A TIPPLE FOR EVERY TASTE
A night out in London doesn’t have to involve the usual Shoreditch suspects. Islington has plenty of places to rival the best of them. From boat-based cocktails, Korean inventions, to a bookshop unlike any other, Islington’s bar scene is one of the best in the city.
We’ve visited every recommendation and only list those we’ve wholeheartedly enjoyed. Let us know if you visit any.
ISLINGTON WINE BARS
*OUR PICK OF THE BUNCH*
BookBar’s mission sounds simple: merge the insular world of reading a book and the urge to discuss every iota of it.
As straightforward as it may sound, it’s a difficult thing to accomplish. After all, reading’s often a solitary activity, so you need to create a social setting that’s cosy enough to get stuck into a book, but not so sedate to make you want to keep yourself to yourself. Guess what? They’ve smashed it out of the park.
Bookbar is set across two floors. Enter and you’ll find a central communal table enveloped by packed bookshelves. Downstairs is the space’s ‘cellar’ – a cosy spot to get away from the hustle of city life by unwinding with a glass of the good stuff.
The beauty of this spot is how welcoming it is. Not a massive bookworm? Can’t recite classic literature? Absolutely fine – the team will recommend books to get you started on your literary journey.
So, take a pew, soak in the atmosphere and get lost in a story. Pair this with a generous glass of vino and, if you’re anything like me, heaven awaits. Bookbar is one of our favourite spots in North London.
WINE WITHOUT ARROGANCE
8-minute walk from Angel Station
Humble Grape has built a reputation for championing lesser-known winemakers and being masters of their craft. Best of all, they’re not puffed with conceit.
I mention this because I’ve set foot in too many wine bars that have had an air of arrogance about them – and when they’re like this, I can’t tell you how quickly I get out of there. Fortunately, Humble Grape takes the first part of their name seriously. They’re welcoming and without judgment. Not sure what you want? Not even sure what you like? Not a problem. Their sommeliers will work with you to figure it out – and they won’t look down their noses at you.
The space itself is a beauty. They’ve got over 400 organic and sustainably sourced wines from around the globe which seem to wrap around the tables. It feels special.
Humble Grape also serves food, and it’s bloody good. Shoutout to the burrata with orange, confit lamb belly and cheese selection. Oh-so delicious.
SMALL PLATES. BIG FLAVOURS.
7-minute walk from Highbury & Islington station
The Nook is disgustingly good. As its name suggests, it’s small in size but its reputation is anything but. This is an Islington wine bar that serves a mix of classic and natural wines, whilst dishing up small, seasonal plates that’ll have you coming back time and time again.
On the drinks front, you’ll find a host of low-intervention wines (i.e. wine produced through minimal intervention from the winemaker) that pair incredibly well with the food on offer. We won’t go into too much detail, but the burrata with samphire, as well as the cabbage dolmas, totally steal the show.
What’s more, this is another anti-stuffy wine bar. It’s a place that welcomes people with limited wine knowledge and encourages them to find what suits them. You’ll feel comfortable here, even if you’ve felt uncomfortable in every other wine bar you’ve been in. These sorts of places are few and far between, but The Nook is among them.
YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD WINE SHOP
4-minute walk from Highbury & Islington station
Yield N1 epitomises the phrase ‘small but mighty’. At its simplest, it’s a neighbourhood wine shop providing natural and biodynamic wines to locals, but if you’re in the area and have time to kill, it’s well worth having a bottle in.
The staff at Yield N1 are incredibly friendly, knowledgeable, and seem to recommend the right thing at the right time. There are only a few wines available by the glass, so you might as well plump for a bottle (and one to take home).
Peckish? They curate a wonderful charcuterie and cheese board to complement your chosen poison.
All in all, Yield N1 is an unassuming, wholesome wine shop with plenty of corkers on its shelves. Give it a go.
ISLINGTON COCKTAIL BARS
PROPER IRISH HOSPITALITY
10-minute walk from Angel station
Homeboy claims to offer supreme Irish Hospitality. Without blowing too much smoke, it does – and it does it bloody well.
Though primarily a cocktail bar, let me start on the Guinness- it’s one of my favourite pints of the dark stuff in North London. Heck, it’s one of my favourites in the city. Why? The metallic twang that plagues many a pint is absent. It’s actually flavourful. I’ve no idea how, but you can actually discern the qualities that have made Guinness so popular – something few places pull off.
Whiskey reigns, evident in both the cocktail menu and countless bottles lining the back of the bar. Redbreast? Yep. Redbreast 27-Year-Old? Of course. They’re not fu***** about.
Cocktail-wise, Homeboy’s Irish Coffee leads the pack. It’s so good – rich and creamy, with a wonderful whiskey note underpinning it all. You’ve actually got three to choose from: the standard, a Pot Still and the Belfast Coffee.
