This time I am writing about something a bit odd. Public toilets. Yes, the ones you find in the street and prefer not to use.
They are in every city and some of them are works of art with their particular designs and styles. When I was in Vienna, one of the highlights was the Art Nouveau Ladies Public Toilet, in Graben (one of the shopping streets). Not only the outside is beautiful but every detail also inside- the metal work, wood work and the ceramics reflect perfectly the style from early last century. The maintenance and care is so exquisite that everything still works perfectly, and they are not clean, they are absolutely immaculate! A pleasure to use, really.
London is one of those cities where public toilets are in every corner. In the tourist areas you find the new versions. The ones that you insert a coin and pray that the door doesn’t open before you have finished, but there are many more, old ones, Victorian, around the city. Most of them underground and with access through wrought iron gates and a staircase, surrounded by iron fences with signs above saying: “Ladies” or “Gents”. The English must take this toilet business very seriously; I hear there is a London Public Toilet Tour, prizes for the cleanest, the most beautiful, and so on.
Back in the 60´s many closed down and became abandoned, derelict sites. A few years ago the City of London decided to sell some. Young entrepreneurs bought them and opened business. In Fitzrovia, right in the centre of the city, what was once a Gents has been turned into a coffee bar, so now you can enjoy your espresso where before you “had a pee”.
All decorative elements have been perfectly adapted to its new premises. In Kentish Town, near Camden, a few years ago the public toilets became a speakeasy cocktail bar, with porter included, to whom you have to ask if there is room inside before you go in. When I went there was even a band playing live music! I loved the decoration; maintaining the cream tiles, the old pipes, porcelain elements….
I often wonder how one can be so creative and also take the risk to open up a bar in a place that before you only went for a necessity and not for pleasure – a crazy and eccentric experience!