There’s nothing quite like The Attendant, the resurrection of an ornate Fitzrovian urinal. It reminded us why we love visiting coffee shops.
This wasn’t our first visit, but I hadn’t been brave enough to take photos until now – there’s something odd about taking photos in a toilet, whether or not patrons are tackle out.
Needless to say, this ex Victorian underground comfort stop has been deep-cleaned. In fact, the baristas tell me it took a whopping 18 months.
It is the brainchild of Pete Tomlinson and Ben Russell. The pair approached the landlord, who bought the premises at auction intending to open an artists’ studio. The studio never took off and the building remained derelict, attracting rubbish and playing home to homeless people, until Pete and Ben stepped in.
I was told that, a few days previously, a homeless man came into the cafe and introduced himself as a former ‘resident’. He remarked how nice it was that they’d kept a lot of the original features.
Turning an unloved corner of Fitzrovia into one of London’s coolest coffee shops, The Attendant is now a little over one year old. It’s tiny, with stools by the urinals (so to speak) and a small table at one end. It can be a little too warm and a tad claustrophobic on busy days (and it’s usually busy).
None of this, however, really matters. Clearly, it’s not a place for hours of meandering conversation – much better for a quick-ish visit to admire the decor.
The coffee comes from London’s wonderful Caravan roastery. Truth be known and told, my flat white was fairly average – though it may have suffered by comparison as I had just come from the consistently exceptional Kaffeine, round the corner.
The staff cope well with their limited surroundings. They also cope well with this inevitable conversation, which they must suffer about 100 times a day:
Customer: Do you have a toilet?
Barista: I’m afraid not.
Customer: Ironic, don’t you think?
Strangely, during my visit I stepped on broken glass by the table. I mentioned it to a barista – she said she hadn’t had time to clean it up (and then proceeded not to do so). I’m not sure what was more demanding of her attention. Mrs Cosy, who worked in a cafe until recently, thought this was extremely bad form. I hope it was a one-off.
The Attendant is brilliantly unique, but also something mightier: it’s a tribute to restoration, perseverance and elbow grease.
Without doubt, one of the best coffee shops in a toilet.
Now, enjoy some more photos (what can I say? It’s just so photogenic).
26-27 Foley St
We visited on 10 April 2014.