London movement sends cafe culture straight to the toilet

(CBS News) LONDON - Some of London's newest coffee shops are also some of London's oldest bathrooms.

Restaurant owner Pete Tomlinson will be the first to admit he had to scrub a few toilets to get to where he is today.

He and a business partner were sitting at a pub chatting about opening a coffee shop. But where? The answer was right in front of them: an abandoned underground men's room.

Why not?

Two years and about $150,000 later, they opened a below-ground cafe - the Attendant.

As in bathroom attendant.

Asked if people must have thought they were crazy, Tomlinson replied, "Some people did some people didn't."

The men's room was built in Victorian times, around 1890, and Tomlinson kept as many original features as he could, including the urinals.

"I think you will always get the odd person that is put off by that," said Tomlinson, "but, again, that's why we had to work so hard to create and make it into something really exciting and nice."

In addition to gourmet coffee, Tomlinson serves upper-crust food, like oregano tartlets with smoked cheddar cheese and heirloom tomatoes.

London property prices have gone sky-high above ground, meaning people have been looking below ground for new opportunities. One former bathroom recently sold for almost a million dollars. That's before the investment needed to turn it into an ice cream parlor.

One creative architect turned an abandoned bathroom into her own hip and trendy - if perhaps a little cozy - subterranean apartment.

For Hannah Crick and Jacinta Faul, who popped down to the Attendant on a coffee break, the cafe just kind of works.

"It's really cute," said Faul. "I didn't expect it to be so bright in here. It's really lovely, it's beautifully done."

"I didn't think it would still quite so obviously be a toilet," Crick said.

It may not be everybody's cup of tea - or coffee - but it's been busy enough for Tomlinson to consider expanding his underground empire.

He's pretty confident his quirky investment won't mean flushing money down the drain.

  • Charlie D'Agata

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