This post was written by Gideon Brower and made possible by KCRW’s Independent Producer Project
A restaurant serving food in miniature urinals and toilet bowls to patrons seated on toilets sounds like something you’d see in a comedy sketch, or a nightmare. It does not sound like a commercial venture in which people would invest real money. So it’s not till you’re actually perched on a toilet lid, plucking Chinese food from a small porcelain commode with chopsticks, that you fully accept the fact that here, on the second floor of a shopping mall deep in the San Gabriel Valley, someone has realized the most disgusting concept in dining since the ancient Roman vomitorium. And yet, on the first day the restaurant was officially open for business, it was packed.
The Magic Restroom Café claims to be the first bathroom-themed restaurant in the U.S., though a similar concept has been successful in Taiwan and elsewhere in Asia. The place seats about 60, on banquettes and carefully placed non-functional toilets. Another row of commodes offers patrons a place to squat while they wait for a table. On opening day, the Magic Restroom was filled with a mix of English and Chinese speakers, most of them more focused on taking pictures than eating. TV crews were filming there, too; the place is made to order for the kooky final segment on the local news.
What’s on the menu? The Magic Restroom offers standard Taiwanese café fare: curry and rice dishes, ice cream desserts and flavored teas. Many items are served in miniature toilet bowls, or in little squat toilets that may look more like urinals to American diners. Chinese speakers will find an extra dose of gross on the menu: a patron on a neighboring commode told me that “chocolate ice cream” is listed as “black poo toilet ice cream” in Chinese, and other items are similarly named.
What’s it like to eat curry out of a replica toilet? As bad as it sounds, I can tell you that the reality is far worse. Do you start to tune out the crockery and décor as you eat? No, you don’t. Finishing the meal doesn’t help, as the smeared remains lurking in your bowl may be the most stomach-turning sight of all. But not everyone feels so strongly. The couple next to me cheerfully slurping noodles from their mini-toilets rated the food as decent, and in fact, my curry tasted fine. It’s just that the waves of nausea made it hard to appreciate the cuisine.
If you’re thinking of visiting the Magic Restroom Café, anticipate a crowd of curious diners, at least for now. And the real, functioning men’s and women’s bathrooms are surprisingly conventional, with just one toilet stall in each. Which means you may have to wait for the restroom, at the Magic Restroom Café.