Where are the best women's toilets in Dublin?
Hilary Fannin: Time stood still; minutes felt like hours behind that indifferent door. I was locked in the toilet
All women’s toilets are not created equal. Photograph: istock
It was hot in the beachside cafe on the first day of a long-awaited holiday. I was drinking coffee as my young sons mooched around and ate ice-pops for their breakfast.
I was watching a large, elderly woman, dressed in a spectacular green frock, wind her way through the flimsy tables to the bar, when she collapsed, slumping on to the sand like a felled Christmas tree.
I jumped out of my seat to help her, my sons looking on with excited astonishment. Hauling her off the sand, in the almost empty cafe, I realised that she was drunk.
“Leave me alone,” she hissed as one of the waiters helped me to get her into a chair. “Get back to your children and leave me alone.” Her accent was unmistakably Irish.
Fast-forward a decade or two and I am walking down a Dublin street with a friend and colleague, and I badly need to pee
I did as she said, while she placed her order with the hovering barman.
My kids wanted to swim, which was fine by me. I needed a minute first, though, to go to the loo.
The toilet was in a prefabricated hut a stone’s throw from the bar. I locked the door. The place stank; the overflowing bin looked like it hadn’t been cleared since the night before. I squatted over the stained bowl and then, having washed my hands at the grim sink, I went to open the door.
Stuck. Jammed. No give. Nothing. I looked up; there was no gap above the toilet door. I was in a sealed box.
I called out, rattling the unyielding handle, then throwing my shoulder against the door, my heart pounding. The smell. The flies. The heat.
Outside my children were alone on the almost empty beach on this, the most remote bit of the island I could find on the tourist map, inhabited solely, it seemed, by the disquieting dame in the glittering dress.
Banging on the walls
Time stood still; minutes felt like hours behind the indifferent swollen door. Finally I heard my sons looking for me; I called out to them, banging on the walls.
They alerted the waiter, who, entirely unsurprised by my predicament, came to jimmy open the door with a bread knife.
I fell out of that mephitic box. The sea was glistening, the witchy old dame snoozing on the sand in her party dress. I’d been locked in the lavatory. Hey-hum. It was over. Except it wasn’t. It was the start of an ongoing toilet distrust, a watchfulness about bog-standard bogs.
In this luxury category my mate nominated the ladies’ room in the Westbury Hotel
Fast-forward a decade or two and I am walking down a Dublin street with a friend and colleague, and I badly need to pee. We’d just been at a book launch in a bookshop where there’d been a surfeit of liquid refreshments but no toilet.
“Go in there,” my friend suggested, hopping around in her elegant, if uncomfortable, yellow high-heeled bootees and pointing me towards a cafe on the corner.
“Nope,” I scoffed. “No sirree.”
I’d tried out that loo once before, and it was in a basement, fathoms deep beneath the ground-floor cafe, where, in the event of an accidental lock-in, no one could hear your cries. Worse still, there was no gap between the door and the ceiling in that particular public convenience. It was yet another dreaded toilet-tomb.
“It’s all right,” I told her, girding my loins. “If I go down there I may never get back, and I don’t fancy being excavated from that particular pit during the next shagging ice age.”
And so began a spirited, if not entirely comprehensive, conversation about our favourite lavatories in Dublin city, which continued as we slowly wound our way through Trinity College on that balmy evening, the historic facades sighing at the asininity of it all.
We discussed various establishments in the city we both live in, where, once you’ve successfully scooted past the doorman by vaguely pretending you’re looking for someone, the sanitary facilities include face cloths, hand creams and big, kind, unchallenging, dimly lit mirrors. In this luxury category my mate nominated the ladies’ room in the Westbury Hotel, which has all of the above.
My vote, though, if you’re caught short in the city centre, goes to the National Library on Kildare Street, home to the loveliest ladies’ room in the capital. (Mind you, you’ll have to hop up and down first for the privilege while they make you up your laminated reader’s ticket.)
Light, spacious, old and glassy, and offering a seating area replete with dignified old sofa and armchairs, it’s a survivor from bygone days of gentle reposes and well-powdered noses.