The New London Hot Spots? Cafés That Used to Be Public Toilets

A trip to the toilet is usually not associated with sandwiches, wine, or dates, but that’s changing in London. With real estate at a premium and the repurposing of old spaces in full effect, a trend has emerged: former public restrooms are reopening as cafés, restaurants, and boutiques. That’s right, forget the advice about not eating where people used to, um …

London has all kinds of history, and that extends to its loos. Take, for instance, WC – that’s the actual name of the former Victorian-era underground-station toilet in South London that opened in July. It now stands for wine and charcuterie.

WC, a wine bar that opened in July, is housed inside an abandoned underground toilet, with original walls intact. Much of the old décor remains, with the original floor mosaics and wall tiles, and even some of the old toilets in the restrooms (those are for display only). As Time Out London said in its review, “Down the wide stairs it still looks and feels like a Victorian convenience, albeit a sanitised one.”

WC co-founder Jayke Mangion, told AFP that “the government has been pushing the councils to use all empty places to generate revenues.”

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Photo: AFP

If you want an even bolder toilet theme, just head to The Attendant in central London, where you can sit on a stool and have a salt- beef bagel while actually facing an original 1890s urinal. The toilet cisterns have been turned into flower pots.

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Abandoned for over 50 years, the place has an ornate wrought-iron exterior, but it doesn’t take much imagination to know what you’re walking into. But don’t worry about sanitation at The Attendant – there’s no working restroom in this tiny space.

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Aside from the economic reasons for opening businesses in such unusual places, the proprietors do say they’re proud to revitalize once-abandoned pieces of the city’s history.

“To give a new life to something previously unused, it pushes the boundaries,” said The Attendant’s Ryan De Oliveira to AFP.

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Katie Harris, owner of the space, told AFP that she didn’t want to “deny it was a toilet” while not making the café “too toilety.” So she took out any yellowed urinals from the old days, and the ones that remain are a gleaming white.

“It is important to preserve these places, to make them places for the community,” she said.

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London’s knack for turning old into new extends to ArtLav, a performing arts space at Kennington Cross that over 100 years ago was an underground toilet. The space’s website notes an interview that said founding member Celia Stothard “fell in love with her local loo.”

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A cup of coffee is pictured on a counter with original urinals in “Attendant”, a former public toilet. (Photo: AFP)

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The Convenience, which preserves its 1940s architecture inside a former public restroom. (Photo: AFP)

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The exterior of the “The Convenience”, a former public toilet that has been converted into a coffee shop and restaurant in Hackney, east London. (Phto: AFP)

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Customers get their hot drinks from “Attendant”. (Photo: AFP)

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Customers get their hot drinks from “Attendant”, a former public toilet that has been converted into a coffee shop and sandwich bar in central Londo. (Photo: AFP)

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