The Top Ten Public Bathrooms In The Chicago Arts Neighborhoods

by Jeriah Hildwine

What goes in, must come out.  With all the free beer (despite Grolsch's recent abandonment of the Chicago art scene) and wine at the openings, that's a lot of urine being generated.  And, it's got to go someplace!  We're not all Andres Serrano, so it can't all become art.  We need bathrooms!

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Andres Serrano, "Piss Christ," 1987.

Unfortunately, most galleries don't have public bathrooms.  (Something
tells me that if you're a rich old white dude who looks like he's going
to buy something, they'd make an exception.)  As an experienced drunk
and gallery crawler, I've found a few places to pee in the areas of
Chicago that feature the highest concentrations of art galleries.

10.  Bridgeport:  Medicine Cabinet

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Bridgeport is making a good effort at becoming Chicago's next
gallery neighborhood.  If River North has settled into a comfortable
and respectable stasis, and the West Loop is just now moving out of its
mom's basement and settling down, and Pilsen East is the momma's boy
doing what Podmajerski tells it, then Bridgeport is the 14-year-old
punker kid couch-surfing with her drunk bandmates.  The heavy hitter in
Bridgeport is the Co-Prosperity Sphere, and they do have a public
bathroom (two of them, in fact). 

Medicine Cabinet
is something of a sideshow, but it would be remiss to publish a listing
of art world bathrooms in Chicago without mentioning them.  Their main
drawback, as a bathroom, is that it's often impossible (or, at least,
somewhat awkward) to take a piss in there, because there's art on
display in, you guessed it, the medicine cabinet.  Thus, to urinate,
you've got to negotiate with your fellow art viewers and, on at least
one recent occasion, a performer.  As an apartment gallery not located terribly near many other art spaces, and because of its sometimes-obstructed commode, Medicine Cabinet isn't a terribly reliable or convenient place to take a piss.  Nevertheless, of all the bathrooms
in Chicago, this is the one whose primary function, at least on opening
nights, is as an exhibition space, so it deserves some love.

9.  West Loop:  ebersmoore

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Ebersmoore is located at 213 N Morgan, #3C, in the West Loop. I found this image online, which I think is their building, although it looks much different up close, at night, in December, after a couple of drinks. It's a nice space either way.

There
are plenty of apartment galleries, and almost all of them cheerfully
offer up their bathrooms to visitors.  This is a necessity, of course,
as most of these are located in far-flung locales, and so must be
largely self-sustaining.  Back when they were ebersb9, this gallery was
one such space.  Renamed ebersmoore and relocated to the West Loop,
ebersmoore is in an awesome new space, shows good work, always has
beer, and, of course, has a public restroom.  They're right around the
corner from Packer-Schopf, another great West Loop bathroom.

8.  West Loop:  The Alley Beside The 119 N. Peoria Building



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This is the alley next to the 119 N. Peoria building, in the West Loop. The building is home to ThreeWalls, Western Exhibitions, and Spoke (who hosted Objet Petit A, in which piñatas were auctioned and some of them smashed in this alley). Sometimes, this is the closest thing to a public bathroom in the neighborhood.

Oh, get off your high horse.  You know you've done it, guys (and some brave ladies).  When Western Exhibitions isn't having an opening, there isn't a single public restroom between the gallery complexes at 118 and 119 N. Peoria, and when you've got to go, you've got to go.  For the squeamish, shy, or rigidly law-abiding, there are alternatives:  the Starbucks on Randolph and Morgan (see below) is the most convenient.


7.  West Loop and River North:  Starbucks

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The Starbucks location at 946 W. Randolph (corner of Randolph and Morgan) in the West Loop. A reliable bathroom in the West Loop, especially if you're in the mood for coffee, or aren't ashamed of walking by the registers without buying anything.

