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April 21, 2009

A Pissoir by Any Other Name

The Urilift emerges.

by Clive Irving

The Global Gourmet served his apprenticeship in the art of eating and drinking in the Paris of the early 1950s. Only six or seven years after World War II, family-run restaurants were numerous, cheap, and devoted to classic French cooking. Six- or seven-course dinners, with several bottles of good wine, were normal. Something else also seemed integral to the city's nocturnal amenities--the pissoir. Facing a long ride home on the Métro, many a replete gourmand found relief in these street urinals, which were part of the urban iconography along with magazine-vending kiosks and the Art Deco subway stations.

Now, like the cheap restaurants, the pissoir has become a scarce relic of less-sophisticated times. So it was with some surprise that the Global Gourmet discovered that the pissoir has been reincarnated in a new, high-tech form called, mysteriously, the Urilift.

Strolling through Smithfield, London's still fully functioning meatpacking district, he encountered a small excavation in progress. A sign announced the imminent arrival of a Urilift. Further research revealed this to be a retractable street urinal. It rises from a cavity at night and retracts at dawn, leaving no trace except a circular panel embedded in the pavement.

The Urilift, say its makers, "is the underground solution to indiscriminate urination." Smithfield, like the old Les Halles district of Paris, is a nexus of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. In other words, a serious challenge to peripatetic (and indiscriminate) bladders. The Urilift can accommodate three patrons at a time, and in the case of "people who may have trouble with their co-ordination" is generous in its drainage and hygienic in its disposal methods.

The name is awful, isn't it?  Given the technology, it should be renamed the iPissoir. For a complete account of the device's rationale and gifts, go to and watch the video.  No kidding. 

Further reading:
* The Global Gourmet on London's Modern Pantry
* Clive explores the unique chemistry of Europe's most innovative architecture ("The Fame In Spain," January 2008)


I think this is brilliant! New York could use a few of these, though I guess there'd be nowhere to sink them.

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