Sitting pretty with Montreal’s top 10 coolest bathrooms

Looking for a royal flush? Take a look at this unofficial top 5 list of places to go.

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The conversation, between Gazette photographer Dave Sidaway and myself, went something like this. 

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“Go to the bathroom!” Sidaway insisted. 

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“But I don’t have to go!” I protested 

“You really have to go!” Sidaway demanded. 

“Seriously? Why?” I shot back. 

“Because I’ve never seen anything quite like it before at a restaurant, or anywhere else for that matter,” Sidaway explained. “And I’m pretty sure you haven’t, either.” 

He was right.  

As wild as the walls lined with retro movie posters were inside La Belle Tonki, the downstairs communal washroom area in this Asian mélange resto on Beaubien St. E. was even wilder. For starters, patrons, waiting for one of the three toilet stalls to be liberated, were patiently seated, soaking up VHS tapes of Bruce Lee and other kung fu capers on a prehistoric TV screen or flipping through vintage pulp thrillers and mags from the bookstand. 

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And that was but the beginning of our basement odyssey, in search of some of the city’s most audacious and/or most memorable restaurant and bar restrooms. We scoured the city in pursuit of the most catchy, be they on the striking or serene or just plain quirky side. We consulted. We visited scores of spots. We finally came up with our five faves in no particular order as well as five worthy runners-up in the field.  

Vraiment au boutte! 

Given the current realities, the vast majority of washrooms checked out were of the communal variety, with no gender designations. 

But please bear in mind there are thousands of restaurants and bars in this city, and that we surely missed out on many doozies. But rather than stew, please let us know what we may have overlooked, and we will take note for perhaps another kick at the … er … can. 

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Our list of 5 flushed-out favourites


Montreal's 5 best bathrooms plus runners-up
In La Belle Tonki’s bathroom, a prehistoric TV churns out classic kung fu clips. Photo by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette

La Belle Tonki — 1335 Beaubien St.  E.

It’s safe to say there is nothing like the washroom facilities in this dimension, or others as well. La Belle Tonki calls its sustenance Asian fusion and its restroom, otherworldly. There is inspired and then there is this: three community stalls, each paying tribute with posters and graffiti to various movie themes. Specifically, cartoons, kung fu and hip hop. The area surrounding the cabinets is also comprised of posters — including a massive one of Prince — and graffiti, in addition to the VHS machine attached to some dinosaur-modelled TV churning out classic Bruce Lee et al clips. A large, vintage industrial basin with double sinks sits in the middle. And there are enticing orange swathes painted in between. This is the creation of chef/owner/creative director Michel Lim, but even more impressive than this out-there concept is the fact that he and his staff had all of a month to renovate and decorate the restaurant when they took over the venue three and a half years ago. Making matters more complicated was the fact that the previous bathroom was upstairs, but the team felt it necessary to create a new one with an original theme downstairs. Then came the pandemic that curtailed business for a spell. 

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Ever-ebullient manager Diana Nguyen has a simple explanation for the motif employed: “We’re ‘80s babies. We grew up with old-school kung fu. Basically, our parents were never home, so we were left to our devices. Movies and television were our entertainment world. So that’s what you’re seeing here. Even in our bathroom. Why not? You have to be entertained in the bathroom, too. Most people in our business would just paint the bathroom walls white, but that’s not in our personality or DNA. We pride ourselves on thinking outside the box. We had no trouble getting old-school equipment and materials either, because our parents are hoarders, never throwing anything away. So we decided to dust everything off, and now it’s retro cool and such a blast.” 

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Customers were quick to cotton to this unorthodox concept. When the resto first opened, customers were in awe of the restaurant decor.  

“So I told them that if they thought that was amazing to check out our washroom,” Nguyen said. “Then we started noticing that soon after we finished taking their orders, half the group would disappear into the washroom. We could hear them laughing and taking pictures and watching TV. We really did not expect this kind of reaction, but it’s been really quite gratifying. 

“The truth is that you can never underestimate the importance of washroom esthetics. One of the first things people judge about a restaurant is the bathroom, because it reflects the cleanliness of the place in addition to the attention to detail. And that first impression of a restaurant can often be the last impression.” 

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Montreal's 5 best bathrooms plus runners-up
“I’m not aware of any place in the city with urinals like this,” said Candi Bar’s Alex Paré. Photo by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette

Candi Bar — 1148 Mont-Royal Ave. E.