I drink a lot of coffee, so it isn't much of a burden for me to walk into a Starbucks.  If I'm in the mood for coffee, and I usually am, the need to use the bathroom is a good excuse to buy myself a cup.  Even if you're not a coffee drinker, Starbucks' bathrooms are typically clean and easy to access if you don't mind walking by the registers without making a purchase.  Fortunately for gallery crawlers, there are Starbucks locations in both River North and the West Loop.  The West Loop location's intimate size and arrangement make it a tighter gauntlet than some, but the employees have never given me a hard time about it.  (Although, now that I think of it, I usually do end up buying a coffee while I'm in there, so maybe it's a non-issue for me.)

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At left, the now-defunct Pearl Paint on the East Side of Franklin St. At right, the Starbucks on the West side of Franklin. There's a CTA Brown Line stop right here, and the major gallery complex on Superior is on the next street South (straight ahead) of this intersection. Very convenient!

The River North Starbucks location couldn't be more convenient to the galleries.  It's on the corner of Chicago and Franklin, right across the street from the Pearl Paint location which is going out of business at the time of this writing.  The next street down is Superior, where most of the River North Galleries are concentrated.  If the 311 Superior building isn't open, this is your next best bet for a bathroom.

Unfortunately, gallery crawlers aren't the only ones who've noticed this, and as some of the comments on the above-linked Yelp review point out, this bathroom isn't the cleanest.  Last September, when I was leading a group of my students on our twice-annual gallery crawl, we had the misfortune of arriving at this restroom just after a scruffy looking fellow had apparently either disposed of a pair of shit-filled drawers in the trash can, or crawled inside a Tauntaun for warmth.

Now, let me be clear on my policy on this one:  I would FAR rather put up with the smell of the LAST guy who needed a public restroom, than to have to go up to the register for a key.  Even if I am buying something, it's a hassle and I'm glad I don't have to deal with it.  Big corporate chains like Starbacks and McDonald's make a metric fuckton of money off the communities they "serve," and having a publically-available restroom in an area in which there isn't otherwise one, is a small way that they give back just a little bit.  I am in favor of it, I appreciate it myself, and I usually (though not always) make a purchase when I come in to use it.  It's easy to complain that the bathroom stinks, and it does, but be careful what you wish for:  too many complaints, and they may lock it up.

6.  Pilsen East/Chicago Art District/Principality of Podmajersky:  1932 S. Halsted. 

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The studio building at 1932 S. Halsted, a large block of live-work spaces owned by Podmajersky. On Second Fridays, this is one a few exhibition spaces with a convenient public restroom.

The second friday of every month is home to Gallery Night in the self-appointed "Chicago Art District," also known as Pilsen East or the Principality of Podmajersky.  Aside from the controversy over Podmajersky's politics, business ethics, reputation as slumlords, and agents of hostile gentrification, I have some issues with the art scene down here. 

Mainly, the sort of artificial contrivance of renaming the area the Chicago Art District as an effort by Podmajersky to rapidly gentrify the area to increase the value of their property has resulted in an artificial pressure on galleries to become profitable commercial retail enterprises.  They have to sell product to be able to pay the grossly inflated rent which Podmajersky now charges because, obviously, it's a hip art neighborhood, since it's called the Chicago Art District.  This logic creates an art district in the same way that a dam creates a lake:  It exists outside of natural cycles, transforming a neighborhood from point A to point Z without passing through the interesting stages in between. 

One example of a natural formation of a lake is that a river's course takes a bend, the bend becomes silted up and the river changes course, abandoning its prior course to become an oxbow lake.  Over time, streams feeding that lake deposit more silt and soil, slowly filling it so that it becomes first a shallow lake, then a pond, then a marsh, and finally a grassland.  After that, trees begin to take root, and you end up with a forest.  When left to develop on their own, arts neighborhoods can follow a similar course.  A neighborhood first attracts artists because of its affordable rent and access to the urban center; the artists run little independent spaces and host events which attract critics and curators.  The neighborhood gets a reputation for being the hip place to be, so the galleries move in, followed by other businesses.  In the end, you're left with a neighborhood full of fancy restaurants, expensive boutiques, and a few galleries selling high-priced but conservative work.  This cycle has run its course a few times over in New York and even Chelsea is finally silting up.  In Chicago, River North went through this over a decade ago, and it's happening now in the West Loop.

