Malaparte, the 6th floor event space at the TIFF Bell Lightbox run by Oliver and Bonacini, has beautiful floor to ceiling mosaic tile images of what looks like a young Robert Deniro and Meryl Streep at the entrance of their washrooms–the perfect bathroom signs to reflect this cinephile's mecca.
Photos of British royalty seem to be a popular choice for bathroom signs, although the use in some restaurants make more sense than in others.
The Bishop and Belcher is a traditional English pub serving typical fare such as bangers and mash, fish and chips, liver, bacon and onions, and even Indian curries, which is what you actually find in London pubs. Therefore having a portrait of King Edward VII as the male bathroom sign and one of Queen Elizabeth II as the female sign seems completely apropos.
On the other hand, the most British things about the Queen Mother Café are its name and its bathroom signs that depict King George VI and his wife, the Queen Mother, Elizabeth Duchess of York, and not its menu, which is more Asian fusion.
The restaurant which you would think definitely should have portraits of British royalty as its bathroom signs is the Queen and Beaver, whose walls are filled with images of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II. But for some inexplicable reason, the bathroom signs are merely the letters "M" for male and "L" for "ladies", abeit very stylish letters covered with sleek, red leather. At least the mens' urinal has a sense of fun and whimsy.
The hippyish, slightly irreverent terms of "dudes" and "chicks" on the washrooms of The Fuzz Box seem a bit out of place for a vendor of Nova Scotia styled donairs. I would expect to see such signs in a dive bar rather than in a place that sports a Nova Scotian flag in its front window. But the donairs are really good, so who cares!
The Balzac's Coffee location in the Distillery District seems to always have long lineups, sometimes out the door. They have a great second floor space that displays rotating art and serve a delicious café frappé.
The chain of pubs named "Fox and Fiddle" use their bathroom signs to reemphasize the name of the establishments by using "Foxes" for the male sign and "Vixens" (which are female foxes) for the female sign. This could also remind tipsy patrons which bar they are in. Fox and Fiddle
1535 Yonge St., Toronto
27 Wellesley Ave. E, Toronto
Many other locations
The traditional, turn-of-the-century images on the bathroom signs of the French bistro La Petite France reflect its menu of traditional French cuisine such as steak frites, coq au vin, and boeuf bourguignon.
The high-end Mexican restaurant Frida is named after and inspired by Mexican artist Frida Khalo, with examples of her art decorating the walls throughout. It is therefore aptly appropriate that the bathroom signs should be two iconic self-protraits which she painted, including one where she had cut off all her hair and dressed herself like a man in a suit. While the images are more than sufficent, the signs are labelled with the Spanish terms "Hombres" for "men" and "Mujeres" for "women.
The bathroom signs at Vietnamese sandwich shop Bahn Mi Boys (the original one on Queen St), reflect the youthful, hip, manga vibe that the restaurant itself exudes. Bahn Mi Boys has elevated the traditional Vietnamese sandwich to the next level with their trendy gourmet offerings.
It's a good thing that the gender symbols on the bathroom signs for trendy brewpub C'est What are accompanied by the text denoting "Men" vs "Women" since I always get those symbols mixed up. In a recent survey of local pubs, C'est What was one of the few found to pour an full 20oz pint of beer.
The bathroom indicators at Bymark were a challenge to photograph because they were large figures painted down the entire length of the washroom doors, situated down a narrow hallway where you could not get far enough back to get the whole image in the frame. Mark McEwan's high-end "business-man's expense account" restaurant in the financial district is home to one of Toronto's most expensive burgers–the 8oz P.E.I. grass-fed burger with brie, porcini mushrooms and crispy onion rings or fries for $35!
For a long time now, I've been fascinated with the interesting and creative ways that restaurants and other establishments depict men versus women on their bathroom signs. So I've made a hobby of collecting photos of unique signs from washroom doors mostly found in my home city of Toronto, Canada, but also from my travels around the world. I've also got friends and family on the lookout for me and they often send me photos of a good "bathroom opportunity" as I like to call it. My bathroom sign photo collection spans back multiple years so unfortunately some of my best finds are now obsolete as the restaurants have since closed. But new restaurants always open, and it is like a fun treasure hunt to be on the lookout for the next great discovery.
The hobby of bathroom sign photography is more challenging and even danger-prone than one might think. Many washrooms are located in dark narrow hallways where it is difficult to get at the right angle or achieve the proper lighting for a good photo. Using flash often makes it worse since you get a big glare spot that obscures part of the photo. And you want to be quick about it or else you get weird looks from the waiters or other patrons, especially if you catch one of them coming out of the washroom as you snap the photo.
A well-thought-out set of bathroom signs not only add charm and whimsy to an establishment, but can also be used to promote the company brand. The brilliant images from the washroom doors of the Italian restaurant The Red Tomato visually reinforces the name of the restaurant, and doesn't even need words to differentiate the "men" vs "women".
I will be adding my current collection to this blog and then will continue to add more as I find them. If anyone has some cute examples that they would like me to include in my blog, please send them to email@example.com with details of what establishment and city it came from.