Candi Bar is in fact a bar that sells candy and slushies as well as stiffer libations. Multi-coloured pastels rule inside the bar with a ceiling of plastic Mega Bloks. Gumball machines, candy dispensers and game boards are placed liberally throughout. It’s a throwback to another time. Perhaps TV’s Happy Days, yet far more hip than that. The washrooms are something else. It looks like something the Joker of Batman fame might have concocted on an absinthe-fuelled evening. Or something à la Clockwork Orange from the twisted mind of Stanley Kubrick. Take the three men’s urinals. Configured like the mouths of clowns with their lips framed in shocking red, they each come equipped with two very white front teeth and a flesh-coloured mouth interior. The good news is these teeth have never come down to chomp on the delicate body parts of users. Nevertheless, there’s always that fear. On standing eye level, patrons face three sets of painted orbs on a white tile backing that appear to be staring inquisitively at patrons.  

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Staffer Alex Paré attributes the 13-year-old Plateau bar’s look to the fevered imagination and sense of humour of owner Carlos Morais and manager Jonathan Domer: “It’s a circus theme that they were going for here with all the posters in the bar and washrooms, and they have certainly achieved that. I’m not aware of any place in the city with urinals like this. Or just about anywhere else. They actually came from Denmark.  

“People come from all over the city to see them and take pictures. We even have tourists dropping in from the States and Europe. Sometimes by the busload. They always leave laughing. It doesn’t take long for word to spread.” 

Montreal's best bathrooms plus runners-up
You’re never alone in the bathroom at Joe Beef. Photo by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette

Joe Beef — 2491 Notre-Dame St. W. 

Patrons be advised: You’ll never be alone inside this washroom. Perched next to the toilet is a mammoth bison head. But while some suspect its placement in this world-renowned resto may have something to do with its name or the type of grub it serves, such is not the case. Not long after its opening, a regular Joe Beef client, an artist/collector/entrepreneur, picked up the bison head at an auction just after it had been prepped by a taxidermist. He had planned to give this beastly mass to his son for his bedroom. Alas, the collector’s bride intervened, greeting him at the doorway and telling him in no uncertain terms to leave the premises and take that cranium elsewhere. So without asking anyone, he immediately headed over to Joe Beef, plopped the bison head in the cloakroom and advised the staff he would come back to pick it up later. He never did, and this hirsute bust was to make several more moves in the dining room area, before finding its final home in the washroom. 

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“It was never a conscious decision where we said a bison head would look good there,” explained Joe Beef co-owner and co-founder Frédéric Morin. “It’s funny because when we opened the restaurant we had a few guys show up with stuff from the taxidermist to give us as gifts — and to please their wives at the same time to get these oddball parts of animals out of their homes. This guy said he was lending it to us, but all these years later he never came back for it. Now he insists he won’t. So the head has a permanent home. We tried placing it in different parts of the place, but the bathroom was the perfect fit. It’s become part of the aura of the restaurant. It even had its own Instagram account.” 

The shaggy noggin is well taken care of. Staff regularly vacuum it and have even found a compatible hair conditioner for it. Of course, clients have also used it to play practical jokes on others, such as the time when one fellow installed a wind-emitting toy next to it and, from the bar, would then trigger it from a remote-control device to make flatulent-like sounds while some customers were seated inside. Needless to say, it scared the bejesus out of them. It has since been deactivated. 

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“I would never encourage the slaughter of animals for trophies,” Morin added. “But this particular piece came by accident and the story of its passage is rather unique and rich and is now part of our history.” 

Montreal's 5 best bathrooms plus runners-up
First-time patrons are surprised to learn the waterfall wall at Whisky Café is meant to be used. Photo by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette

Whisky Café — 5800 St-Laurent Blvd.

Since its founding in 1989, this ornate Mile End bar has established itself as a veritable whisky museum, attracting connoisseurs with an inventory of over 400 varieties, including some of the most prized and rare single malts ever distilled in the Highlands of Scotland. Its founders and former owners Nicole Lemelin and Alexandre Wolosianski also outdid themselves on the sanitation front. In the men’s washroom, they installed what is oft referred to as the “Niagara Falls of urinals,” a wondrous and rather unique two-metre-high shower-like creation, the likes of which has rarely been peed upon in these parts let alone in the Scottish Highlands. It shoots gentle streams of treated water cascading down to the gutter drain. It’s both surreal and surprisingly comforting. About two metres wide, the urinal  designed, like the Whisky Café itself, by Gervais Fortin, can accommodate several users simultaneously.  

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Whisky Café consultant Simon Beaulieu, who has been with the café since two months after its opening, recalls how customers were so enthralled and sometimes startled after becoming aware of the waterfall urinals. 

