A middle-aged woman coming out of a high-end furniture store in Manhattan, speaking rather too loudly into her mobile phone, informs her interlocutor that she has to “potty.” But, she says, no worries: “There’s a Starbucks right here.” The store she is exiting sells sofas that cost upwards of $20,000, and I am confident, and subsequently confirm, that it offers its clientele such evacuative accommodations as are necessary. But New York City is a famously bad place to be when nature sends an urgent text message, and the solution that New Yorkers have settled upon is Starbucks, the city’s answer to Paris’s sanisettes and similar structures in other cities. The politics of the pissoir can be tricky: In New Delhi, there was a national kerfuffle when a likeness of Mohandas K. Gandhi was stenciled on the exterior of one of the capital city’s public urinals near the busy Haus Khas Market. India, a land of many laws, has a national statute regulating the use of the Mahatma’s likeness, name, or emblems. A wildcat barista bathroom strike in New York City a few years ago, in which Starbucks employees frustrated by the abuse of their facilities hung “Out of Service” and “Employees Only” signs on them, created an uproar sufficient to make the pages of the New York Times and the Daily News both. But Starbucks relented and remains, as one manager put it, “New York City’s public restroom.”
When you can sell a floofy coffee drink for six bucks and still have a line at your counter most of the time, you can do a lot of other things, too, as it turns out.