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Weird and Wonderful London Toilet Bars

The blog this month is about weird and wonderful toilet bars! Well, you might be asking yourselves why I chose this topic. Well, the reason is that I recently went to see a jazz concert in a tiny underground venue that once used to be a public toilet and, I must admit, it was amazing! Not only were the musicians excellent, but the venue was quirky, cosy, and bore no resemblance to its former use. Basically, it didn’t stink!

This made me think that there might be many other venues out there that were once public toilets so I did some digging and came up with this:

Signboard of Toilette

Useful language:

  • Can you tell me where the Ladies’/Gents’ are, please? (In a pub/restaurant.)
  • I’m just popping off to the loo (at someone’s house/at work)
  • I’m off to spend a penny. (In a pub)
  • Excuse me… nature’s calling. (In a business meeting/ whilst camping.)
  • Can I use the loo? – (at a friend’s house.)
  • Are there any public conveniences nearby? – (In the street, quite formal.)
  • Where’s the little boys’/girl’s room? – (At a friend’s house or ironically.)
  • I’m off to powder my nose – (Elegant way for ladies to be excused.)

A brief history of public toilet bars:

TWeird and Wonderful London Toilet Bars, Outdoor Public Toilethe history of public toilets dates back to 1851, the year of the famous Great Exhibition . Promoted as one of the greatest events ever held, thousands of visitors were expected to attend, and many of these, if not all, at some point or another would have to use a toilet. Now, as you can imagine, plans had to be made to accommodate all these people’s “needs” and therefore the City of London decided to install portable toilets in strategic points in the city which cost 1p to “visit” – hence the expression “spend a penny”. The toilets were so popular and produced an enormous profit for the city (£1790, pretty much for those days).

This project was so successful that the council decided to create a permanent public toilet. The first public underground toilet was built in Fleet Street (1852) and was only available to gentlemen, but the following year, another one opened, just for ladies on Bedford Street, just off the Strand (I suppose that’s why we ask “Where’s the Gents’/Ladies’?”, in many pubs).

These were so successful that more and more public toilet bars – or loos as they are often called – started popping up around the city, and could easily be recognised as they had beautiful Victorian iron railings outside, with stairs leading underground. Over time, public toilets lost their appeal as were considered unhygienic and dismal, but some have survived: like the beautifully decorated public toilet in Christopher’s Place, just off Oxford Street. So if you ever tire of shopping, and need to find a public convenience, you know where to go!

But what happened to some of the toilet bars that were closed?

Well, London, being such a creative hub, has managed to resurrect some of them and transform them into interesting and appealing places to visit.
Here is a list of the most extraordinary:

The Attendant – 27A Foley St, London W1W 6DY
Still in-keeping with its original Victorian period features, this public toilet has been transformed into a café with beautiful traditional green tile walls and the urinals have been transformed into counter where you can enjoy an excellent cup of coffee and nibble on a muffin or two.

The Bermondsey Arts Club – 102A Tower Bridge Road, London SE1 4TP
This former loo has been transformed into slinky art deco 1930s style cocktail bar where the marble table tops were originally toilet cubicle separators. Delicious cocktails, BTW.

The Cellar Door – 1 Aldwych, London WC2E 7DN
Cellar Door is an intimate cocktail bar beneath the Aldwych in a space just big enough to swing a cat. Open until 1 am, they have live music every night and Secret DJ sessions. More importantly, they have a High Tea and Tease performance every Saturday, where you can enjoy a traditional afternoon tea, together with a burlesque show. The bar has its own toilet, one sexiest ones in London.

Or you could buy this one for approximately £1 million pounds

WC house - the site

Source: The Telegraph UK. Picture by James Balston

So, Bloomsbury International students, if you fancy doing something interesting, why not visit these places, and let us know how they were.

Or do a tour at lootours.com.

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