“It was probably one of the best business openings ever here when Nicole and Alexandre introduced customers to the scotches and the washroom,” Beaulieu said. “The urinal was said to have been inspired by the one in Café Costes in Paris. Nicole and Alexandre wanted to have something different in the bathroom and they certainly succeeded. Some people came more for the bathrooms than the scotches. They took lots of photos. All kinds of journalists and TV producers started dropping by, and soon the urinals were showing up in magazines and being talked about on TV shows around the world. People were just blown away by them. 

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“But then many women felt left out of all the fun, that the men had this fabulous washroom and that they had a more traditional one with regular cabinet toilets. So Nicole and Alexandre did some research and found what was then called the ‘urinette’ — a standing pee device — and put it into the women’s washroom in 1998. It was very hygienic and came with biodegradable paper that got easily flushed away.” 

Unfortunately, the urinette wasn’t sustainable. Popular as it was, it had to be removed about 10 years later after the U.S. company that had designed, built and serviced it went out of business. 

“It had been breaking down a lot and we just couldn’t find any more parts for it any longer,” Beaulieu said. “Fortunately, the waterfall in the men’s washroom continues to stream strong after all these years.” 

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Montreal's 5 best bathrooms plus runners-up
Behind the toilet bowl at Restaurant L’Avenue is a message: “Hit the Road, Jack” — perhaps a reminder to do one’s business swiftly. Photo by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette

Restaurant L’Avenue  — 922 Mont-Royal Ave. E. 

Travel back in time to check out a veritable psychedelic show in this resto’s graffiti-driven, eye-popping, multi-coloured washrooms. One features an array of bizarro images, from a figure of a pet face to a flashing peace sign to a spooky skull-and-crossbones, among other symbols. And right behind this toilet bowl is a message of sorts: “Hit the Road, Jack” — perhaps a reminder to do one’s business swiftly in light of the those waiting to get in. Yes, truly a trip that even the late American psychologist/author/LSD aficionado Timothy Leary might find fairly far out. On the other hand, it’s easy to imagine distracted users would find it difficult to focus on bladder issues at hand while drifting away in these loos. Not to be confused with the impressive washrooms at another L’Avenue in St-Henri — which we include in the worthy runners-up category — this hugely popular Plateau diner, opened since 1994, has long drawn attention for its decidedly distinct lavatories. Lineups are often as long to check them out as they are at the front door to get in for nibbles. 

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L’Avenue manager Renaud Soublière credits the late/lauded graffiti artiste Alex Scaner (also known as Scan) for first bringing these washrooms to life: “He was asked to create something a little colourful for the two bathrooms, and he surpassed himself. We’ve kept his spirit going. 

“We have some visitors whose first stop here are the bathrooms. We were also among the first restaurants in the city to go in this direction. Since then, many have tried to follow in the same path. But ours remain unique.” 

Soublière isn’t surprised Montreal is at the vanguard of transfixing washroom design: “It’s part of our culture that extends its way into all aspects of wild design, all the way down to restaurant washrooms. You can feel the energy there.”  

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To say the least. 

5 worthy runners-up

Montreal's 5 best bathrooms plus runners-up
Montréal Plaza’s elegant bathroom waiting area. Photo by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette

Montréal Plaza – 6230 St-Hubert St.  

Go figure? Montréal Plaza’s wild-man chef/co-owner Charles-Antoine Crête had a different vision for his resto’s restroom area, which is among the most serene and subdued around, with an understated elegance to boot. 

Montreal's 5 best bathrooms plus runners-up
Graffiti at Fugazzi Pizza. Photo by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette

Fugazzi Pizza – 1886 Centre St.  

The bathroom’s graffiti interiors are as wild as this hoppin’ Pointe-St-Charles pizzeria’s toppings. 

Montreal's 5 best bathrooms plus runners-up
Classic subway tile at Tuck Shop. Photo by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette

Tuck Shop – 4662 Notre-Dame St. W.  

This is one classy can by anyone’s definition, enhanced by chic subway-style wall tiles from a bygone era. 

Montreal's best bathrooms plus runners-up
Colour options at Restaurant L’Avenue on Notre-Dame St. Photo by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette

Restaurant L’Avenue – 3612 Notre-Dame St. W.  

Get ready to have your minds blown with blasts of either shrieking blue or red, depending on your choice of bathroom cabinet, for the ultimate Matrix effect. 

Montreal's 5 best bathrooms plus runners-up
A cameo by Gazette photographer Dave Sidaway in Barley Bar’s bathroom mirror. Photo by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette

Barley Bar – 2633 Notre-Dame St. W.  

As its reverse message in the mirror suggests, you will always look fine doing your business here. 

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