I love metaphor, and now metaphor has led me to a toilet near Goodge Street, in that thankless patch of London idiots call No-Ho. Because this is not a toilet any more; it’s an espresso bar that used to be a toilet, and it is called Attendant, and it was in the Daily Mail, because the Daily Mail, while seemingly robust, is easily frightened by things that seem strange, and crack the curve of its happy universe. I am here with an architectural historian, which is good, because I can now imagine him six inches high, and declaiming, like Nikolaus Pevsner, from the toilet bowl — by far the best visual obituary for humanity I can think of. He thinks Attendant has ‘lovely detail’ but, first, the entrance.
The entrance to Attendant is marvellous, a weird squelch of insane late Victoriana and Batman and Doctor Who and and all the bad TV that drugs you into thinking the world is much more interesting than it first appears; there are secret worlds below John Lewis, beyond House of Fraser, behind Debenhams. It is a black gazebo full of holes, with a treacherous staircase down from Foley Street, made slightly less sinister (and actionable) with rope. Inside, as in a foul, monetised fairytale — Hampstead.
OK, it isn’t Hampstead. That, too, is metaphor. The word is code, for any north Londoner, for fine cake. Because Hampstead, evil as it is with its evil babies and evil mothers and evil adulterous fathers in their evil double-breasted cardigans, does fine cake. And here in Attendant there are many cakes, and absolutely no Starbucks hags, just a pair of estate agents fretting over floorplans.
The detail, as the Pevsner junkie says, is wonderful. It is bad news for modern architecture that a former toilet is more lovely than anything the Candy Brothers could build, or even imagine, but there it is. (Ha!) Green and white flooring, prettily curved (former) urinals remade as private cubby-holes with moss-green stools; an ancient silverish cistern with chain, an old hand dryer which I suspect is not Victorian — the historian purrs. Attendant doesn’t actually have a toilet (I won’t say ‘loo’ because if I said ‘loo’ rather than toilet I would be posh and the incredible heartbroken insights that come from being an outsider — in these parts anyway — would flush into the River Fleet). This is, I guess, the Big Reveal and it is worth repeating. ‘There isn’t actually a loo,’ says the historian, looking amazed. ‘It’s crazy.’ (He is posh. And he has led a sheltered life.)
Food! The bar is long and bright, staffed by a friendly beardie and a woman with a nose ring. I don’t think Attendant would make it without proper lighting because it might be confused with a cottaging venue. (Mother! It’s a lie! Mother!) And here a fine spread, for Enid Blyton children who have fallen out of the sky and into terrible sin — soup, sandwiches, salads, tarts, muffins, biscuits and the rest.
The cakes are from Bittersweet Bakers; the bacon is from Old Spot pigs; the coffee is fair trade and sustainable, from Caravan; the milk is from a tiny farm in Somerset. Anywhere else, this would be irritating and I would probably leave. But not here in this strange bright room underground. It’s very fine. (In truth, it has to be. No one would eat bad food here.)
And so I love Attendant, except when I have to think about all the terrible things that used to happen in Attendant. (‘Don’t do that,’ says the historian, reading about Boris Johnson with enormous dignity.) I feel happy here. Content. Safe. At peace. Maybe it is because I am, as Hugh Grant would point out, a hack, and I have found where I belong. Or maybe I’m a troll. And I believe, with absolute certainty, that Oscar Wilde came here.
In summary, I like this toilet, and I’m not coming out.
Attendant, 27A Foley Street, London W1W 6DY. Tel: 020 7637 3794.