This is a story about public toilets. And food.
Right. Is anyone still with me here? Because I promise, it’s not as unsavory as it sounds. In fact, it’s both sweet and savory–and a downright terrific spot for a cup of coffee.
I’m referring to “The Attendant.”
It may seem a bit potty, but this pocket-sized bistro, serving breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea, is tucked into a renovated gents’ restroom under the streets of London’s borough of Westminster.
When some friends invited me to join them there for lunch over the weekend, I had a quick peek at the website. “Formally a Victorian toilet, built around 1890, our site has been lovingly transformed,” it proudly noted.
Now, I reckon all Victorian toilets were formal. The Victorians were, altogether, a rather uptight bunch. I assumed it was also “formerly” a public toilet. Otherwise, the seating arrangements could be a bit, well, awkward, to say the least.
***The Attendant’s typo has since been corrected. The toilets are now defined as “former,” rather than “formal,” so don’t worry about brushing off the black tie or getting that cocktail dress back from the cleaners. A bog bouncer is not going to send you away for wearing jeans.
Descending a flight of stairs beneath a wrought iron latticework, a large stall door covered in graffiti makes it clear that you’ve reached your destination.
Stepping through that doorway is a bit like slipping down the rabbit hole to a white-tiled Wonderland.
On the afternoon I arrived, it was packed with men and women alike, lined up elbow-to-elbow, chatting at the urinals that flanked the walls.
It must have been doubly surreal for the fellas I was with, who explained that typical toilet etiquette demands that you always leave an empty space between you and the next guy—and never, EVER make eye contact, much less conversation.
But unlike other men’s gents (I’m assuming, as I can’t really claim any first-hand experience), there were half-moon shaped wooden counters built into the urinals, and stools between them.
One large, lone table occupied the rear (there is simply no escaping double-entendres here), beneath a hand dryer that still hung on the wall. (The toilets didn’t close until the 1960s, so we may assume that Oscar Wilde never actually wrung his hands beneath it. Like the antique urinals, however, the dryer is no longer functional).
But we weren’t here to be looky-loos. We were here for the food, which is whipped up in a tiny kitchen where the restroom attendant (hence the name) once stood sentry.
The fare is simple but fresh, with offerings like vegetable and goat’s cheese sandwiches, the soup-of-the-day, muffins, frittatas, and vanilla-dipped French toast, optionally topped by one delicious strip of apple wood smoked bacon.
There’s also a terrific variety of baked goods to wet the appetite. Meals are served in white cardboard containers, convenient for take-away.
The only thing The Attendant lacks, ironically, is a toilet. So take it easy on the espresso, because when you’ve got to go, well, you’ve got to go.
http://www.the-attendant.com, Downstairs, 27a Foley Street, London W1W 6DY.
If you REALLY love loos, then check out Loo Tours, London’s only walking (as opposed to sitting) tour of the city’s public toilets. http://lootours.com. As the website says, it’s definitely not your “bog standard” experience.