I’ve been to a few of these in the past as bars; Ginglik is cavernously tragic, the Spitalfields church bar is plain shite and Manchester’s Temple of Convenience is too small and smelly to work, even with a tapestry of preserved Victoriana.
But this definitely works as a café. The space needed is less than for a bar and the robust, warming smell of Caravan's roasts is better than stale beer at eliminating what thoughts of what might have been. How curious that we are so happy to sip lattes and munch pastries in a former den of bodily functions and knee-tremblers. London after all does reinvention better than that desperate bag of bones Madonna, perhaps why she persists in darkening our door...
Great care has been taken to preserve in some cases (check the fantastic repurposing of the urinals or the tiling upon entry) and improve in others (peppy new orange tiling along the ‘bar’) and it really succeeds as a space. Staff are lovely, offering both water and WiFi code unprompted, allaying fears of a subterranean lack of 3G.
For a tiny old bog, there is a pretty ambitious and tempting food menu. Foxcroft & Ginger may have a new challenger for the best sandwiches and lunch in London’s coffee scene. I was majorly eavesdropping and learned that the co-owner is versed in NY Jewish deli culture and so we can expect brisket, pastrami and turkey hand-sliced in situ as well as a brunch menu. Plans for future private dining hire and wine evenings excited this little pig too – there’s only so long you can sit in a basement before grape or grain spring to mind.
And as I enjoyed my perfect long black under the lampshades of an old cistern, my head nestled between the cheeks of a formerly working urinal (voyeur no doubt to plenty of illicit head itself), I realised that in London's booming coffee-verse, duplication and choice have grown quicker than originality.
The Attendant dispels any plateauing of innovation resolutely, offering somewhere quite brilliantly conceived and executed. It certainly fuels the fire that Fitzrovia, now boasting Kaffeine, Gitane and the Scandi Kitchen even on Great Titchfield Street alone, is now firmly W1's underdog coffee hub. And a lot cooler about it than Berwick or Lexington Streets.