Podmajersky noticed, very astutely, that this process made anyone who owned property in one of these art neighborhoods filthy stinking rich, since the property could initially be bought very cheaply but, through the influx of artist and then galleries and shops, it appreciated exponentially in value.  It made good business sense to try to encourage this sort of development.  Unfortunately, the effect is something like the sort of rapid growth that livestock undergo in industrial factory farming:  the growth is artificial, and so the animals are big, but not healthy.  This is what has happened in Pilsen:  instead of renting cheaply to artists and letting them develop the neighborhood naturally (i.e., by running independent spaces, co-ops, artist-run studio buildings, etc.), Podmajersky gave the neighborhood a growth hormone shot in the form of a superficial makeover and rebranding.  The result are a bunch of galleries who have to sell slick, tame work in order to keep their doors open.

Good art exists in Pilsen East, but it exists there despite Podmajersky's efforts, not because of them.  You can find some bargains (matted photographs for $20 out of the artist's studio in the 1932 Halsted building, ceramic "Drones" for $10 at Logsdon 1909), and the performances at Rooms Productions are always worth checking out.  Also, the sheer number of spaces here means that it's pretty easy to put back a good amount of wine, and sometimes there's snacks.  So, when there isn't a lot going on in the other neighborhoods, or whenever Rooms is putting something on, I occasionally trek down to Pilsen East to check out the scene. 

I usually start at the information desk (Podmajersky's real estate office) at 18th and Halsted, work my way down to 19th, and then head back to check out Rooms.  By the time I get to the big building at 1932, I've usually had a few glasses of wine, and am ready for a pisser.  This building has several, one on the ground floor and at least one higher up.  There's also a bathroom at the Chicago Art Department, and one at Rooms.

5.  West Loop:  Linda Warren Gallery

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Linda Warren Gallery at 1052 W. Fulton Market, at the opening of Juan Angel Chavez' show "Dragging The Leash." The burn barrels were Chavez' idea, and were AWESOME on a cold night.

Linda Warren is one of my favorite gallerists in Chicago, and I always make it a point to make it to her openings.  There isn't a single space where I've loved every single thing I've seen, but Linda's average is far better than most.  On top of that, she's always got snacks.  After a few glasses of her famous punch, served by her lovely bartender Kelsey, I'm ready for a bathroom.

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Linda Warren's fabulous bartender Kelsey, serving up sauced punch and saucy attitude. Rock on, sister!

It's
in the back, through the project space.  There is sometimes a line, and
also sometimes folks are going in and out because it doubles as Linda's
storage area and pantry.  Nevertheless, after several glasses of
Linda's punch, this bathroom is a lifesaver.  Linda Warren's really got it all:  a generally high quality of art on view, good snacks, powerful punch, a hot bartender, a public bathroom, and of course Linda's charming personality and hilarious sense of humor. 

4.  Pilsen:  Rooms Productions

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Rooms Productions, the crown jewel of Pilsen East, at 645 W. 18th St.

A
bit off the main drag in Pilsen, Rooms Productions is nevertheless my bathroom of
choice while in the Principality of Podmajersky.  Why?  Three reasons: 
1., it's clean, easy to access, there's never a line, and no hassle to
use it.  2., This bathroom is typically accompanied by delicious
snacks.  No, I'm not talking about your daily "brown and gold
feedings"; readers of my Snack Reports will know that Rooms
consistently puts out a good spread.  3., Rooms productions always puts
on good performances, so you should really be here anyway.

As an added bonus, video monitors in the bathroom (MONITORS, I said, not CAMERAS, so relax!) usually play some video work at least tangentially related to the performance taking place.  They're above the toilet, so gentlemen can watch while they pee.  Ladies can see them before and after, of course, unless they have vision like a woodcock or want to do some crazy neck gymnastics.

Rooms Productions is a must-see if you're in Pilsen East for Second Fridays, and is really worth the trip all on its own.  Really cool performances, some of the best snacks around, and a nice bathroom.  All you have to do is show up.

