Public Works: Converting Bathrooms to Bars
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Public Works: Converting Bathrooms to Bars

London is home to bars and cafes built into abandoned public toilets. It's an honourable use of abandoned space.

Public Works looks at public space, urban design, and city-building innovations from around the world, and considers what Toronto might learn from them.

London’s Attendant espresso bar, located in a Victorian-era public toilet. Courtesty of Attendant via Facebook.

Toronto’s perpetually expanding bar scene has produced some creative space takeovers.

There are the bank-cum-pub setups at the Irish Embassy on Yonge, or the Banknote at King West and Bathurst. The Communist’s Daughter, on Dundas near Ossington, still wears the sign of the shoebox Portuguese snack bar that used to occupy the space. Pharmacy, on the King Street swath of Parkdale, used to be, well, a pharmacy; it still has the pill drawers to prove it, and a bathroom wedged inside an old photo darkroom. And Wide Open, that delightful dive at Richmond and Spadina, is really just an alleyway with walls and a roof.

But Toronto has nothing on London when it comes to jury rigging watering holes in existing spaces.

There are a surprising (and, depending on your personal tastes, disturbing) handful of bars and cafes in the U.K. capital being opened in old public toilets.

There’s WC (an acronym for “wine and cheese,” as well as “water closet”), which has dining booths cobbled into old toilet stalls. Or Attendant, which took over an abandoned Victorian-era subterranean bathroom in 2013 and turned it into a hipster-ish espresso bar that just happens to have a counter built over antique urinals. Or the CellarDoor, a music venue whose owners claim the former public toilet was a cruising spot for Oscar Wilde.

The list continues.

Toronto has a distinct lack of standalone public toilets of the type that exist in London. It’s a disappointment on many levels—one of which is that we can’t have the same boom in bathroom bars.

But we do have abandoned spaces and shuttered infrastructure. And local developers have shown the propensity to reuse unexpected spots, including churches, for new residential projects.

We are adopting the ethos of reusing existing structures instead of building entire new ones. Frankly, it’s a welcome shot of character.