Mul Yam
The commode of Mul Yam, the den of divine sea food. Photo by Daniel Tchetchik
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Emil Salman
The dimly lit restroom at Arcadia in Jerusalem. Photo by Emil Salman

My mission was clear: Don't be shy and definitely do not hold it in. Go to some of Israel's poshest restaurants, where the food is sophisticated and the service attentive, and visit their restrooms. Without identifying yourself, without warning, like a regular customer at peak times. Sit down, close your eyes in the lush dim light, do your business, document, and flush. Check out the men’s room and the restroom for the handicapped as well. Wash your hands and then leave. Never look back.

Restaurant reviewers of bygone days wouldn't have dreamed of publishing a review without a visit to the establishment's restrooms, with toilets rated alongside taste. As restaurant loos were carefully removed and better-designed, though, this tradition was, for the most part, given the flush.

Like Mark Renton in “Trainspotting,” I fantasized about a luxurious, roomy stall with pristine white marble, cleverly-designed golden faucets, a chest of drawers filled with Chanel No. 5 and an attendant who would hand me sheets of soft toilet paper.

Heading into the water closet, was I opening up a can of germs?

I dealt with the situation as it was, held my nose and jumped in. I found stalls that were small, hot and dark, toilets surrounded by puddles of water, smelling of overuse and a surprising shortage of restrooms for handicapped people.

Restaurant owners like to boast that their powder rooms are scrubbed every 15 minutes, and insist that they do everything in their power to keep them clean. Are their efforts paying off? And do the well-heeled diners who frequent these spots allow themselves to litter because they know that someone will clean up after them?

Mul Yam
(Hangar 24, Tel Aviv Port)

Mul Yam is arguably Israel's most expensive, extravagant and elegant restaurant. But in this den of divine sea food, how is the humble commode?
The restroom consists of two well-lit, pleasant-looking stalls that are not marked for either gender. Each had a hook for handbags. Near the toilet was a bottle of liquid scent called “Mysterious Vanilla” or “Romantic Patchouli,” and a spray bottle of musk-scented air freshener. Two additional rolls of toilet paper were placed in an aluminum rack decorated with fish. The silver-colored trash can was closed and empty, and there was a black toilet brush that looked hi-tech.

Each stall has its own sink, a full-length mirror and a wide mirror, above which are a white light and two white candles. When I was there, the container that held pink soap in one of the stalls was almost empty. But everything else was readily accessible – rolls of cloth towels were arranged elegantly on the wall and thick wipes were offered on an ornate tray. The floor tiles were designed to look like stream pebbles and the sink, broad and white, had real stream pebbles inside. In addition, the restroom had an electrical outlet and a fan. Everything was almost perfect except for one rebellious strand of hair on top of the toilet in the first stall and a raised, wet seat in the second.

Shalom Maharovsky, Mul Yam's owner, said, “The restaurant and the restrooms were designed by Peri Davidovich Architects in Tel Aviv. I believe that we were among the first restaurants to offer unisex restrooms … We invested in a separate air-conditioning unit for the restroom area so that the odor from there would not mix with the air of the restaurant.”

I told him about the wet toilet seat and the errant hair in the stall.

“I’m bald, so the hair is not mine," he said. "I’d rather not say what is not mine in the other stall.”

Messa
(19 Ha’arba’a Street, Tel Aviv)

On a Sunday night at 9:30 p.m., Messa is packed with a swarm of tall, skinny models pushing their high-priced nibbles around on the plate.

The women’s restroom is impressive, with black marble walls, four stalls and a strong smell of air purifier. The glass doors of the stalls are opaque and clean. Blue toilet soap is tucked away inside the toilet bowls. There was toilet paper floating in one of the toilets and torn pieces of toilet paper on the seat, and the trash can was full. The condition of the rest was not bad at all.

In the main part of the restroom is a sink that is high, white and round. It has three faucets and two containers of high-quality liquid soap. Clean, washable towels are rolled up above the empty basket. Two full-length mirrors face each other, enabling us to see what God gave us from all directions. Every few moments, an electronic spray disperses scent into the air. In one corner of the restroom is a black-and-white photograph the size of the mirror. The black marble creates a luxurious, high-end effect.

The men’s room has a separate entrance inside the restaurant. Because it was full, I did not dare check it out.

Yuval Vaisid, the restaurant manager, says his restrooms are cleaned every fifteen minutes during meal times, and get a more thorough scrub-down twice a day.

Mona
(12 Shmuel Hanagid Street, Jerusalem)

On a Friday evening during the week of the Jerusalem Film Festival, Mona is packed. There is a line of hungry diners at the entrance, but when I push my way through and make it inside, the restaurants appear clean.

It is hot in there, though, and the door handles on both stalls come apart from the wooden doors. The toilet brush is worn out and the floor is slightly wet. There are no hooks for my handbag. In one stall, the seat is up. I lower it so that nobody will fall in. In the other stall, the trash can is full.

