Of all the things I’ve had to learn since moving to London, the British word for bathroom has been the trickiest. Saying “loo” makes me feel ridiculous, but saying “toilet” feels crass. After testing out every variation imaginable, I finally embraced my Americanness and stuck with “restroom”. I steel my nerves against ridicule every time—the Brits think the word is preposterous—but it’s worth it. So why am I telling you this? Because today I’m sharing the 9 best loos in London.
9 Best Loos in London
This year is the 165-year anniversary of the first public toilets in London, which were installed by one George Jennings in the famous Crystal Palace during the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851. Visitors could pay one penny for a seat, towel, comb, and shoe shine, giving rise to the classic British expression “spend a penny” when referring to going the loo. In honor of the milestone, I’ve scoured London for the best loos, from those in restaurants to those converted into restaurants. Here’s the result:
Best Pub Loos in London
The Castle Pub
I’ll never forget my first trip to the loo at The Castle pub in Angel. What I expected to be a run-of-the-mill pub loo ended up being a veritable monopoly board in loo form. The walls were painted with all the proper colors, and the doors even had symbols to suggest which were men’s, which were women’s, and which were left to Chance (get it? get it?).
Best Public Loos in London
South End Green
South End Green‘s public loos are some of the best examples of Victorian loos in London.
As with most things from that era, they’re done in fabulously over-the-top style, complete with wrought iron curlicues and checkerboard tile floors.
But even more impressive is their ability to attract celebrities who come to the gents’ to partake in activities I won’t mention here. Our dear friend George Michael, who seems to get arrested for something embarrassing every week, is just one of the many who has allegedly come here to do whatever he does to keep getting arrested. I wouldn’t be surprised if South End Green’s loos were the most chronicled public toilets in London.
Best Restaurant Loos in London
Back indoors, there’s no denying that Sketch has some of the best loos in London when it comes to restaurants. The stark white interior, with its egg-shaped stalls and bright colored lights, is almost as famous as the accoladed restaurant’s cuisine.
But Sketch isn’t the only restaurant in London with impressive loos. Soho’s Nopi has an Alice-in-Wonderland loo with so many mirrors that it’s almost impossible to find your way out.
Trust me. I got lost in there for long enough that my friends thought they would have to send a search party down for me.
Less panic-inducing loos can be just as intriguing, though. Over in St James’s, Franco’s restaurant has some of my favorite loos in London. No, they don’t look crazy. But they’re great for a more subtle reason: the soothing sound of the Winnie the Pooh stories playing over the speakers. This makes it another place where I worry a search party is going to come after me.
Close runners up include Social Wine and Tapas, where wine instruction plays overhead, and the famous Chelsea club Maggie’s, where Margaret Thatcher’s speeches are broadcasted in the loos.
Best Re-Purposed Loos in London
While South End Green may have the best public loos in London, there are other parts of the city where decommissioned public loos have been repurposed into restaurants, cafes, and bars. They give South End Green a challenge, but in a very different way.
One such former loo is The Attendant cafe in Fitzrovia.
Not far from Oxford Circus, it has turned the former porcelain urinals into a clever take on a counter. I was skeptical before I saw it in person, but it actually looks amazing. I’m still not sure I could eat so close to a urinal, though!
Ladies and Gentlemen
Up in Kentish Town, the Ladies and Gentlemen bar is also housed in a former public loo. The elaborate historic ironwork holds up a sign alerting guests to its subterranean presence, and its “Dry January is for Quitters” message board shows the extent to which the bar has embraced its rather unconventional identity.
Runners up for this award go to CellarDoor, a loo-turned-club off the Strand, and WC, a toilet-turned-wine bar in Clapham.
Restaurant Story by Tower Bridge is another former loo, although one more modern and spacious than many of the others. Above ground, it has a bright, light interior and award-winning cuisine. I had lunch there a while back without even realizing the space used to be used for something else.
Another example of this phenomenon can be found in Brooksby’s Walk restaurant in Homerton, which is also housed in a former public loo.
Best Hotel Loos in London
Moving on from outdoor loos and over to more luxurious ones, the best loo in a London hotel is in Claridge’s. Steeped in history, the elegant ladies’ room not only has vanity areas with chairs and mirrors, but also a coat check and attendant. Every time I step inside, I feel like I’m back in Victorian England, which is fitting given that the first public loos hail from that period.
So there you have the 9 best loos in London. Or should I say restrooms…