Friday, July 22, 2011

Ace Hotel, Portland, Oregon

Metal doorhandle bathroom key, Ace Hotel, Portland, Oregon.

This is also a Twitter find, posted by James Refell.  There is an intruiging connection here between the key, tied to a string, and the metal door handle.  It seems as if the proprietors of the Ace Hotel want to maintain some propriety, and keep the key within the door-related family, by attaching it to a door handle.  The key may be restless, as it is moved from patron to patron, but it retains a sense of comfort, knowing that it is tethered to a cousin.  Attaching the key to a lock would be too glaring an attempt at maintaining solidarity between the key and its holder.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

BP Gas Station, Hunts Point Aveue, the Bronx

The key and key chain are attached to a red metal product display piece, possibly used to adjust shelve heights.  This BP station is always busy,located at a hub of sorts in the Bronx, where a number of bus lines connect, as well as the No. 6 train.  It is also adjacent to Bruckner Boulevard, the quickest route out of the borough and into Manhattan.  Outside the store sat a cross-legged a woman begging for coffee money.  I bought her a $1.00 packet of donuts, for which she was very grateful, exposing bright pink gums with a large smile that also lacked almost all her teeth.  Getting the bathroom key involved a patron-to-patron exchange, as there was someone already in the men's room.  This handing off of the toilet baton is a necessity, lest you go in, sit down, and are caught unaware amidst the handling of biological neccessities.  Is Number Two considered multi-tasking?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Blimpies Sandwich Restaurant, Castle Hill Avenue, the Bronx

The key and the key-ring are attached to a large egg-beater.  The egg-beater looks as if it was used to mix concrete, twisted every which way.  One hopes that it is permanently retired, never called back to perform its duties on Blimpie ingredients.  This Blimpies, Subways biggest competitor in New York City, with Quizno's a distant third, is located at the intersection of Castle Hill Avenue and Westchester Avenue in the Bronx.  The owners are Bangladeshi, as Banglas have grown in population here, owning not only stores but also homes, as the older Puerto Rican population moves or dies out.  The store is located under the elevated #6 train.  Unfortunately for Blimpies, their corner is not at the foot of the two stairs that lead customers off the subway platform above -  a lot of their potential customers are thus ceded to the Dunkin Donuts across the street, but that's also owned by Bangladeshis so maybe that's OK.

A few years ago the Blimpie ownership tried adding a pizza shop at the front of the store.  That didn't go too well, as the shop was closed before even the first pie was served. Perhaps they needed to a hire a consultant from the business pictured below.

Monday, July 18, 2011

El Valle Restaurant, Southern Boulevard, The Bronx

The bathroom keys, men and women's, are attached to wooden backscratchers. A traditional key rings attaches the key to the backscratcher. The backscratcher is missing three fingers.  Was it relegated to bathroom key holder duty after rigorous use for its intended purpose?  Is this the fate of all maimed backscratchers?

There's something symbolic about a backscratcher - one good turn deserves another- in a neighborhood that is among the poorest in the country.  The Dominican resaurant is in the South Bronx, just blocks away from Hunts Point, where hookers still run a thriving business among the auto-repair stores.  Existence here is above subsistence, mostly because of the generous welfare benefits - no abject poverty here, just constant struggle to stay afloat.  Not many passengers get on or off at the local trains stops, as the unemployed have little need, or resources at $2.25 a ride, to travel beyond their confines, other than for the occasional trip to 161 St. for recertification of benefits.  A bit futher south is a neighborhood that boasts a higher abortion rate than birth rate, a sort of Kevorkian perversion.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The New Amsterdam Public Library, Manhattan

This is the Bathroom Key for the New Amsterdam Public Library in Lower Manhattan. The key is attached to two black metal bookends with their bottoms somehow stuck together. The key chain is a series of day-glow green plastic chords strung together. On one of the book ends the librarians taped a label made of white paper that says "Bathroom Key". Undoubtedly this is to make sure that no patron mistakes this for, say, two bookends stuck together.

The arrangement is awkward, as when one enters the bathroom it is not obvious how one should rest the key without causing it to drop. Surely its fall would result in a loud clang upon the bathroom tile, or something louder were it to hit one of the exposed pipes that run under the sink. It would be the height of embarrasment to be shushed by a librarian while one was on the porcelain throne. For what, for the noise made by the key, or for noises otherwise emitted?

Introducing the Bathroom Key Chronicles

Some things in life are important. This is not one of them. This blog is about bathroom keys. Not bathroom keys for your home bathroom, if you have any, but public restroom bathroom keys. I don't know the history of public restroom bathroom keys but some day I hope to write the definitive treatise on the topic.

Years ago, perhaps 30 or so, one could walk into a public establishment and simply use the bathroom. Today, one has to ask for "the bathroom key". Why? I posit a multi-pronged theory: 1) protection of the customer, and 2) discouragement of use by non-customers. The former I am not so sure about; the latter I will bet the farm on (including the bathroom) based on the proliferation of "Rest Room for Customers Only" signs.

Here in New York, the need to discourage the use of bathrooms was prompted somewhat by the increase in homelessness. Some of these homeless people, or sometimes simply drunks or vagrants of some sort, would enter and use the bathroom. For some reason, their hygienic habits were not up to snuff, sometimes leaving clear evidence of the purpose and intent of their bathroom use. Icky poo!

On some level, this is a simple subject; on another, I am making it unnecessarily complex. Here's how: The Bathroom Key Chronicles takes an in-depth look (with photos) as to how bathroom keys are presented to their customers. What I mean by this is, when you ask for the bathroom key, you don't just get the key, you get the key attached to something to...well, I guess to remind you to not walk out with it? To make sure everyone in the place knows your business?

The bathroom key attachments are sometimes more elaborate, indeed ingenius, than others. This blog will feature a photo of a bathroom key, it's accoutrement and a brief description of its locale. Send your photos and texts to

Read and enjoy and please, please send me photos and text to add to the blog. Help me to document this small bit of Americana.