The Third Rail: A Bard in Every Bathroom


There are a lot of reasons to look forward to trying out a new bar, whether it’s the drinks or the likelihood that you haven’t yet dated anyone in the room. And one of the best reasons is the possibility of discovering amazing bathroom graffiti.

I don’t mean the ubiquitous tags that have crawled across walls around the world.

What I look forward to finding are the doggerel and rude humor that otherwise exist only in the minds of adolescent boys, evidence that the need to joke is still one of mankind’s strongest urges (though in the bathroom, maybe it’s only number three on that list). My interest probably stemmed from growing up in a house that had collections of bathroom graffiti on the bookshelves (obviously, my parents were intellectuals).

But recently, I’ve been disappointed to find pristine stalls in most bar bathrooms. Are our amateur humorists all moved a new venue? Has the Internet satisfied our interest in dirty limericks and dick jokes?

Thankfully, no. Instead, the Internet now serves as a repository of great bathroom graffiti. Sites like the Bathroom Line, a hilarious Flickr photo pool, the Bathroom Graffiti project, and the fake advice column Ask a Urinal all offer proof that people are still philosophizing during moments of private contemplation.

The most complete collection can be found at The Writings on the Stall, which draws not just on bars but colleges, restaurants, and strip clubs. Evidently, the wit usually matches the setting, such as this entry from the men’s room of the Hastings College Music Building in Nebraska:

Written on tank next to handle: Please wiggle Handel Written below it: If I do, will it wiggle Bach?

Har har har. It’s good to know you can find nerds everywhere. And thanks to Web sites like these I can rest assured that versions of the classic line “Why are you looking up here? The joke is in your hand” will be found above urinals forever.

But bar patrons need to step it up. We can’t leave the graffiti to junior high school students alone. I recently visited The Gibson, a terrific new bar in Washington, D.C. that serves up vintage cocktails like the Martinez (Old Tom Gin, Maraschino Liqueur, Sweet Vermouth, Bitters) and the Blue Blazer (don’t try it at home: preparation involves tossing flaming whiskey back and forth between two silver cups).

The Gibson’s exactly the type of bar that cocktail quaffers flock to for drinks from an earlier time in American history. Still, there’s one thing missing from the ambience: equally classic bathroom graffiti. Those bathroom walls were blank when I went there. With any luck, the next time I stop by I’ll find something old-fashioned — perhaps “Lincoln has a beard. Her name is Mary Todd”— scrawled above the toilet seat.