LONDON – By day it may resemble a manhole. But when the sun goes down, out pops UriLift, a reveler's best friend.
It's the latest contraption designed to solve that chronic problem in entertainment districts worldwide -- how do drinkers and clubbers relieve themselves after a long night out?
In Britain, police officers spend much time nabbing those who just can't wait, and shopkeepers are often forced to hose down their doorways in the morning. Now a newly arrived Dutch invention could change all that.
The UriLift, a stainless steel cylinder that rises from the ground in two minutes and disappears just as quickly, already has been well-received in one English town and will be arriving at two London hotspots later this month.
Dutch inventor Marco Schimmel came up with the idea three years ago in order to "provide a unique solution for indiscriminate urination," the company Web site states.
Installed four feet under the street, passersby see only a manhole, not an unsightly urinal. Concrete manhole covers are available in any color and design.
When the nightlife arrives, an officer standing within a few feet of the UriLift can activate the hydraulic motor via remote control. There is room for three men to use the sleek device at the same time, and it is lighted, though there are no doors.
There's no need to worry about smell because the UriLift, with its automatic flushing, is connected to sewage mains for disposal of urine and flush water. No one has to empty those temporary plastic urinals that some towns employ outside bars.
And best of all, according to a spokeswoman for the UK's UriLift distributor, the semi-permanent urinal is pretty much invincible when challenged by the party animal who's had one too many.
"The beauty of UriLift is that it is so simple that there is nothing they can break off of it," said spokeswoman Lisa Parish, noting that hooligans can hit it or kick it all they like.
For the time being, women must hold it in a little longer. A prototype for females is not yet ready.
UriLifts, costing about $30,000 a piece and endorsed by the British Toilet Association, have been popping up at night in two locations around Reading, a town west of London.
At an April 25 ceremony in Reading Town Centre, Schimmel activated the first UriLift by remote as Richard Strauss's "Also Sprach Zarathustra," the title music from 2001: A Space Odyssey, rang out. A second one began operating in May.
London, which last month celebrated the 150th birthday of the city's first public toilet, is getting two UriLifts in the Westminster section. One will be installed outside a subway station and the other outside the Palace Theatre, where Les Miserables is playing.
"We like these as 80 percent of Westminster is covered by conservation rules that are very strict about what can be put where," Judith Warner, a Westminster council cabinet member, told the Sunday Times earlier this year.
Still, changing people's habits may prove to be a daunting of a challenge.
"I guess it's accepted that after a late night if you want to pee you can just go ahead and have one anywhere," said Neeraj, a 27-year-old Londoner.
His friend Roger added: "I don't see the point. It's more fun going ... in the middle of the street. It's almost traditional, like having a kebab after you've drank too much and are stumbling home."