When Lyman’s Tavern opened in Columbia Heights in 2014, co-owner Jessica Kleinmann “just wanted something cute” in the bathrooms. So the former knitting store manager cross-stitched a sign with flowers and hearts. It read: “Please don’t do coke in the bathroom.”
At first, everyone took photos of the thing. It was a conversation piece. “But they’re not new anymore,” Kleinmann says. “It’s just part of the bathroom. No one cares anymore.”
Flash forward seven years. Suddenly, two more establishments have added similar signs and are turning them into Instagram sensations all over again. There’s another cross-stitch version at Jane Jane, the new cocktail bar on 14th Street. Meanwhile, glam Italian restaurant L’Ardente is discouraging cocaine in the bathrooms in bold neon lettering.
The sign at Jane Jane was a handmade gift from the owners’ friend, a lawyer in New York who picked up a cross-stitch hobby during the pandemic. No one thought it’d be a thing. It was a last-minute touch to add some homey kitsch to the bar’s retro-chic look. Now, though, people sometimes ask to see the restrooms even if they can’t get a seat at the bar.
“It is an ongoing joke with our architect/design team,” says co-owner JP Sabatier. “They’re like, We worked so hard to make this space so beautiful and the only thing people Instagram is the ‘Don’t do coke in the bathroom sign.’ ”
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The version at L’Ardente was only recently added because people were having trouble finding the restrooms. A deep dive on Etsy for illuminated restroom signs turned up their ice-blue neon showpiece, which seemed to fit with the overall aesthetic. “We wanted to play off the kind of 1980s Ferrari idea. We’ve got a gold-plated pizza oven which resembles a disco ball,” explains co-owner Eric Eden. “We wanted to make this space feel elegant, but we didn’t want it to be off-putting. We thought a little bit of humor like that might take the edge off the quote unquote glam we’re offering.”
Kleinmann wishes no ill will to the copycats, who, to be fair, didn’t even know they were copycats. After all, she’d bought the cross-stitch pattern off Etsy, where it turns out you can find an entire cottage industry of don’t-do-coke-in-the-bathroom signage.
Now, the real question: Is there actually an issue with people doing cocaine in restaurant and bar restrooms?
“Eh, it’s a bathroom. People are going to do things,” Kleinmann says.
Eden says a woman joked to a L’Ardente server that “I’m really sorry, but I just can’t use your restroom.” But no, the sign isn’t in response to a real problem. And even if it was, a sign won’t offer much deterrence.
“Yes, I’ve found coke bags in the bathroom, sure,” Sabatier says of Jane Jane. He jokes: “Espresso martinis and coke, it’s all coming back.”