Robert Stolarik for The New York Times Lorenzo Robinson, a bathroom attendant at â21,â in a 2004 photograph.
As soon as Tip OâNeill came back from the menâs room at the â21â Club, Nicholas Verbitsky knew that Mr. OâNeill had fallen under the charms of the Rev.
âTip came back to our table with a big smile and said, âI just met the nicest guy in the bathroom – he really knew his stuff,ââ recalled Mr. Verbitsky, chief executive officer of United Stations Radio Networks, after finishing lunch on Tuesday in the dining room at the â21â Club, the venerated Midtown restaurant on West 52nd Street that was once a speakeasy.
This was in the 1980s, and the elated restroom user was, at the time, the speaker of the House of Representatives, something that the savvy bathroom attendant knew instantly, addressing him as Mr. Speaker and offering him a hand towel.
This was no ordinary restroom attendant. It was Lorenzo Robinson, who since 1989 served the rich, famous and important customers of â21â during their most private moments.
Mr. Robinson, known to scores of â21â customers as the Rev, died Thursday at 71, shortly after delivering the eulogy at a service in Connecticut for a sister, officials at the restaurant said. The officials did not know the cause of death, and Jerelene Robinson, Mr. Robinsonâs widow, did not immediately return a phone call on Tuesday afternoon.
âThe Rev was an amazing raconteur – he would be up to date on the economy, world affairs, and he could just wax poetic about a myriad of issues,â Mr. Verbitsky said. âItâs not often you look forward to going to the menâs room, but with the Rev there, you did.â
Mr. Verbitskyâs dining companion, Marty Weisberg, another longtime â21â³ customer, nodded.
âHe wasnât a washroom attendant – he was your friend, and he was an essential part of the â21â experience,â Mr. Weisberg said.
Mr. Robinson was as much a part of â21â as the cast-iron jockeys guarding the door, the red-checkered tablecloths, and the steak tartare. And restaurant employees said he was still working in the days before he died.
Dressed in his smart white uniform, Mr. Robinson would greet restroom users while turning on the faucet and offering a towel. He would also offer a once-over of a gentlemanâs clothing with a little brush.
Mr. Robinson, an ordained Baptist minister, would keep current by reading several newspapers every morning while commuting by train from his home in Stamford, Conn.
In 2004, Mr. Robinson told The New York Times that he came from an extended family of Baptist ministers and his father, uncle and nephew all worked in the bathroom at â21.â He took over the job after the 1989 death of his uncle Otis Cole, who had worked the restroom at â21â³ since the 1940s, he said.
According to an obituary placed by Mr. Robinsonâs family in The Stamford Advocate on Tuesday, Mr. Robinson was active in community service, served as pastor at multiple churches and headed several civic organizations. The Robinsons had one child, a daughter.
Two of his favorite interactions were with Nelson Mandela and Ronald Reagan, said Shaker Naini, a longtime greeter at â21.â
âThe Rev met Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Clinton and he had conversations with them,â Mr. Naini said, offering an anecdote about Mr. Reagan trying to turn on the faucet to wash his hands, only to have Mr. Robinson say, âPlease, Mr. President, I have to do that for you.â
Then Mr. Reagan handed Mr. Robinson his cufflinks with the presidential seal. Mr. Robinson wore the cufflinks to work every day after that, Mr. Naini said.
Mr. Robinson performed wedding ceremonies for several customers and employees, including Ed Kennelly, a bartender at â21.â
âThe Rev insisted on doing my wedding,â Mr. Kennelly said on Tuesday, wiping down the bar. âHe was a true character. Men would bring him out of the restroom to meet their families.â
âWe have CEOâs coming in here crying, learning that the Rev died,â he said. âThe Rev took that job, and he elevated it.â