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When Constantine Stavropoulos first opened Tryst in Adams Morgan, he couldn’t figure out why the wall-mounted sink in the men’s restrooms kept breaking.
“I was really going crazy, like what is going on here?” he recalls. Then he came across a website—he doesn’t remember which—that listed Tryst’s restrooms as a hotspot for, well, trysts.
“I had one of those ah-ha moments,” Stavropoulos says. “That explains everything.” So he installed legs to reinforce the sink. And the lesson stuck with him as he opened other restaurants: Don’t use wall-mounted sinks.
Sex in restrooms is, after all, a fact of restaurant life. And while D.C. may have a reputation as a buttoned-up town, restaurant and bar owners know better. “They’re buttoned-up, except when they’re in the bathroom having sex,” says Derek Brown, who owns several bars, including The Passenger and Mockingbird Hill. “I think there’s a lot of it.” He speculates that D.C. has a lot of people with a lot of stress, and, you know, what better way to relieve it?
Whether it’s a dive bar or an upscale restaurant, no establishment seems to be exempt from the sexcapades of patrons (and staff). For the first time this year, Washington City Paper added a new category to our Best of D.C. readers’ poll: Best Restaurant to Bang in the Bathroom. The No. 1 write-in response? “Gross.” But that was followed by Nellie’s Sports Bar, The Coupe (also owned by Stavropoulos), and The Palm.
Maitre d’ Tommy Jacomo of The Palm in D.C. was the only person from the “winning” restaurants who declined to comment. Stavropoulos’ reaction? “I guess I would say honored with a question mark?” He says he hasn’t witnessed or heard anything from his staff about people copulating at The Coupe. “That’s probably why they’re such great bathrooms to have sex in, because nobody catches them.”
Even though he hasn’t seen anything, he admits the single-occupancy unisex stalls make them a target. Plus, up until February, The Coupe was open 24 hours a day. “Maybe that’s the cachet,” he says, “being able to do it at 4 a.m.”
Stavropoulos has just has one request: “I would ask that people please not do it on the baby-changing table for two reasons: 1) Because it will break and 2) that is kind of creepy.”
Nellie’s owner Doug Schantz wasn’t too proud to have his business named one of the best places in which to get it on, but he says his staff catches people having sex in the single occupancy restrooms about once a month. “When Nellie’s gets really busy, which is usually when they do it, it’s obvious when people are taking longer than they’re supposed to,” he says. “It’s fairly easy to catch them.”
The restaurant has a zero-tolerance policy on sex in the restrooms: If you get caught, you get thrown out. Schantz says that walk of shame to the exit makes people think sex happens there more often than it actually does. “We make a big deal out of it that night, and it kind of goes like wildfire through the place that this person got kicked out,” he says.
Schantz says at least five people who’ve gotten caught later sent him an apology via text or email. “Sometimes they’ll send pictures of themselves from Facebook or whatever—not having sex—but to remind me who they are,” he says. “They don’t like to get kicked out of Nellie’s, because they think they’re going to get banned.” Schantz won’t ban them from future patronage, but he won’t accept the apologies either. “I never, ever respond. Ever,” he says. “I just let them hang.”
Most restaurant and bar staff will, however, try to prevent things from getting to that point by reminding couples headed into a restroom together that only one person is allowed in at a time. “That’s generally a preventative enough measure,” says The Passenger’s Brown. “When people do this, there’s the thrill of getting caught, but they don’t want to get caught. That’s not the fun part.”
But not everyone automatically gives up when confronted. Cashion’s Eat Place co-owner Justin Abad says he watched a couple peel off from a group one New Year’s Eve and head into the restroom together. “I knocked on the door and said, ‘I’m glad you’re having a great time, but you’re going to have to do that someplace else,’” he says. The guy opened the door and said to Abad, “You know, man, it’s New Year’s Eve. Are you sure?” Abad was sure. Meanwhile, the woman was turning beet red and trying to pull her partner away. “And he was like, ‘No, no, no. You look like a pretty cool guy,’” Abad recalls, as the man tried to bargain with him further. “I said, ‘I am a pretty cool guy, but I’m telling you, I can’t let you do that in the bathroom.’”
