The Most Interesting Places To Go in Pittsburgh: Let’s celebrate our outstanding restrooms.

OK. Let’s say you’re somewhere you’ve never been before, and nature calls, and you discreetly ask where the restroom is, and you open the door to find really unusual or old or classy facilities. Who doesn’t love to be surprised by vintage plumbing and fixtures? Or maybe you find a modern and unexpected twist on traditional amenities. (The one-way mirror over the urinals in the new Jerome Bettis Grille 36 on the North Shore allows men to peer into the barroom as they pee.)

Whenever talk turns to great restrooms around here, I always think of the stately facilities in the old “castle” in Wilmerding, the building that George Westinghouse built as the headquarters of Westinghouse Air Brake and where he kept his personal office for many years. The George Westinghouse Museum used to be there, too; (it’s since become part of the Heinz History Center in the Strip). I first went to the men’s room there when we were shooting our program called “Pittsburgh A to Z” because we said “W” was for Westinghouse in Wilmerding. And like some sort of crackpot, I took several photos of the old restroom.

It’s on the first floor. There’s a line of beautiful old pedestal sinks. The marble stalls still have oak doors and antique hardware. Big old-style porcelain vase-like urinals rise up from the floor. It’s like a time machine. Did George Westinghouse himself pause here? Probably.

There obviously are lots of such memorable men’s and ladies’ rooms around this area. And I think we ought to point out a few at various times right here on this back page. Maybe you know one or two. Maybe you have a favorite. Either way, please send me an e-mail at reallycoolrestrooms@wqed.org because I’m starting a list. And we’ll continue celebrating some of these places sporadically.

Actually, although we didn’t shoot any video of the Westinghouse men’s room, over the years we’ve included several bathroom stories in our TV documentaries. In 2007’s “Underground Pittsburgh,” we highlighted a Pittsburgh potty (one of those out-in-the-open toilets you often find in old basements around here) on the South Side. And in our 1992 program titled “Downtown Pittsburgh,” we went up in the Frick Building to see Henry Clay Frick’s snazzy private restroom (with shower!) In our 2004 PBS production called “A Program About Unusual Buildings,” we included views of the bathrooms in the Shoe House in York, Pa., as well as those in each of the tepees at the Wigwam Village Motel in Cave City, Ky. In “North Side Story” back in 1997, when people still used such things, we showed the only pay phone at Max’s Allegheny Tavern. It was in the men’s room, and everybody used it.

Such odd but necessary places are worth recognizing and noting. Over the coming months, we’ll try to share some of this information. We’ll all learn new places to go in western Pennsylvania, home of the original Fort Necessity, inspiration for countless bathroom jokes since 1754. 

Categories: Rick Sebak