3.  West Loop:  Western Exhibitions

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Western Exhibitions, at 119 N. Peoria, in the West Loop.

The bathroom at Western Exhibitions isn't perfect.  The
door doesn't lock.  The toilet doesn't always flush reliably.  (Actually, these problems may have been fixed by the time of this writing.)  The line is almost always long, and awkward, as it spills out into entry, blocking ingress and egress to and from the gallery (and in happier days, access to the bucket of Grolsch.)  BUT,
this is THE bathroom of choice in the 118/119 N. Peoria gallery
cluster, for those whose needs or sensibilities require the comfort and
privacy of an official, authorized, indoor privy.  As an added bonus,
this bathroom may occasionally feature decorations in the form of gay
porn.

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Untitled collage by Dutes Miller. While using the bathroom at Western Exhibitions, men actually had to look at this while holding their penis.

On a major gallery opening night in the West Loop, there might be as many as twelve galleries between 119 N. Peoria, 118 N. Peoria, and 835 N. Washington having openings.  Most of those are serving wine (or, in the glory days of yesteryear, by which I mean literally last year, Grolsch).  That's at least twelve drinks, and this is the only bathroom between those three buildings, not counting the alley.  An obvious necessity. 

2.  River North:  311 W. Superior

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The building at 311 W. Superior, home to Gallery KH, Printworks, Russel Bowman Art Advisory, and Stephen Daiter. Also home to the only public bathroom in the area, not counting Starbucks.

River
North has something of a reputation in the Chicago art community as
being the snobby, gentrified, stuck-up has-been, compared to the hip
edginess of the West Loop.  Whatever the truth or falsehood of this,
River North does have one trait in common with many gentrified areas:
it's damned near impossible to find a place to piss.  Poorer
neighborhoods have McDonald's and the gentrified areas have Starbucks,
but if you want to piss without running the gauntlet of cash registers
without making a purchase, you do have one option in River North. 
Inside the building at 311 W. Superior, just across the hall from
Russel Bowman Art Advisory, is a public restroom.  Also in the building are Gallery KH, Stephen Daiter, and Printworks.

While you're in there, check out the galleries, especially Bowman.  River North may have something of a stodgy reputation compared to the hip West Loop, but Bowman is an example of how its gentrified status has its perks.  Russel Bowman specializes in 20th Century work, some of it by artists who are quite well-known.  While I doubt I'll ever be in the financial position to even consider myself among their potential collectors, they're quite friendly to lookie-loos like myself.  Bowman is like a little Museum of Modern Art, free to the public.  Their snacks are usually among the best in River North, plus they have a bathroom.

1.  West Loop:  Packer Schopf Gallery


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Packer-Schopf Gallery, at 942 W. Lake St. in the West Loop. The bathroom is just inside the front door.

Packer-Schopf Gallery is another of my favorite spaces in Chicago, and among its many virtues is its easily accessible public restroom.  Spacious, clean, and right in the foyer so you don't have to run the gauntlet of people you know when you've really got to go.  The by-the-front-door location also makes it perfect to make a pit stop before heading out for your next destination.  I always make it a point to attend Aron's openings, and would do so regardless of bathroom status, but it certainly makes life easier.

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The bathroom at Packer-Schopf Gallery.

Alright, loyal readers.  Once again I implore you, get out there and look at some art!  With my snack reports, I've sought to compel you with the promise of getting drunk for free, and getting some delicious snacks.  With my occasional reviews, I've tried to bring your attention to some of the really good art that we have access to here in Chicago.  Stephanie's Gallery Crawl lets you know what's going on each week.  For those of you that still haven't been going out and seeing the art, the only logical explanation is that you didn't know where you were going to go pee after drinking all the free beer and wine.  Fair enough, but now you know, so there's no excuse.  Get out there and get your art on!






Jeriah is an artist,
educator, writer, and snack enthusiast.  You can see his work at
www.jeriahhildwine.com, and read his columns at Art Talk Chicago and Chicago
Art Magazine
.  Jeriah lives
and works in Chicago, with his wife
Stephanie
Burke
.



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