So sue me: I’ve covered more than my fair share of public restrooms on this blog. To the best of my recollection, I’ve only featured the restrooms themselves; not the patrons. If there were ever a hint of another person lurking within the frame captured by my camera’s lens, I’d be a total creeper. But these restroom pics are free of humans and will remain so. Besides, at least half the time, it’s the doorways that are the source of interest and amusement. Restaurants and hotels in particular like to get creative with their door decorations as well as creative diction for capturing “males” and “females”. That’s precisely the case with this eatery, but it’s not about the language used; it’s how the Asian imagery signifies the culture that the establishment apparently embraces.
So it’s the women’s restroom; that much is obvious. For those who can’t grasp the subtlety of a female depiction on the door to a women’s restroom, a more conventional sign is barely visible on the upper-right corner of the photo. Needless to say, the male counterpart has a bloke on the door.
Each restroom features a painting of what I can only guess represents 19th century Asian art. Not being remotely an expert on the subject, and the newish “Look Up” feature on my iPhone totally drawing a blank, I must speculate what the imagery evokes. It might be a cheap imitation or a mishmash of styles, so I’m not going to waste my time diving too deeply. Most people who see such signage can at least draw the conclusion that it is Asian, since these sort of tableaus are common in Chinese and Japanese restaurants.
But pivoting away from the two restroom doors reveals something else.
The corrugated tin wall doesn’t exactly suggest the Meiji era. But then, of course, neither does the painting of a fisherman with wide-rimmed hat, and his bait-and-tackle box floating beside his left elbow. Yet that image may really be more in keeping with the spirit of the restaurant. Stepping back a few more feet, the hall leading to the restroom entrance continues the nautical spirit, but not one that seems particularly Asian.
The name is partly cut off (which I had to do to avoid getting some people within the photo’s frame), but it’s there at the back of the hall. This is a location of Hook and Reel, a Cajun seafood place best known for delivering large volumes of boiled seafood with the signature spice. (And, of course, the preferred Cajun sides of corn on the cob, potatoes, and maybe some Andouille sausage.) The restaurant probably warrants little further explanation; it’s not that obscure. Quite common in the Mid Atlantic states, it stretches up to New England, continues across the South and is fairly common in Texas, and has even ventured into some pescaphobic territory like much of the Midwest.
Hook and Reel appears to be an emergent chain. And in this particular location, they use Asian imagery to decorate their restrooms. Or did they? The location sits in the growing, mid-sized Woodmore Towne Centre, in suburban Prince George’s County, about four miles from the Washington DC boundary. The Towne Centre, anchored by a Wegman’s, Best Buy, Nordstrom Rack, and Costco, opened in 2010. Hook and Reel isn’t new; archived photos suggest that this location opened in 2016. But there can be no question that some sort of Asian restaurant preceded it, and the new tenants decided not to change out the Asian imagery on the restroom doors.
Nothing deep or problematic about this decision; it rates about a 3 out of 10 on the amuse-o-meter. Ethnic eateries routinely deploy this tactic: a Mexican restaurant might have a gaucho on the door for caballeros and a colorful huipil for the damas. But, aside from a shared affection for seafood, there’s little about Cajun culture that evokes Japan. I will concede that South Louisiana has a higher-than-average contingent of Vietnamese refugees and their descendants, but I really don’t think that’s the message this Asian imagery is trying to convey. Either the owners of Hook and Reel got lazy, or they just liked the art enough. Either way, it reveals that the evocation of culture was less important to the owners than the male/female binary. But, when it comes to an establishment that offers restroom stalls (instead of single-use options), that usually is the case, isn’t it?