Got a Hot Date? Take Them to the Toilet
My relationship with a new opening in Clapham has never been particularly strong or connected, up until recently. I'm very fortunate in that my apartment is on Clapham High Street, so I sit amongst all the bars and clubs that run along the relatively short space between Common and North tube stations. The price I pay for the location? Piss...and lots of it. Thanks to Infernos and The Two Brewers, the wee set of stairs (pun very much intended) that leads up to my front door gets mistaken by the drunks of the high street as the set of The Perfect Storm. I've the life of a prince, clearly.
When I heard that the derelict public toilets connected to Clapham Common station entrance had been fully renovated to house a wine and charcuterie bar, I thought this was some Alanis Morisette-level irony (except this was actually ironic). After all my piss woes coming from Clapham bars, should I step foot inside a house of it?
To be fair, I was actually dead keen on checking this out for myself. I'd seen firsthand how well these seemingly unlikely toilet conversions could turn out, after going to the tiny Attendant cafe in Fitzrovia. These locations may be former toilets, but the Victorian style of them, added to the obvious dedication of the people behind converting them, makes for something more than just a naff novelty.
And so, Yes Boy went along to the Thursday press opening of WC: Wine and Charcuterie, bravely wearing leather-soled shoes. The entrance is pretty discreet, sitting towards the back of the station entrance, with a staircase leading down and round away from the high street. However, there is a very noticeable outdoor seating space for up to 40 people just beside this on the grass, sat contained in a removable white picket fence. This is prime real estate for the summer, and you just know there's going to be a queue to park yourself there on a Friday when the sun's out.
When we reached the bottom of the stairs and made our way inside WC, we were immediately thrilled to see that this had been a renovation, not a total redecoration. The classic white Victorian tiles remain, cracks and all, while traditional light fixtures and candles avoid the place being overly bright. Like Gordon's Wine Bar by Embankment, this feels like a intimate hideaway from the street above (which we were reminded of when we looked up and saw people walking overhead through the small misted glass skylights).
Running along one side of the room are three wooden booths, curtains on all of them, revealing what will be soon be known around Clapham as the best date tables in South London.
At this point we met one of the two WC Clapham owners, Jayke Mangion. Him and Andy Bell have been working tirelessly for the past couple of years to get this transformation on its feet, but it wasn't easy. “There was just so much red tape to go through,” Jayke explained. “It was mainly from TFL – see the slope of the ceiling in this booth? That's the actual staircase of the tube station leading down. Keeping all the original features of the toilet wasn't easy, but we persevered.”
It's clear that he's not joking. Their dedication to keeping this place feeling like a Victorian cove is clear in whatever part of it you step into. Take for instance the actual toilet of the place. On the door sits graffiti from the 1950s, while in the men's urinals (which feature two of the original Victorian ones), they've put up a display of the old 'love' letters that they found crammed into nooks and crannies while fixing up the place. You'd think that the content would be pretty tame by today's standards, but there's some right royal filth to read while you're taking care of business after your fourth glass of Rioja.
Because it's such a small space, we were glad to see that they've kept things simple. A rich wine list, paired with charcuterie options that hang over the bar in typical European fashion is all this place needs. There are no gimmicks being pedalled here because of its setting – they've simply made fantastic use of a unique, inviting space in London (where there are an ever shrinking number of them), and that's it. When we were there for press night, the place was rammed, and it felt good for that. Of course, with the secluded nature of WC Clapham, it will clearly be equally at home housing only a few drinkers, keen to snatch one of those intimate booths for themselves.
I've come to accept that because of where my apartment is, I will always walk through the valley of the shadow of public urinators. However, as daft as it may sound, if there is a place like WC Clapham, that I can escape to and be guaranteed some great wine and a welcoming, memorable place to enjoy it, I feel like I've still got the sweet end of the deal.