London's Tour of Loos
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Toilet humor. (And maybe some history.)
By Tracy Moran
When a stranger asks you to meet her at a public loo, it’s probably best to run the other way. Unless, of course, she’s holding … a plunger.
Dozens of visitors face this predicament each week as they embark on London Loo Tours, the first walking tour of public lavatories in the British capital — and perhaps anywhere. While the guides aren’t flush with competition, anyone who’s ever needed to pee — and couldn’t find a toilet — can appreciate easily accessible water closets, not to mention toilet humor. Groups wait at the aptly chosen Waterloo Station public bathrooms for a guide carrying a rubber-capped stick to embark on a 1.5-hour walking tour of London’s oldest, newest and most interesting commodes.
The tour ends on top of a men’s urinal. Yes, atop.
American Rachel Erickson first conceived of the tour as a joke, but in 2013, it took off and now caters to around 2,000 guests annually. The tours, offered on weekend afternoons, cost $18. “I had an obsession with knowing where the free loos were … I simply didn’t think I should have to pay,” Erickson says. So she started telling folks where they could pee for free, later filling in the gaps with historical information. Most public loos in England require that you pay for the pleasure, so if you’re short on change and need to go, it’s nice to know which cafés and pubs don’t charge.
Winding a path from Waterloo to Aldwych, the first freebie loo sits opposite the station at the Hole in the Wall pub, home to one of the city’s Community Toilet Scheme loos, a partnership of local businesses that provide free access to clean loos. From there, guests visit the Union Jack–clad South Bank Jubiloos, a block of riverside toilets used by 800,000 people annually for 50p each that pay tribute to the queen. “Toileteers” then cross the River Thames and pay homage to Sir Joseph William Bazalgette, the engineer who helped Brits escape what the tour guide calls the “lavatorial dark ages” of the 1800s by designing the city’s sewer system.
Those with dreams of grandeur may want to give this tour a pass. Loos, after all, tend to stink, and paying to walk down the city’s narrowest alley, Brydges Place — a stinky public urinal in itself — may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But Essex native Lucy Curtis found the “behind-the-scenes look at London’s sights” charming.
At one point, the tour lands on top of a men’s urinal. Yes, atop. It’s one of 50 Urilifts that arise from the pavement daily at 8 p.m. (descending at 6 a.m.) to stop drunk men from “watering” London’s sidewalks. These disappearing loos — and the more permanent Butterfly urinals that dot the capital — look like stainless steel closets. Sorry ladies, they’re only for men. Much like in Victorian times — when public restrooms were for men only — women are shit out of luck after most public loos close, around 10 p.m.
Literary fans, meanwhile, will appreciate the final pit stop: the Cellar Door bar at Zero Aldwych. Today, it serves creative cocktails, but the site was once a public loo frequented by Oscar Wilde as the playwright searched for a bit of love.