In the sink area, there are artificial flowers, pink liquid soap and a newspaper stand with colorful women’s magazines. In addition to the wide mirror, there is also a lit face mirror. Here, too, there are white cloth towels for drying hands. The laundry basket is empty. Beside it is an electric hand dryer made in Asia.

Now for the men’s room. In the first stall, the doorknob stuck a bit, and there was a strange smell. There was a puddle on the floor of the second stall that I hoped was water. The sink area had everything that the women’s restroom did, except for the women’s magazines.

Asaf Granit, one of the owners, says the shift manager inspects the restrooms every half hour and the bathrooms are checked, stocked and re-scented at the start of every shift. There is a handicapped-equipped restroom in the building, but not in the restaurant itself.

Yakimono
(19 Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Aviv)

Sunday is the start of the workweek in Israel, and at 2:30 p.m. on a recent Sunday, Tel Aviv's sushi hotspot is packed with hungry businesspeople. Hopefully none of them needed the facilities too urgently, because to find the restroom, a diner must turn right, away from the dining area, then snake right and left through a labyrinth.

The women’s restroom could easily be found in an upscale office building. It has three sharp-looking stalls outfitted with black doors. Inside there are hooks, a stocked toilet-paper holder, a functioning lock and a clean trash can.

The central area is flooded with natural light and boasts a pile of clean white towels and a vase of dried flowers.

After biding my time over a bowl of miso soup, I slipped into the men's room, which was appointed just as nicely.

Herbert Samuel
(6 Kaufman Street, Tel Aviv)

Herbert Samuel, from star chef Yonatan Roshfeld, overlooks Tel Aviv's beachfront promenade. You have to trek up a flight of stairs to get to the restaurant, and if nature calls once you're there, you have to go down a flight to reach the restroom. And save your strength: The restroom doors are so heavy you have to throw your weight at them to get them to open.

The ladies' room is clean, the trash cans empty and the toilet paper stocked. The air is floral-scented and the lighting is a cool pale orange. Soft music plays from a visible speaker.

In the central space between the men’s and women’s restrooms are two impressive-looking full-length mirrors lit from within. The candles on the counter are lit, and the area is filled with potted plants, soaps and white cloth towels. Underneath the towels are three empty towel baskets and more scent machines.

An intrepid male friend reported that the men's room was also spotless and scented with a great, non-irritating fragrance. There are handicapped-equipped restaurants on the ground floor of the building.

Guy Bliss, the restaurant's manager, says that his pristine powder rooms are the result of a NIS 100,000 investment, and that his staff scrubs them down every 20 minutes.

Arcadia
(10 Agrippas Street, Jerusalem)

It's nearly 8 p.m. on a Friday night, which is an excellent time for dinner. Arcadia's cook, who is watering the restaurant’s organic garden, pushes a button, which opens the gate in a secret alleyway off Agrippas Street, and I walk into one of the oldest and fanciest restaurants in the country.

In the women’s restroom, the stall is fairly small and lit with a bright, focused light. There is a souvenir left over from the previous visitor: A piece of toilet paper that has not been flushed down. An empty roll of toilet paper is near the wall, and another roll, a full one, is above the toilet-paper holder. On the sink is a potted kitchen herb, and the ceramic plate beneath it covers the hole in the sink. Nearby is a wet fly that has evidently lost its way. As I wash my hands, I wash it down the drain, to its rightful place in the capital’s sewer system. Another fly, live and healthy, large and irritable, is attracted to the light above and to me. It buzzes above, perhaps in mourning.

The men’s restroom has fewer signs of life, only a single clod of earth underneath the potted plant and a strand of hair on the toilet.

The common area for men and women is spacious and dim. A wide mirror covers almost the entire wall, and there are chairs to rest on. Around the sink are three lit candles, an arrangement of dried flowers and a floral fragrance. There are pink liquid soap and white cloth towels.

When I go back down to the restroom area, I see that they have been cleaned in the half-hour since I was last there, and now everything gleams.

Chef and owner Ezra Kedem says the restaurant does not have a handicapped-accessible restroom, but there restaurant across the way does, which the two establishments happily share.

"When a handicapped person comes here, we take him there," he says.

Rafael
(87 Hayarkon Street, Tel Aviv)

The gleaming restrooms at this French/Mediterranean eatery are located at the far end of the restaurant, facing the dim space of the adjacent Hamara Bar. The women’s restroom has four stalls that are designed as the natural continuation of the restaurant’s central space – pleasant and well-lit. There is an abundance of mirrors. The soap holders are sunk into the counter, and there are many rolled-up cloth towels available for drying hands. The restroom has pleasant lighting, soft music and ventilation.

In the stalls I found dim light, a holder supplying disposable toilet-seat covers and empty trash cans. The toilets were clean.

There is a stall for handicapped people in the women’s restroom, but a sign said it was out of order. I took a peek, though, and it looked just fine.

Putting all other cleaning marathons to shame, restaurant owner Rafi Cohen says his commodes are inspected every five minutes and he has two cleaning women on staff, dressed in bowties, whose sole responsible is keeping the toilets gleaming.