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London’s Subterranean Victorian Bathrooms Now House Bars and Cafés (atlasobscura.com)
59 points by pepys 30 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 29 comments

This is almost entirely an off-topic point; but the public toilet situation in London is pretty dire. Most tube or train stations have limited or no access to facilities, and as a result, nearby businesses have become hostile to people in search of a respite.

What we have instead is a gross public urination problem (or worse on some streets). Which the city oddly aimed to solve with street-level urinals; acknowledging the problem and providing a solution which still manages to leave the city smelling like urine.

No criticism of the bars and cafes; most of these public facilities have gone abandoned (like the ones outside of Liverpool St. Station). But I do wish the city were more livable and accessible.

I feel this is almost universal though, though I'll agree London seems especially bad. I generally go to finer hotels to do my business – not only are they usually cleaner and more hospitable, they also tend to come with a decent bar to fill back up again.

Also the lack of trash cans (because terrorists, people tell me) was something that annoyed me to no end while I lived in London.

This is the real story, right here. Turning old subterranean public toilets into cafes and bars is just another London food scene gimmick.

I agree that the situation is bad. Mind you, in my experience, Paris wasn't any better.

Here is some actually helpful advice, though:



Paris is pretty bad. I was busting at the Austerlitz rail station, the only public toilet was pay to use and I had no cash and limited language ability. I ended up walking to a nearby McDonalds. London is very similar, what limited public bathrooms there are tend to be coin operated.

Pretty sure that is a defensive design choice of London ever since 2005. It's not just a lack of public toilets. It's also a lack garbage bins and opting for see through plastic bags at smaller stations.

All of these decisions are to protect against bombs to my knowledge.

There's even a musical about the subject, at London's St. James Theatre:


I know it's the common American vernacular to call toilets "bathrooms", normally I wouldn't bat an eyelid at it, but it just seems weird to see London's old underground public toilets referred to as "bathrooms".

I think it's the fact that it's referring to something Victorian that I expect them to be talking about something that actually houses a bath.

When I first saw the headline I thought this was literally about old bathhouses that used to exist. As seen in the cult film Quadrophenia.

Oh well, language changes. I guess in couple of hundred years we'll be referring to the actual lavatory porcelain itself as a "bath".

Ironmonger Row Baths was built as a bathhouse like that, but is now a swimming pool and gym - it still has a public laundry, though:


I can't help but find it vaguely amusing that you seem to find "toilet" (literally, "small cloth") and "lavatory" ("washing place") somehow more correct than "bathroom."

Also, people usually talk/write in their own dialect. "Bathroom" is how you say it in American English. If the article were about Victorian French bathrooms, would you find it weird if it didn't use "salle de bains" ("room of baths")?

> I can't help but find it vaguely amusing that you seem to find "toilet" (literally, "small cloth") and "lavatory" ("washing place") somehow more correct than "bathroom."

The difference is that of those three words, one consists of 2 fully-semantic unbound morphemes: "bath" and "room"; it literally means a room with a bath in it. Whereas "toilet" and "lavatory" as single-morpheme words.

I certainly acknowledge it's an American article and that it should use the vernacular its audience is expecting. That's fine with me. I have not suggested that one term is "somehow more correct" than another.

...but now that you mention it, none of these place include bath tubs. They do, however, include sinks where you can wash your hands, so maybe "lavatory" - "washing place" is a better fit. If that doesn't float your boat perhaps the simple, down to earth and unpretentious "bog" is the winner. :P

Weren't the bathrooms there for a reason? Were they sold just because of inability to maintain them?

An unfortunate side-effect of laws designed to increase disabled access is that local government bodies are just selling off such facilities rather than pay for the required upgrades - most of these underground bathrooms were only accessible by stairs.

One of my favorite (and most easily explained) unintended consequences of government actions. I call them "perfect or none" rules.

They get together and vote in rules they think will force things to be perfect, forgetting that it's entirely possible they will get none instead.

The "obvious" solution would have been to keep the underground facility and add one or two of those self-contained units for disabled folks between the two sets of stairs.

not possible either with cuts made by tory government

I think there just aren't as many homeless perhaps, and everyone, including most businesses, have restrooms.

They weren't for homeless people. It's more that government restrictions on funding any public service or amenity has forced councils to choose between public amenity, libraries and social care.

Doesn't change the fact that many people have weaker bladders as they age, and we're in an ageing society. Then there's various conditions and illnesses like Chrons disease, or those who have small children in tow. They may all need unscheduled bathroom breaks at no notice. Now people are expected to "just wait" until they get home or to the office.

Cities aren't really made for people any more. The people are secondary, a necessary annoyance.

They weren't built for the homeless, they were built for the public in general. Anyone who might need to go for any reason.

It's true that mandatory private provision of toilets in food and drink serving businesses has greatly reduced the need, as has people's tendency to drive everywhere. But really they were closed due to cost-cutting imposed on the councils.

(The number of homeless has ebbed and flowed depending on whether there was a Labour or a Conservative government)

I don't think it's underutilisation by homeless people, but the prevalence of businesses with them is a good point.

It's required of places serving food/drinks and having seating, which now you say it seems obviously motivated by solving the problem at source rather than leave it to the borough councils to subsidise.

I know two of the three ex-public toilet bars mentioned: The Attendant in Fitzrovia is two mins walk from my office, and WC in Clapham is a few mins from home.

Both are well worth a visit for anyone visiting London!

There's also a fantastic little cocktail bar called Ladies and Gents in Kentish Town, if you ever find yourself in the area.

And many of Londons cafes are not much better than toilets (I speak as an ex-pat having recently visited).

I used to live around the corner from the one in Fitzrovia. Never saw the appeal. Chacun a son gout.

Sorry, serving the drinks right in front of those urinals that a million dudes peed on is straight up fucking gross.

It's only fitting drinking water molecules that millions have already drank and urinated before, next to said urinal.

Pretty sure they've been cleaned.

That would affect your margin, though...

Brings new meaning to "having a piss up"

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