Where to Pee for Free in Philadelphia
Sometimes you just gotta go. What to do? At first glance it seems like there aren’t many places. Philadelphia once had a public toilet. It was on the side of City Hall, for some reason, but it disappeared a few years ago. There were discussions about putting public toilets downtown in the late 1980s, according to the Inquirer, but the issue has sadly dropped off the public’s radar.
But don’t fret: Despite a lack of public restrooms, there are plenty of places to use the bathroom in Philly. Way more than you think! As part of my commitment to service journalism in my weekly Philly Post column, I present to you: The Mid-2012 Guide to Free Bathrooms in Philadelphia.
You might want to go into Philadelphia’s fancy hotels to check out the bathrooms even if you don’t need to go. These are going to be your best bets: The Ritz (Broad and Chestnut), The Four Seasons (18th and Logan Square), The Hyatt (Columbus and Dock), The Marriott (12th and Market), The Rittenhouse (um, Rittenhouse). The important thing is to look like you know what you’re doing. Just go and use the bathroom without any problems. Or, really, just ask! The people who work the doors and front desks of these places aren’t monsters; they’re paid to be nice. They’re not going to get a bonus by turning you away. Just look presentable enough and don’t make a mess of the place.
Coffee shops and bars
Okay, let’s be clear: This is rude. But is it ruder than peeing in the bushes? Probably not. (If you really don’t want to be rude, buy a drink. If you don’t care, we could probably be friends.) The same rules for hotels apply here. Look like you know what you’re doing, look presentable enough and don’t make a mess and no one will bother you. If you walk into a semi-crowded bar you can head straight to the bathroom and get out before anyone even notices. In coffee shops restrooms are sometimes locked, of course, and so you might have to buy something. Buy a drink so you’ll have to use the bathroom again soon!
Center City West
Schuylkill River Trail, Walnut Street: Hey, these aren’t bad, especially for city-owned bathrooms. Not always open but it’s worth a shot; they’re just south of the Walnut Street Bridge.
Central Library, 19th and Vine: It’s a library. There are a bunch of bathrooms. While you’re here, why not read The Basketball Diaries? It’s my favorite book!
Philadelphia magazine offices, 18th and Market: Just go up and tell ’em Dan said you can use the bathroom. I’m sure they’ll let you right in. (I’m pre-emptively noting this is a joke before my editor says I have to.) (Editor’s note: Please don’t do this.)
Barnes and Noble, 18th and Walnut: This bathroom is a bit of a hike—it’s in the back, on the second floor—but it’s clean-ish and no one will bother you unless you bring a book from the floor.
DiBruno Brothers, 18th and Chestnut: There’s a bathroom on the second floor. It gets bonus points for smelling as nice as the rest of the store.
Comcast Center, 17th and Arch: Based on how nice this bathroom is, I’m guessing at least 10 percent of your cable bill is going to make this place immaculate. It’s a little hard to get to: You have to walk into the Comcast Center, go down the stairs then around the base of the steps to find them. There are signs. These are usually closed around lunchtime, unfortunately, but otherwise they’re your best bet.
Shops at Liberty, 16th and Chestnut: These are standard mall bathrooms, but are in decent enough shape for how much foot traffic they get. The best ones are on the second floor behind the food court. It’s a bit of a haul, but you can hold it in.
Wawa, 17th and Arch: Just across from the backside of the Comcast Center is the new Wawa; the company noted its free bathrooms in a press release when it opened. If they don’t let you use them, print out this press release and make them.
Suburban Station: SEPTA does bathrooms about as well as they do public transit. These bathrooms are getting there.
ING Direct Cafe, 17th and Walnut: This isn’t just a weird marketing tool for an online bank. It’s also a clean public restroom! And who cares if you’re not buying anything: ING Direct may not have any branches, but they’re still a bank. They have enough money.
Modell’s, 16th and Chestnut: There’s a bathroom on the second floor. When you gotta go, go to Mo’s!
Lululemon, 16th and Walnut: You might have to be in decent shape (at least) to fit in here, but pretend to browse for some overpriced yoga pants and duck into the restrooms in the back.
The Bellevue Food Court, Broad and Walnut: You have to go underground for this one. Please note that this is a “gourmet” food court.
Kimmel Center, Broad and Spruce: Give it a try. This place is for the people!
Center City East
Macy’s, 13th and Market: This is a pretty nice bathroom, but it’s all the way on the third floor of the department store. (That’s probably not coincidental.) It takes a while to get to, but if you can hold it up two escalators you’re good to go. Big and clean, everything you could want in a public restroom. Then you can go buy some socks if you need them.
West Elm, 13th and Chestnut: I discovered this one from a hilariously-titled thread (“To the Capitalist Pigs of the Public Restrooms“) at Philadelphia Speaks, and it’s true: This fancy furniture store has a bathroom in the back. It even has water fountains outside of it!
AIA Bookstore, 13th and Arch: This is an awesome bookstore (which you’ll be ignoring as you run to the bathroom). Very clean bathrooms, though!
Reading Terminal Market, 12th and Arch: The bathrooms are in in the corner, closest to 11th and Arch, right next to The Shoe Doctor. Yes, good luck navigating once you’re in the Reading Terminal, but if you hug the outside wall you’ll eventually find them.
The Gallery, 11th-8th on Market: Ugh. These bathrooms rival McGlinchey’s in lack of cleanliness. The Gallery is awesome, but its bathrooms might be the most disgusting possible.
Whole Foods, 10th and South: Are you shocked that hippies and hipsters don’t know how to keep a bathroom clean? This bathroom is way more disgusting than it should be, but it’s private.
Market East Station: Conveniently, there are much, much nicer bathrooms attached to the Gallery. These aren’t great, of course—they’re affiliated with SEPTA—but these are operating rooms compared to the bathrooms in The Gallery.
Independence Library, 7th and Market: Not only does this library have a bathroom, it has a Scrabble club! Don’t take a game into the restroom with you, please.
Independence Mall, 5th and Chestnut: These standalone bathrooms are about as clean as you’d expect the federal government to keep them. Good for runners, though!
Independence Visitors Center, 6th and Market: These are inside the center and are much nicer than the ones across the block.
Random Portajohn, base of Ben Franklin Bridge: The runner’s best friend! I don’t know whether this is from construction or what, but the toilet at Ben Franklin Bridge next to the south ramp (at 5th and Florist streets) is regularly cleaned and now has a weird anti-smoking poem written in sharpie on the wall. Good stuff!
Penn Park: There are restrooms behind the softball field, near the middle of the park. They’re relatively new, so they’re pretty clean!
Food Court, 34th and Walnut: These bathrooms are … well, they’re there. They’re a little hard to find, but they’re closer to Moravian Street—that’s the one inbetween Sansom and Walnut—on the East side.
Penn Bookstore, 36th and Walnut: These are standard bookstore bathrooms. Keep the books out of them and you’re fine. They’re in the back on the first floor behind a bunch of obnoxious Penn merchandise. There’s a big sign.
Inn at Penn, 36th and Sansom: Obviously, your best bet in University City is the hotel. You can enter from Walnut or Sansom and as long as you look like you know what you’re doing, you’re set.
SugarHouse Casino: Good luck not getting blinded by the lights, but there are plenty of bathrooms in Philadelphia’s big box of sadness and despair.
Big Box Stores: If you’re in South Philly or the Northeast, I’m not quite sure what else to tell you (besides hotels, coffee shops and bars). Big box stores—Ikea, Walmart, Target and Home Depot in South Philly and any number of stores along the Boulevard in the Great Northeast—all have bathrooms and they’re all at what can best be described as “clean enough.”