Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Tea in a Victorian urinal.

Ever thought it might be nice to have lunch in a public urinal? No? Really? You surprise me. But that was exactly my (first) experience yesterday when I popped along to a newly opened coffee shop situated in Fitzrovia (Foley Street) called Attendant.

Well, ok, it's obviously not actually a public urinal anymore. It was built around 1890 and closed in the 1960s. But Pete Tomlinson and Ben Russell, with a hefty dose of business acumen, decided to buy it, spend around £100,000 on renovation, and re-opened it as a smart little underground cafe which, when I went along, was evidently proving very popular.

The original Doulton & Co. urinals (I counted around 8) have been given a makeover and a raised bar installed, so that customers can sit in their very own urinal space(!) on a high stool, sipping the fine coffee or munching the tasty looking sandwiches that this establishment has to offer. At the back of the small space was a table which would probably seat around 8 or thereabouts.

When I arrived all available seating was taken and there were many other people queuing for food and drink. There were also lots of customers taking photographs. The publicity for this place seems to have aroused much interest and everyone seemed to be enjoying the very quirky and atmospheric space. It's always pleasing to find something new like this, something unique with a bit of character. A welcome change from all the chain outlets.

The original attendants room has now become the kitchen area where a chef prepares a small selection of hot food daily, which is passed through a small serving hatch. Yesterday's options were on a chalkboard above the hatch. 

Other food items are laid out on the main counter: pastries, cakes (made by Bittersweet Bakers) and sandwiches. I thought I'd set them a real test by ordering one of the hot items on offer - a hot dog. I say a real test, because I'm not normally a great fan of hot dogs, but have enjoyed the odd one here and there. Memories of street vendors and dodgy cafes selling tasteless, soggy, messes came to mind. But I was pleasantly surprised when it was served up: on ciabatta, with caramelised onions and mustard - very tasty. Drink-wise I opted for a cup of tea. I asked for English Breakfast, but it was gently emphasised that this wasn't your bog standard 'English Breakfast' I was being served but a special blend in the same style (I can't remember what they called it now I'm afraid!). It arrived in a small, glass, teapot, with a tiny jug of milk.

The place was so full that I initially had to eat standing near where all the utensils were kept (knives, forks, sugar, salt, pepper etc). One of the proprietors came up to chat, asking me what my first impressions were, and told me they'd been open for five weeks. Judging by the amount of trade I saw today I'm guessing they're doing alright. Eventually I was led over to a vacant urinal seat and sat down to enjoy the rest of my lunch.

My hot dog was £5.25 and when the tea was added it totalled up to over £8.00, but this may have included a charge to eat in (I was too distracted to take note, visually exploring the rest of the surroundings). A tad pricey but worth it. In conclusion, I liked it - certainly a different kind of lunch experience. I will definitely head back from time to time and treat myself to some of the other wonderful looking food and drink on offer, particularly the cakes and pastries. Recommended. Oh, and one final note - ironically, there are no toilets!


  1. After this lovely description it will even get more crowded! Thanks for finding this place
    and telling us!
    Tina Somberg-Buiks

  2. You're welcome Tina! Hope you manage to experience it for yourself!