by Owen Morris
BY OWEN MORRIS
Whoever coined the term "pissing away money" would have felt right at home in the bathroom of Teller's, the upscale Lawrence restaurant. Long before it was Teller's, the building was known as the The First National Bank of Lawrence and like most banks of the era, it had a sizable vault.
Nearly forty years ago the bank moved two blocks to Ninth and Massachusetts, leaving the building and vault empty. The building was occupied by various organizations until the Overland Pizza Company turned into the Italian restaurant now known as Teller's in 1992. The bank vault became the bathroom.
The heavy two-foot thick stainless steel door that used to guard the bank safe is still attached (permanently bolted open) and serves as the main reminder of what the space was originally used for. Patrons can see the safe door's inner-workings, which include a maze of heavy wires, bolts and four small timing clocks. The door and original vault was designed by the Mosler Safe Company, the premier vault company during the first half of the twentieth century. When it wasn't building missile silos for the Manhattan Project, the Mosler Company built some of the world's finest safes, boasting that they were one of the few items to survive direct nuclear blasts in Hiroshima.
Though the door has been left in place, the rest of the vault has been redesigned to make it workable for a high-traffic restaurant like Teller's. The waiting area for the restrooms is immediately inside the vault. It's difficult to get a sense of what the original vault looked like but the low ceilings and acoustics give the waiting area a claustrophobic feel that highly contrasts the airy spaces and high ceilings in the rest of the restaurant. As for the restrooms themselves: Sadly, the men's bathroom looks in every way like a generic restaurant restroom, complete with a fake plant in the corner.
Besides being hidden behind a vault door, the restrooms are also located right next to the open-area kitchen in the middle of the restaurant. As the maître d' explained to me, it's not uncommon for first-time guests to walk straight into the kitchen floor looking for the bathroom. The reason she was explaining this to me was because I had done that very thing. The kitchen staff didn't even blink.
"Oh, that bank-vault door," I said as she kindly pointed it out to me.