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Chicago museum wins America's Best Restroom contest

October 21, 2011 |  6:00 am

  Field Museum bathroom.

Was it the domed ceilings evoking calming blue skies, the drip-resistant hot-air hand dryers, or the teeny, tiny toilets for tots that put the Field Museum's public restrooms on top? Actually, it was all those things and more, judges said Thursday as they named the Chicago attraction's ground-floor toilets the best in the country.

The restrooms beat out nine other finalists in the 10th annual America's Best Restroom competition, a creation of the Cincinnati-based Cintas Corp., which makes restroom supplies. Each finalist had its special features, including the king of portable toilets: a "regal restroom trailer" that was outfitted to service President Obama and his entourage during the 2009 inauguration. Others offered Italian-style frescoes, toilets with seat-warmers, outdoor showers and lavish artwork.

But what set the Field Museum's men's and women's restrooms apart were their family-oriented features, which range from a nursing room and sofa for mothers; a nanny caddy filled with diapers, wipes and other supplies; and of course those tiny toilets. Judges also noted that the restrooms are cleaned every hour, the better to serve the museum's 3,500 daily visitors.

Finalists were announced in August, and voters went online to select the winner.

The museum, whose current exhibits include one on chocolate and another on Tyrannosaurus rex, is now vaulted into the America's Best Restroom Hall of Fame, alongside such luminaries as the Hermitage Hotel in Nashville, Tenn., and Jungle Jim's International Market in Fairfield, Ohio.

The Field Museum's vice president of finance, Jim Croft, said in a statement that the museum was honored by the award.

"Host to over 1.3 million visitors each year, the museum strives to give visitors the best service and exhibitions; we also feel this about the amenities and we are pleased to offer our guests these unique restrooms," Croft said.

Cintas' senior marketing manager, John Engel, said judges scrutinized the competing restrooms' hygiene, style, public accessibility and usability.

The contest sends the message that "hygiene matters -- for good health and good business," said Engel, noting that "tens of thousands" of people went online to choose each year's big winner. Read more about past contests in this Los Angeles Times story on the event.

Second place went to the Renaissance Arlington Capital View Hotel in Virginia, cited for its creative use of color. When you turn on the hot water, it flows red. When you turn on the cold water, it flows blue.

-- Tina Susman


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Photo: Eco-friendly automated faucets are featured in the sink at Chicago's Field Museum. Credit: Alex Garcia / Chicago Tribune