London has a well-publicised shortage of building space. But two entrepreneurs, armed with plenty of creative vision, have found an inventive way around this problem with their latest venture by revamping an old building – a 100-year-old public toilet.
WC: Wine and Charcuterie opens this month in what was one of the city’s oldest public conveniences, underneath Clapham Common tube station.
The 40-seater bar retains some of the building’s original features, including love letters discovered behind old wall tiles, which are now housed in the bar’s own lavatories.
“We discovered these love letters in the toilets, and there were old 1940s and 50s Playboy posters on the walls, of girls in bikinis riding motorbikes and things like that,” explained owner Jayke Mangion.
“We decided to keep all that.”
Jayke and business partner Andy Bell’s strong business plan for the idiosyncratic redevelopment beat 450 other applications made to the council for the building.
“There were loads of people interested in the building because of the location. This is one of the biggest entertainment areas of South West London at the moment,” Jayke explained.
The duo already own Entrée restaurant in Battersea and Brickwood Coffee & Bread, across the road from WC.
“I think because we have operated before in the area, we had a good chance,” Jayke said.
Like the hundreds of other interested parties, Jayke and Andy saw potential in the structure’s weathered concrete and cracking tiles.
“We haven’t made a lot of changes to the original features. Warts and all was how we wanted it,” said Jayke.
“People spend thousands of pounds trying to get places to look like this, and we just had it ready for us.”
After two and a half years of hard graft, the project has come to fruition. As well as fighting the planning process’ legal battles, Jayke and Andy discovered major structural issues and leaks in their new acquisition, which have been (expensively) rectified.
Inside the enigmatic pair have made the most of the structure as it stood. The ceiling is still dominated by small, translucent windows set deeply into the concrete roof in neat grids, the urinals and toilet are recycled from the old building, and cubicle doors are repurposed as scrubbed wooden tables.
The jam-packed bar served Prosecco, fruity Pinot Grigio and mellow Tempranillo to the hordes of guests. While refilling glass after glass thrust in his direction, the cheerful barman, Mickey, explained that every wine had been handpicked by the WC team.
“It seems to be going down very well,” he quipped.
Mickey, who has worked with wine for a number of years, is a recent addition to the staff.
“I have been involved for about a day,” he explained. “I quit my old job and the guys here called me and said, ‘Hey, you live next door, would you like to come and work for us?’.
“It is the easiest job I’ve ever done. I love working with wine, so this was perfect.”
The bar’s carefully assembled team includes a talented cocktail enthusiast with a chemistry degree and a professional sommelier.
Mickey added: “I like the fact that this place is quite quirky, and it has a great atmosphere.”
He is not alone. Since Jayke and Andy set up a Twitter account to publicise the build’s progress, the site has attracted 400 followers. Jayke believes it shows a genuine interest in the unconventional venue.
“Somewhere different, that was our objective. It has a sense of difference about it, and it is very unique,” he said.
The relatively small bar is surprisingly well stocked. As well as 12 to 15 wines by the glass or half-bottle, and a pricier reserve list of 20 to 30 wines, the bar will be serving a variety of cocktails and charcuterie sourced from British, eastern European and French suppliers.
With help from nearby Entrée, WC will also be offering terrines, parfaits, oysters and escargots.
Jayke was enthused by their venture’s fantastic reception, and confident the word would spread.
“We wanted somewhere secluded and secret, that was open to people who wanted it. I hope it’s appreciated by the locals,” he said.
Sitting out with a chilled beverage on the 40-seater outdoor terrace, with electronic music thumping from the crowded room below, it’s hard to see how this hub in up-and-coming Clapham’s heart could go unappreciated.
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