As for other whiskey-led cocktails, try the Whiskey Smash (which includes vermouth and mint & greens syrup), a Blackthorn No 2 (warning, absinthe gets in on the action), as well as their Irish Cream Soda.
Whiskey not your thing? You’ll find plenty of classics with a lil’ Homeboy twist, not to mention some contemporary mixes. Not sure what you want? Ask away. The bartenders are super friendly.
All in all, Homeboy is a super laid-back space that’ll make you feel away from London. Its closest competitor is probably Swift, but we’ll leave that argument for another day.
A FUTURE CLASSIC
10-minute walk from Angel station
From the team behind Caravel comes Bruno’s, a floating cocktail bar without pretence or unnecessary theatrics. This isn’t a put a VR headset on and enjoy your cocktail sort of vibe (I saw this at Paradiso, Barcelona) – at Bruno’s, the drinks do the heavy lifting. And whatever your view on showmanship, this is how cocktail bars should be.
The bar is set on a converted barge on Regent’s Canal and neighbours their other boat-based venture, Caravel. It’s a small space but it doesn’t feel cramped – it feels intimate; an exclusive space without being up its own ar**, tastefully decked out with velvet armchairs, a scarlet sofa area, and two-seater tables set beneath each window.
All roads lead to the backlit bar, where many a fine cocktail is shaken, stirred and everything else between. The menu has found its sweet spot between classic twists and playful inventions. Best of all, none of them border on the Paradiso silly.
My personal favs are the Hazelnut Sour (a concoction of Frangelico, vanilla vodka, egg white and sugar – take your classic sour and inject a sweet, Kinder Bueno twist), the Chido (imagine a first-rate Margarita with a nutty, smoky twist), and the Below Deck (bourbon with Aperol and blood orange) – nothing beats a whiskey concoction.
Much like its menu, this is a classic bar with a twist. I’m genuinely yet to have a bad drink here, and I can’t give a bigger compliment than that.
UNDERRATED, BUT NOT FOR LONG
8-minute walk from Highbury & Islington station
Islington Blend does things a little differently. It’s not an overpriced, overhyped, overdone bar that you see so often around the city – instead, it’s a space that manages to offer the best of all words: fancy a chilled catch-up with friends? Sorted. On a date? Ideal. Live music? You’re in the right place.
Cocktails are fairly priced (with most coming in around £9 – cheap AF for Islington) and, though I’m not a huge fan of live music in bars, it has always been extremely good. Turns out I’ve probably been going to the wrong venues.
Food-wise, it’s sourdough pizzas that seem to go down a storm. We’re yet to eat here but will update this as soon as we do.
All in all, if you’ve got the chance to go to Islington Blend, do it. We’d go as far as to say it’s the friendliest bar in Islington. You’ll feel at home as soon as you enter – and that’s a hard feat to achieve in itself.
PARTY WITHOUT BREAKING THE BANK
9-minute walk from Angel station
Simmons bars are a staple of London nightlife: they’re unapologetically fun and neon-loving; they proudly exclaim “five-hour-long happy hours”, and subtle isn’t in their vocabulary. With 26 locations in London alone, they’re doing something right.
Simmons Angel is smaller than many of their other London venues but its trademark brand is as large as ever. If you’re after classic cocktails in a more refined setting, this ain’t the one. After cheap cocktails (2 for £10? Yep), late-night music (til 3am on Fri & Sat) and a place to let your hair down without a worry in the world? This is the one.
Ogam Tapas Bar
7-minute walk from Angel station
Ogam is the brainchild of Taeyeol Kim, a mixologist with “over 14 years experience as a national champion bartender in South Korea”, and though it only opened in 2020, word has spread throughout the city. I hate myself for typing this, but this Islington bar has become somewhat of a hotspot.
Ogam translates to “five senses”, and Taeyeol aims to showcase traditional Korean culinary culture in London through clever concoctions that blend tradition and artistry. You might be thinking that’s marketing hyperbole – tbf, it usually is, but our experience says otherwise.
Drinks-wise, how long have you got? You can order classics, but that would be remiss of you. Go for a Taeyeol invention like a Miracle of Han River (Leegangju – a traditional Korean liquor – with lemon juice, pineapple juice and grapefruit syrup) or the Danji (Leegangjum, Korean rice drink, Ogam-made scorched rice syrup) – a drink that hits all the spots and then some.
It’s a tapas bar and they offer a bunch of Korean small plates to keep you going – our favs were the Kimchi Pancakes and Korean Fried Chicken.
If we could sum it up in a nutshell: inventive cocktails that we’ve never experienced before, accompanied by delicious Korean nibbles – a pairing that manages to transport you out of Islington’s bar scene into South Korea’s. It’s super cool.