When you gotta go…

To love New Orleans is to love all New Orleans – from the Marigny to the Garden District – and to love all her quirks.

To love New Orleans is to love all New Orleans – from the Marigny to the Garden District – and to love all her quirks. Like knowing full well I’m going to get a cab of questionable lineage from the airport to the hotel. Or that it might cloud over and rain at a moment’s notice.

However, no matter how many times I’ve been to New Orleans, there’s one quirk I’ve never loved and don’t know that I ever will:

The French Quarter restroom.

Any time I’m in a restaurant in the French Quarter, I have to ask myself: How badly do I need to use the restroom? Do I really need to pee so bad I’m willing to risk my health and well-being? Or is there a bar around the corner where I know I’ll be safe?

And I’m not kidding.

One would expect bar restrooms to be of questionable character. I mean, it’s a bar. What is alarming though is that some of those toilets have been nicer and cleaner than those at some of the finer dining establishments. I’ve had times where I thought even the trough at Café Lafitte’s would be a step up.

Cafe Lafitte, New Orleans

To a certain degree I understand. The French Quarter is really the heart of New Orleans and was part of the city founded three hundred years ago. I would imagine many courtyards sported outhouses. But surely someone thought along the way to 2018 about building a better restroom. And maybe placing it in the same building.

Countless times I’ve stepped down dim hallways, around corners, up a flight of stairs, or across a courtyard just to dispose of the hurricanes I’ve been drinking. No trip that I can recall has been a short step away. In one instance, I left a very nice restaurant, walked across the courtyard to the adjacent building, stepped up into the men’s room, only to look down as I’m washing my hands and think:

Is that blood on the floor? Did someone in the kitchen cut themselves? Did the previous occupant get mugged and I’m looking at the aftermath? Now I’m getting nervous but beginning to understand why some restrooms are so dimly lit.

And this phenomenon is not exclusively reserved for men. I’ve heard women’s restrooms described by female friends as “sketchy.” Given the odor coming out of the single-hole restrooms at some of the bars, I can understand why.

However, don’t let any of that discourage you from venturing at least once to New Orleans. For me she is still my second home, quirks and all. Even if it means sometimes crossing my legs and bunny hopping my way back to my clean and well-lit hotel restroom.

Cover photo courtesy of Cayetano Gil.

Hotel Room or Harem?

I remember reading in a Stephen King novel a quote about how the phrase – the more things change, the more they stay the same – was crap. Because the more things change, the more things change. But how do you know when change is needed?

Our first (and only trip to Chicago) was around 12 years ago, and we found ourselves sleeping at the W City Center for the duration of the trip. W Hotels were just starting to open around the country, and the place was young, hip, urban, and even better, paid for by James’ office.

He had come for work and wanted to know if I was interested in tagging along. Interested? It’s Chicago. One of the most iconic cities in America. Home to the Hancock Tower, Sears Tower, and The Art Institute. Not to mention structures by Frank Lloyd Wright, Burnham & Root, and Mies van der Rohe. How could I pass that up?

Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to go a couple of times on my own, most recently this month for an American Institute of Architects two-day conference. Once again, I found myself at a W – this time facing Lake Michigan and the Navy Pier. And the hotel felt the way I remembered my first time. Not as dimly lit but arranged again so the social spaces were all out front, and you had to guess where the reception desk was.

However, from there on up, nothing had really changed from what we experienced 12 years before. Dimly lit hall. Dark carpet. Purple LEDs in the ceiling. Perhaps the only real update was to card readers on the hotel room doors. Then I went into my room.

I suppose for most hotel brands, staying current means increasing the likelihood that you’ll book more rooms throughout the year. And I’ve stayed at hotels that have undergone massive renovations from one year to the next. I even found myself on the unfinished side of a hotel renovation, complete with the original laminate bathroom counter from some time in the 1980s, while I could hear contractors working a few floors below.

By no means was my room unpleasant or uncomfortable. Don’t get that impression. Super-comfortable bed. Tons of space. A really cool rainhead in the shower. I just think someone needs to slip the W a note and let them know change is sometimes a good thing.

Had I opened my door and found someone passed out across the bed, sheets and pillows in disarray, and a couple of empty vodka bottles knocked over on the dresser, I would not have been surprised. My room felt designed more for a party, and perhaps not so much for sleeping.

The headboard for the king-sized bed continued along the wall to become a banquette that stretched onto the adjacent wall. Oddly there was a mirrored “coffee table” at the end of the banquette. Now what could I use that for? And a lamp attached to a pole that was mounted on the top of the bedside table and extended to the ceiling. I’m just going to assume it was always a lamp.

W Chicago Lakeside 

And while I appreciated the décor, most of my party days have long gone by, and I look at a hotel room for what it is – a place to sleep.

I was reminded of a past client who would come to Dallas and check on their project, staying in one of the more upscale hotels. Except the one time their usual room wasn’t available, and their son put them in one of the trendier boutique hotels that had recently appeared on the scene.

At our meeting the next morning, I asked them how their room was.

“Like a Turkish harem.”

That afternoon they switched hotels. I guess they just wanted to sleep too.