Leaving The Temple of Convenience is a fine architectural experience. A former underground toilet, the bar borrows a superstructure of bold Edwardian commercial architecture from nearby buildings. You don’t fall out of this bar – you rise out of it. On a bad night, leaving the Temple is reminiscent of the last few verses of Inferno with Dante and Virgil emerging from the rings of Hell via the scaly wings of Satan – the pristine Edwardian Baroque of the St. James Building is like a promise of purification (60 paces from the bar fridge to the façade of the building beyond) with a white masonry elevation thinning on one side, framed glass wall spreading on the other. From buried room to proud façade in a few significant steps. There have been subterranean bars and clubs before, but could any of them oppose darkness and compression with such illuminated, upright optimism?
…..There is below,
As far from Beelzebub as one can be
Within his tomb, a place one cannot know
By sight, but by the sound a little runnel
Makes as it wends the hollow rock its flow
Has worn, descending through its winding channel:
To get back up to the shining world from there
My guide and I went into that little tunnel;
And following its path, we took no care
To rest, but climbed: he first, then I – so far,
Through a round aperture I saw appear
Some of the beautiful things that Heaven bears,
Where we came forth, and once more saw the stars.
Dante Alighieri, Inferno, Canto XXXlV, trans. Robert Pinsky