The Genteel
October 30, 2020


Inside The Attendant. Traces of the location's past are evident and treasured. "Photograph courtesy of The Attendant."

It's not an everyday conversation starter when you ask a colleague if they fancy popping for a quick coffee in what used to be a late nineteenth century men's public toilet. Yet it is a possibility that has been made a reality for Londoner's thanks to Pete Tomlinson and Ben Russell. Opened in January 2013, this contemporary cafe can be found at 27a Foley Street - although its low-key basement location makes it a discreet lunchtime haunt. Intrigued to find out more and get the low down on the best way to drink morning coffee, The Genteel sat down with Pete for this week's five x five series.

The entrance to The Attendant, once a Victorian men's toilet in the heart of London.
Photograph courtesy of The Attendant. 

1. What inspired you to turn a 19th century Victorian public toilet in the heart of London into a contemporary cafe?

I'd worked in PR for about 10 years and from October 2009 to March 2011 my wife Maudie and I went to every single country in Central & South America. We wanted to see a beautiful part of the world and get inspired by new experiences and cultures.

When we came back to London, Maudie became the South American travel specialist at Scott Dunn, and Ben Russell and I thought it would be cool to turn the old Victorian toilet on Foley Street into a coffee shop. Ben works for the Hoxton Hotel Group and I just wanted to do something different. We had no experience in coffee, I simply set out designing the interior and pulling the best suppliers and people together. Sounds easy. But it wasn't.

Urinal Table. Photograph courtesy of The Attendant.  

2. What was the conversion process like - and how did you decide upon your design aesthetic?

When you start a design project you have to think about two things - 1) The space. Accessibility, movement, bottlenecks and natural areas. 2) Your audience.

For us the the key elements were already in place. Urinals already looked like booths, the former stall area had drainage so was perfect for the coffee machine and the old Attendant office was the perfect little kitchen thanks to the small storage area hidden behind. I then went on a trip to San Francisco, Napa and LA with my wife. We took 1000's of pictures of cool things and bought some one off vintage pieces to bring back. They I simply pulled everything together and honed the ideas down.

Behind the counter. Photograph courtesy of The Attendant. 

3. Where do you source your ingredients - and did your travels through Central and South America inspire those that you used?

The coffee beans come from the Caravan Roastery in Kings Cross. Currently their Market Blend is 50% Mexican and 50% Colombian. It brings back fond memories of the people we met and adventures we had in those countries every time I savour one of our amazing flat whites.

We're all about ingredients with provenience. So our milk comes from Ivy House Farm in Somerset. Bread is made using organic british or french flours, our smoked turkey comes from Addlington Farm, meats are from HG Walter - the best butcher in Britain and cakes come from the wonderful award winning Ariana at BitterSweet Bakers here in London

The original Victorian public toilet. Source: 

4. Have you heard of any similar unusual or quirky restaurant venues - and if so, do you have a favourite?

I've not had any time in 2013 to get out and explore the city much beyond our little cafe. I am hoping to spend more time in 2014 with my wife Maudie and our little miniature dachshund Morris sampling the incredible street food offerings at KERB - I think it's really important to support the smaller sellers in your neighbourhood as they are the most passionate and exciting part of a community.

Latte in a urinal. Photograph courtesy of The Attendant. 

5. How do you like your coffee in the morning?

6oz Flatwhite - it can only be an 18g double espresso Caravan shot blended with fresh steamed Ivy House Farm whole milk.

Related: Artisanship and All in One

Related: The Genteel Guide: Coffee Table Books



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