After writing What To Do For A Quid In London, one helpful commenter pointed out that it costs £1 to use the bathroom in Covent Garden. Bemused reactions filled the office, so we had to dig deeper. It turns out that it does cost £1 to use the 'award-winning' 2theloo toilets, but for those with less change, there are some other loos that are a 'snip' at 50p.
Obviously both are overpriced, but I needed to know how much by. Naturally, I decided to go down and compare Covent Garden's first and second class toilets.
After wandering around the area for five minutes and not finding anything resembling a toilet, I go up to the information desk. The man kindly points me in the direction of some loos opposite — the 50p ones. Perhaps he's taken a moral stance against charging unaware tourists £1 for the loo, or maybe it's just that these are closer. I trudge towards the loos but then double back to see if I can find the posh ones first; I want to experience luxury before I'm brought crashing back down to earth.
I snoop about a bit more, and with the help of Google I find the plush toilets. There's a bit of buzz around them, with a violin quartet busking just outside and numerous tourists milling about. Time to get my camera out and snap what I can, but — now listen closely kids, this is an important life lesson — people will look at you weirdly if you try to snap photos of random loos.
I decide against taking too many pics from the outside — there's a particularly fancy mirror lined with flashbulbs I can make out, but can't risk snapping — and venture inside. An automated machine accepts my pound, prints off a ticket for me and let's me through the barrier.
I examine the ticket while walking to a cubicle, and notice that it gives a 70p discount for the items sold in the loo. That's right, like a crappy club on a Friday night, there are people here who sell toiletries by the sink. Admittedly they look a bit more actually employed than the awkward men who spend their evenings trying to hawk products in clubs, but their basic function is the same.
Into the cubicle I go. It's a bit squished. In all honesty I was expecting more, considering I paid a full quid for the luxury. I mean the loo is nice, the toilet paper is particularly smooth, and there isn't the traditional rank public toilet smell, but all of that shouldn't cost £1. I wanted so much more — at the very least, some room to seriously manoeuvre.
When I wash my hands, it's all done automatically. The sensor struggles to notice me frantically waving my hands in an effort to get liquid to emerge, but eventually I find that sweet spot and the water rushes out.
I decline from buying anything with my 70p discount voucher — partially because everything there costs more than that and I'm not putting up with this marketing bullshit, but also because I have no particular desire for a mini spray can of deodorant nor a weird cuddly toy.
There's a screen on the wall asking for feedback on my experience. Naturally I want to tell it how underwhelming these supposedly 'award-winning loos' are (who even hands out awards for loos anyway?). Alas, the screen is broken. Rather apt actually.
As I leave I glance back and notice that the backs of people peeing in urinals are visible from outside, from tables where people are eating. Not quite the level of privacy you'd expect for a quid.
Londonist rating: ★★☆☆☆
I leave and wander around Covent Garden for about 20 minutes chugging water, in the hope that nature will take its course and I can review the second class loos. I'm nothing if not thorough. Not much is happening and I've got places to be, so decide to go and pretend to use the toilets meant for 'normies' like me.
I walk beneath an ominous spiked arch and down some steps when it hits me. The absolute stench. There was none of this in 2theloo.
The toilets have some nice nods to their history on the tiling on the wall — they were originally designed by Inigo Jones. So that's exciting. I wonder how much they cost in his day?
I don't have exact change so have to sacrifice three 20p pieces to the turnstile. So technically this toilet trip is costing me an extra 10p and I don't even need the loo. God, what a thrilling life I lead.
Inside the floor is pretty wet. It's a drizzly day and I'm sure it's just water that people have tracked in with them, but a nagging voice in the back of my head keeps telling me it's piss.
I go into a cubicle and its evident that these toilets are nowhere near the quality of 2theloo. But wait, what's this? More space per cubicle at a cheaper price. Surely not. I hide inside this luxurious stall for a bit, as I hear someone else move about near the urinals and I still want to get photos, but am too afraid to let anyone see me do it.
Finally they leave and I speedily snap the urinals. The tiles on the walls are objectively great; displaying the history of Covent Garden above the urinals gives punters taking a slash beneath something lovely to stare at.
I quickly check the taps are functioning — they are — before heading out. These loos get the job done, but again charging 50p for them is daylight robbery.
Londonist rating: ★★☆☆☆
So at the end of the day, both loos are fine, but ridiculously overpriced. If you need the toilet around here we recommend saving yourself the cash and heading to a coffee shop.
Paid for any other overpriced loos in London? Or do you believe that any are worth their price? Tell us in the comments.