If they can’t keep people out in the first place, there’s the uncomfortable business of interrupting mid-act. For restaurateur and barman Todd Thrasher, the story that sticks with him most happened when he was a 26-year-old bartender working at the now-closed Café Atlántico in Penn Quarter. The restaurant used to have crazy Saturday night dance parties. One night, as he was knee-deep in making mojitos and caipirinhas, a woman told him two girls had locked themselves in the multi-stall restroom. Thrasher knocked first but didn’t hear anything, so he pushed the door open to find the women almost completely naked on the floor. “One girl was on her back. The other girl was doing what she had to do to the girl with her feet against the door,” he says. “I’m like, ‘Ladies, you really can’t be doing this here. There’s a stall right there!’”
Thrasher says they ultimately put on their clothes on and left—“with their boyfriends.”
“It’s a rush, which definitely adds to the enjoyment,” says a 32-year-old government employee, who’s had sex in a restaurant restroom once and asked to remain anonymous. She says her boyfriend used to be a bartender at Boveda and The Caucus Room at The Westin Georgetown hotel, and she and a friend attended a day-drinking event there one Sunday. “He texted me from the bathroom and he just told me to come back to the bathroom. I thought something was wrong, like maybe he got sick,” she says. Instead, he pulled her in, and they had sex. “Obviously, it’s not going to take a long time because you can’t exactly occupy the bathroom for half an hour.” And yes, those hard surfaces aren’t entirely comfortable. But, she says, “I’d definitely do it again.” Her only rules: It has to be clean, and don’t do it in the places you frequent a lot.
Some restaurateurs are actually accepting of this. “My feeling is, as long as they’re not shooting heroin, I’m fine with anything they do,” says Alan Popovsky, who owns Lincoln Restaurant and Teddy & The Bully Bar. He won’t necessarily interrupt unless another patron complains. “It’s usually only in the stalls, so no one really knows what’s going on. You just hear these sounds of, um, pleasure.”
In the ’90s, when Popovsky ran Adams Morgan bar Felix, which has since closed, people had sex in the restrooms every weekend, he says. At his next restaurant, Hudson, it occurred a couple times a month. Now with Teddy and Lincoln, “I don’t think that there’s much of that going on…Occasionally, you’ll get it.” But Popovsky says he thinks that’s more a reflection of the type of establishments he runs now rather than Washingtonians becoming more prude.
Popovsky has found that unisex single-occupancy restrooms—and handicap-accessible ones in particular—tend to be the most popular hookup spots. “If you go into a restroom and you can actually lock the door behind you, that’s just an open invitation,” he says. But in the case where there’s a men’s and women’s restroom to choose from, heterosexual couples almost always go for the women’s room. “Women are much more apprehensive to go into the men’s room and have sex with a man,” Popovsky says. “Or a woman. I have seen that before too.”
Perhaps all this just helps explain why so many restaurants have such racy restroom decor these days: It’s an extension of what’s already happening in the stalls. You’ll find vintage boob posters galore at Le Diplomate and Kama Sutra-esque wallpaper at cocktail bar 2 Birds 1 Stone. At Lincoln, photos of semi-naked ladies with sledgehammers and chains hang above the urinals in the men’s room with a big sign that reads “Keep Your Tools Clean.” And at Teddy & The Bully Bar, the women’s room features sexy scenes printed on lace and lingerie.
“That could definitely entice or get everything revved up for sure,” Popovsky says of his aesthetics. “I’d like to think that we’re open-minded. The restrooms are open-minded, and they’re kind of provocative, for sure.”
But whatever shocking things hang on the walls seem no match for the brazen acts that happen in reality. A couple of years ago, a woman called up Marvin to see if the staff had found the underwear she’d left behind the night before. “If you were somewhere and you lost your underwear, I would just write that off,” says the restaurant’s spokesman Sheldon Scott. He guesses the cleaning staff probably threw it away; the woman never got her panties back.
Another couple who had sex in Marvin’s restroom on the night they first met later came back to celebrate their engagement party there. Of all the restaurants owned by restaurateurs Eric and Ian Hilton, Scott says Marvin sees the most action. “Marvin has that sexual energy to it, for sure. People come there with the intention of going home with someone new. Sometimes they just don’t quite make it home.”
But none of this really surprises Scott: “D.C., quite frankly, it’s full of freaks.”
Illustration by Robert Ullman