waste, and down to get rid of another type. The location of this does present a few problems. It is inside the CT Science Center; it’s also directly across from the very awesome gift shop inside the CT Science Center. Unless you have stellar willpower, be prepared to spend money.
- State House Square: If you walk to the back of the food court, there are restrooms. These are not ranked very high because they are only open while the food court is open — around lunch time. The women’s room often has a line. At least one of the stall locks is busted.
- Subway: the one across from City Hall and the Hartford Public Library was recommended for people-watching, which is probably a secondary consideration when looking for a restroom. There are two single-stall restrooms which are about on par with other fast food establishments for cleanliness. There is also a Subway on Asylum Street.
- Union Station: This is a great alternative to the portapotties when one is at some Bushnell Park event. Bus/train/subway station bathrooms get a bad rap, which strikes me as weird because I have found far more offensive restrooms elsewhere. The restrooms near the ticketing area are the busiest. There are restrooms elsewhere in the building which are quite nice, actually.
- Connecticut State Capitol: This is an imposing building, one that does not seem like a person can just saunter in and out of. In fact, it looks like a place where one would have to wait while having her bag inspected and person x-rayed. Not so. Unless you happen to arrive at the same time as schoolchildren are lining up at the front doors, you should have no problem slipping in and out. Undetected? No. Hassle-free? Yes. Unlike the portapotties just minutes away in Bushnell Park, the State Capitol is a National Historic Landmark. You can simply turn to your significant other and say, “Honey, why don’t I meet you by Nathan Hale in the East Atrium? I am going to tour the historic ladies room where the West Atrium and North Lobby meet.” And is it ever historic! I am not sure what year this seat cover dispenser is from, but they certainly do not make them look as attractive anymore.
This restroom is among the most spacious I have been in. If you need to, say, do yoga exercises, there’s plenty of room for that. Even better, there is an excellent view of Bushnell Park from the first floor restrooms. For political junkies, this might be a top bathroom destination, as there is a high chance of running into state legislators in the building, or as may be the case, standing around outside, smoking. If you are still feeling weird about the whole walking into this enormous building just to use a free toilet, keep this phrase ready: “I am here for a self-guided tour.” Since you’re apt to wander around with your jaw wide open anyway, it’s not a total lie. There are statues with feet bigger than a normal human head. It’s hard not to be a little in awe of that.
- Legislative Office Building: If you can stomach being around so many lobbyists, this is a fine choice for a rest. It’s not as glamorous as the State Capitol, but the Legislative Office Building has first floor restrooms, which is really the concern, right? Connecticut Museum Quest says that you’ll like the LOB if “you run into your state Senator and give him/her the business.” Real Hartford says you will like the LOB if you enjoy being able to choose between paper towels and a hand dryer; yes, they have both.
When Absolutely Desperate
- Portajohns in Bushnell Park:
I would recommend these as an absolute last resort. Like, if you can not risk arrest for urinating behind a tree, then use these. During major events in the park, more of these portable toilets are brought in. Those are usually fine early on. There are restrooms in nearby Union Station and the State Capitol, but if it’s too early or too late in the day, then know that these are here for you. There are usually a few next to the carousel, and another few behind the stage.
- Portajohns along Riverfront: same sentiments as above. Sorry, it’s just not how we roll.
Leave a comment (or send an email after comments automatically close) if there are any quick and easy bathroom spots downtown that I have neglected to include in this list.
Edited to add: Please respect the author by giving proper credit and asking before using photos. News outlets, create your own content.