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Stephen Mihm

Why Is It So Hard to Find a Decent Public Bathroom?

With Starbucks threatening to limit use of its facilities, our options will dwindle. The reasons for that are tangled up with the history of sex, race and class. 

It’s an art.

It’s an art.

Photographer: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Starbucks, which has long made its bathrooms available to the public, recently announced it may soon insist, however gently, that you will have to purchase something for this privilege. A latte for the loo, as the Brits might say.

This is unfortunate. Most of us — unlike Vladimir Putin — can’t take our toilets with us; we have to depend on private establishments. All this begs a larger question: Why aren’t public restrooms more readily available?