Wanted: Clean Campustown bathrooms for patrons

Tim Paluch

It’s a Tuesday night at Mojazz, 2520 Lincoln Way. It’s still early, only 8:45 p.m., and the bar’s empty except for two bartenders. One’s playing pool; the other’s behind the bar tidying up.

A visit to the men’s bathroom upstairs yields a surprise. Missing are soap, toilet paper, paper towels and an automated hand dryer. There’s not even a dispenser. The doorknob is broken, making it impossible to complete one’s duties in a private manner. And as for the toilet seat . well, there isn’t one.

The men’s bathroom downstairs fares no better. Again, no toilet seat. No soap. No toilet paper or paper towels or automated hand dryer. And crawling in the sink are about a dozen sewer flies.

If the men’s bathrooms are bad, the women’s are unusable. Sure, there’s a toilet seat in the upstairs bathroom. But there’s no toilet paper. And downstairs, there’s toilet paper, but no toilet seat. Neither have soap. Neither have paper towels. Neither have a trash can.

Kevin Anderson, Ames city sanitarian, is responsible for inspecting bars in Ames. He inspects every place in Ames that distributes food. “Food,” according to Iowa Code 137F.1, “means a raw, cooked, or processed edible substance, ice, a beverage, an ingredient used or intended for use or sale in whole or in part for human consumption, or chewing gum.”

Bars, therefore, fall under Anderson’s jurisdiction.

Anderson says he does his inspections twice a year – once during the first six months of the year and once during the second six months. He normally does the unscheduled inspections – including the bars – before 5 p.m.

If, in between the six-month period, there is a complaint filed about an establishment, he will check that out as soon as possible.

“No matter how minuscule or insignificant it is, I always follow it up,” he says.

If the establishment is in bad enough shape during Anderson’s inspection, it will be shut down on the spot. “But it would be pretty hard for a bar to get closed down like that,” he says. “There’s just not as many places for violations.”

A bathroom must have a working toilet and a supply of hand-cleaning liquid, powder or bar soap, according to the U.S. Food Code. Each bathroom must also have either individual, disposable towels, a continuous towel system that supplies the user with a clean towel, or a heated-air hand drying device.

Since minor violations – such as the lack of soap, toilet paper or paper towels – do not constitute “critical violations,” which warrant follow-up inspections, most minor problems are just written up on the inspection report. Anderson describes critical violations as violations that could potentially allow someone to get sick.

The bar management is then advised to fix the problems, although the next inspection won’t likely happen until the following six-month period.

Iowa does not have a process for fines, which Anderson says the state has never been receptive to. Therefore, a bar with a hefty number of minor violations not only will not get shut down, it will not likely get a follow-up inspection and will not be fined.

It’s hard for a bar to get a critical violation because of a bathroom problem, Anderson says. If there’s no hot or cold running water, that’s a critical violation. If there’s a problem with toilets not working or sewage problems, that’s a critical violation. Lack of soap, paper towels, toilet paper or a toilet seat would be considered minor, he says.

It is rare for a bar to receive a critical violation during an inspection. Even rarer is receiving one regarding the bathroom.

Of Campustown bars, there have been only three critical violations concerning bathrooms in the past three inspections.

During an April 12, 2000, inspection, Paddy’s, 124 Welch Ave., received a critical violation for not providing hot water to one of their bathrooms. Mojazz, on May 10, 2001, received a critical violation for not providing hot water to their basement bathrooms. And at Dean’s List (now called Big Shots), an October 23, 2000, inspection found no working toilet upstairs.

However, most bars in Campustown have been written up for minor bathroom violations.

For example, Anderson’s April 30, 2001, inspection report of People’s Bar and Grill, 2428 Lincoln Way, included the statement “[Bathrooms] need good cleaning.” Welch Ave. Station, 207 Welch Ave., doesn’t have a single minor or critical violation regarding their bathrooms in the last three inspections.

“Well cleanliness overall is highly important,” says Mike Adams, manager of Welch Ave. Station. “But bathrooms tend to stick out in people’s minds, so we want them smelling and looking good.”

No matter the time of night, no matter how busy the bar gets, Adams says there are always routine checks to make sure the bathrooms are up to par. He says they take care of any problems immediately, “especially the toilet paper.”

At Lumpy’s, 2428 Lincoln Way, a pattern of repeat offenses occurred. At both the October 2, 2000, and April 30, 2001, inspections, the bar received minor violations for broken power vents in restrooms, failure to provide soap and towels and not having self-closing doors in the men’s bathroom.

Anderson says if a minor violation is non-critical, it’s supposed to be fixed by the next inspection.

“If it continues, follow-ups can be warranted,” he says. “But there really isn’t any reprimand at any point. We can threaten to take their license away, but that’s hard to do without the critical violations, which the inspections focus on.”

Bar owners say they take the inspections seriously, despite a lack of a clear incentive to correct minor violations.

“You’ll have some stuff you have to do,” says Luke Furnas, owner of Big Shots. He says he occasionally hears complaints about the bathrooms in his establishment, but they’re the only part of the bar not remodeled yet. He says they are cleaned every day and many times during the night.

To Mojazz owner Dwight Rivera, keeping up with a dirty bathroom can become futile.

“On a night with 150 people here, within five or 10 minutes the bathrooms get dirty, especially the guys’,” he says.

Sometimes Rivera won’t even supply the necessary items in the bathrooms on purpose, because of what all the “drunks” do to the bathrooms. He says the toilet paper and paper towels clog up the toilets, which can cause a big mess. And if there’s a fresh supply of soap, it will be broken anyway.

Rivera does say the bathrooms are cleaned as soon as the bar closes. And as far as the inspection reports, he says he will try to fix whatever is written up on a weekly basis.

“We try to put forth a good effort and [inspectors] understand that,” he says. “They know how it gets in here, especially with the drunken students.”