Although this isn't a title for which there is too much competition, the public bathroom in Brighton Beach run by Hazel Chatman wins the prize for most beautiful public bathroom in Brooklyn. I wish more places were in the running actually, because most public bathrooms are nasty. Really. Just nasty. When you can even find them, which is a whole other problem.
The New York Times has a profile of Ms. Chatman and Public Comfort Station #2 which is located just off the boardwalk in Brighton Beach. Ms. Chatman has been the primary caretaker of this public restroom for 16 years and, as she tells the Times, it was not a job that she wanted to take. She had originally worked with the Parks Department outside, cleaning up Brighton Beach and spending her days in the sun and the sand. When she was re-assigned to Comfort Station #2, she made the best of a bad situation and decided that, "if she had to spend her workweek inside a bathroom, it was certainly not going to look like a typical public restroom."
Ms. Chatman told the Times, "I put my house here. I make it nice. I have some incentive to come to work.”
A trip to a NYC public bathroom is always an experience to be treated with the utmost amount of caution. A gallon or two of hand-sanitizer doesn't hurt either. Public bathrooms at the beach tend to be even worse than in other locations because there is the addition of sand, wet and muddy and clotted on the floor. I will only say that coming into the public restroom in Coney Island, eyes slowly adjusting from the full force of the summer sun, is an experience that is not for the faint of heart. Or for those with weak stomachs. The smells! Oh, the smells.
But in Brighton Beach, Ms. Chatman has done the impossible and made something of a haven for those who really need to do numbers 1, 2, or even 3. Is there a 3? If so, it is a pleasure to do it in Public Comfort Room #2. Ms. Chatman has taken the drab brown space and dressed it up with garlands of brightly colored fake flowers and swaths of pink and burgundy fabric draped under the sinks and around garbage cans. Hanging on the walls are laminated pictures of luminaries like President Obama, Whitney Houston, and Michael jackson, which are joined by tributes to people who have died on the beach. Every night, she disassembles all of her decorations and puts it back up again in the morning. This is the best way to deter the theft that has plagued her from the beginning. One year, a family of rabbits that she had in the corner of the restroom was stolen, never to be seen again.
For those who question why rabbits were in a public restroom, consider this: Coney Island, which neighbors Brighton Beach, is so named because of the fact that there used to be an abundance of rabbits running around the area. "Coney" is actually an Anglicized version of the Dutch word for rabbit, "konijn." Thus, it naturally follows, that having a family of rabbits in a restroom makes perfect sense.
So, if you go to Brighton Beach, and you need to go to the bathroom, stop by Public Comfort Room #2. You're likely to find Ms. Chatman there, making her little corner of Brooklyn better and more beautiful than it once was, and listening to Ginuwine, as she likes to do.
Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen