Oh, you know i like a good story. Boy have i got a good one for you today!
Sometimes this morning, just as i was about to publish my latest blog post I saw a tweet my friend mr walnutgrey put out. He was also going to alert me personally of a post he read on this new discovery of an underground 1890 victorian gentleman’s toilet converted into an espresso and food café, called attendant! They opened their doors on 18th February 2013.
I took one look and was hooked. I simply had to go down there and see for myself. A quick change of arrangements, a phone call to see if the owner was present, 30 minutes later, wet and cold from being on the vespa in snowy conditions i had arrived! (the things i do for my readers:-) I don’t know why but something drew me there….
Look at this beauty (peter, the owner calls it his shop front). This was 9 months in the making. Apparently it took numerous coats of paint to get the ironwork looking like this! It is literally stunning, do you agree?
Oh, i already started fantasising about the spicy carrot soup. Yum!
Yep, you see correctly. You can pull up in your ride, ring the bell and they’ll serve you curbside. Genius!
Look at that entrance…mysterious, full of anticipation and excitement. What awaits me downstairs?
In i went and was greeted by a warm and welcoming space, full of little details and wonderful smells (NO, not the smells you’re thinking of:-) Funnily enough, 2 people today told me that they weren’t sure they could eat in a place that once used to be a victorian gentleman’s toilet. Really? What about living in a house that used to be a petrol forecourt? I could go on. I tend to see these matters as historic anecdotes, nothing more and nothing less. I was so taken by the design and finish of the place that it never even crossed my mind once!
The door is the anchor to it all. It stems back to 1890 That’s where the attendant’s office used to be back when it was a gent’s loo. I LOVE that although it’s been converted into a kitchen it’s been left as it is and although the staff go in and out of the door into the kitchen and serving area, the fact that it stops mid height brings with it an air of openness and transparency and a little humour.
Meet peter tomlinson, the brainchild of this most unusual venture. Although extremely busy and not stopping even once while i was there, he kindly answered all my probing questions and satisfied my curiosity. A fellow scooter rider, i think he appreciated i zoomed right down with the purpose to blog about ‘attendant’.
So, the story goes that peter and his mate ben, who used to live in new york, were sitting in the pub above attendant and discussing how cool it would be to open a coffee shop. Originally from sheffield, peter worked in PR and marketing. After a few beers and a couple of meetings they saw a ‘to let’ sign just outside the pub. Yes, it was a former public toilet but in 1989 had been bought by a Mr. S to turn into a design studio. Unfortunately, it didn’t take off and the site was boarded up till recently when Mr. S died.
On the market for 12 months, albeit with a lot of interest from people, the licence was only meant to allow for a sandwich and coffee shop. Bingo! Peter and ben were the lucky applicants!
The results are staggering. Being down there i completely forgot about the spaces’ history. Tiled throughout, they’ve placed a lot of importance on lighting. From ceramic lights on the ceiling, to vintage lights and mercury lights from a beachfront shop in LA. They have tolix chairs and the café still features the 1890s doulton & co. urinals. Don’t fret, now they’re being used as dividers for seats with the victorian hand dryer still being placed above. Trust me, you soon forget about them as urinals but rather will look upon them as a design statement. I think it’s genius and beautiful! Feast your eyes….
Now to the food and drink. As i was chatting to peter it daunt on me that their philosophy is one of caring for the environment and for our wellbeing. They carefully source all their produce and peter is very proud of their choices. Coffee, after much research comes from caravan, the organic milk is sourced from ivy house farm milk. They have 120 jersey cows on their farm. You can have an almond milk porridge. The brown bag crisps are hand cooked in olive oil (the only ones in the uk to do so). They use bread from the bread factory and what impressed me most was that they had reverse osmosis water filters build in to maximise on the taste and health properties of any drink made with water. I wish more places would do that!
I believe that attendant are the first café to use these ‘perfect cup’ in the UK, if not europe!
These posters hang in pride as you walk in the door!
Everything is considered and thought through. Here’s my lunch. Delicious and beautifully presented!
I knew something made me drop everything and rush there today. To me this is a winning formula of kick-ass concept, great design with some gorgeous details and an admirable philosophy in how to serve food and drinks. I truly loved it and will be back often.
I asked peter what kind of marketing and PR they did. He said they had agreed on a ‘people discovery strategy’. Well, rest assured, the whole world will soon know about this and i wouldn’t be surprised if it won’t be used as a case study in business and marketing courses.
Thank you peter for your time and thank you to your utterly charming staff. Sorry if i was in your way! See you soon!
I know i’m late with my blog today but i hope you’ll agree that it was worth the wait. I urge you to go and visit! Have a great weekend. Let’s not talk about the weather. See you monday!
Downstairs, 27a Foley Street,
London W1W 6DY