While mourning the gradual disappearance of public loos in Britain, I must admire the way some defunct bogs have been put to other uses. In London, there has been a trend in recent years for converting public lavatories into restaurants and bars and other commercial facilities. if you are bursting to sample one of these loo conversions, then read on. But be warned: London restaurants tend to come and go rapidly, and so by the time you read this blog piece, some of the establishments mentioned may have already gone down the pan.
CellarDoor, Zero Aldwych, London WC2E 7DN
This former Victorian toilet in Aldwych — and yes, it’s even in a “WC” postal district — is now a tiny underground cocktail-and-snuff joint accessed by purple-lit stairs leading down from pavement level. It offers burlesque shows, open mic nights, musical-theatre cabaret crooners, drag queens and snuff parties. And nearly all these events are free. Given the lavatorial origins of the place, its toilets are far from bog standard, since the loobicles have glass doors that magically frost over when you lock them.
WC, The Pavement, Clapham Common, London SW4 7AA
Although these premises at Clapham Common tube station were originally a public loo, the restaurant claims that its initials stand for “Wine & Charcuterie”. But it has acknowledged its lavatorial origins by retaining the original Edwardian tiled walls and mosaic flooring and by recycling wooden loo cubicle doors as tables. Unfortunately, the WC website pays more attention to its poncy design than to providing useful information, so that (at the time of writing) you can’t even use it to find the address.
Restaurant Story, 199 Tooley Street, Bermondsey, London SE1 2JX
This former Victorian poo palace, just off Tower Bridge Road, is now an overpriced restaurant, themed around books and stories, with pretentious tasting menus and a Michelin star awarded in 2013. Unlike some other loo conversions, it tries to forget its past and does not have a toilet-related theme. What it does have is a ridiculously long waiting list for table reservations and a ludicrously over-designed website that takes ages to access.
Bermondsey Arts Club, 102A Tower Bridge Road, Bermondsey, London SE1 4TP
From the street, this arty-farty hipster cocktail bar still looks like a public convenience — except that civic loos do not usually employ a muscular bouncer. Once you get past this intimidating presence, you descend steps typical of Victorian loos to reach an Art Deco-style bar that takes advantage of the original lav’s off-white tiles and ornate marble clad cubicle separators. Like WC and Story, the Bermondsey Art Club has an overblown website dedicated to showing off its designer’s skills rather than providing useful information. (As an aside, I am glad to note that one of the bar’s cocktails is called “Oaxaca Old Fashioned”, using the correct spelling of Oaxaca rather than resorting to the cowardly phonetic bastardisation chosen by the Wahaca restaurant chain.)
Brooksby’s Walk, 77 Brooksby’s Walk, Hackney, London E9 6DA
This 1930s Art Deco public toilet reopened in 2013 as a short-lived community café, “the Convenience”, before metamorphosing into the current restaurant and bar. If you wish to eat while sitting on the loo — i.e., on the building’s roof — it has a popular roof terrace that catches the sun pretty much all day. If the weather is bad, you eat indoors where the men’s urinals once stood. The former ladies’ loos are now unisex toilets, open to the public as well as to customers. Brooksby’s Walk is another restaurant with an over-designed website — which is so bad that (at the time of writing) some text on the home page is not only unreadable but also only vaguely discernible.
Ladies and Gentlemen, 2 Highgate Road, Kentish Town, London NW5 1NR
Opened in January 2015, this K-Town venue, opposite the Kentish Town Forum, is situated in a disused — or, as its website worryingly states, a “once disused” — Victorian subterranean lavatory. The space has been renovated into a high-end cocktail lounge, catering for for about 50 clients in two dimly lit rooms (one of them really tiny) with a small bar between them. Toilet signs and cistern-lined walls remind you of its history. The place seems to have trouble deciding on its name: its street-level entrance sign says “Ladies & Gents”, its Twitter name is @ladyandgentsbar and its website, although called ladiesandgents.co, refers only to “L&G” or “Ladies & Gentlemen” (and on one page “Ladies and Gentleman [sic]”).
The Attendant, 27a Foley Street, London W1W 6DY
This Fitzrovia coffee shop and sandwich bar was once a grandiose Victorian gentlemen’s lavatory. Built in about 1890, it closed in the 1960s and was mothballed for more than 50 years before reopening as the boho chic Attendant in 2013. It still has its original chequered floor tiles and white wall tiles, and its pretty Doulton & Co porcelain urinals are now used to divide a long bar table into individual booths.
Rosebery Rooms, Basement, 168 Clerkenwell Road, London EC1R 5DE
My final loo-conversion offering is not a bar or restaurant but a spa, where you may wish to take a break if feeling pooped. Housed in a former poo palace in Clerkenwell, this “intimate, underground escape space” offers a range of massages, facials, etc. You might therefore call it a comfort station. Perhaps appropriately, in view of the site’s original function, one of the treatments on offer is colonic irrigation (although the proprietors prefer to call it “colon hydrotherapy”).