Although the chains have railroaded some corners of N1, the area still packs plenty of classic boozers. Whether you’re looking for charming gastropubs in Canonbury and Barnsbury or you’re after proper boozers up the road from Angel, there’s something for all tastes in this thriving part of town. Read on to discover the most perfect pubs in Islington.
RECOMMENDED: Find more fun in the neighbourhood in our Islington area guide
The best pubs in Islington
Tthe Canonbury Tavern is a Young’s pub that as preened as you’d expect. It’s huge, a series of elegant rectilinear rooms, and the rear garden is equally enormous. It serves pub grub and, in the dining room, more ambitious dishes. If you’re used to Kernel and Weird Beard, you may find Young’s beer timid by comparison. But the scotch eggs served here are nothing short of a revelation.
A charming pub with a lovely atmosphere. The set-up is appealing, the two small cream-painted rooms hung with interesting pictures and maps (notably Stephen Walter’s depiction of London as an island), and packed with wooden tables, chairs and benches. In winter, they fire up fondue pots and you can wash down all the queso with mulled wine.
This quiet, unassuming local is hidden away behind the Union Chapel and thus mercifully isolated from the chaos of Highbury Corner. It was once the pub of choice for George Orwell, and it’s hard to imagine it having changed much at all in the years since he propped up the bar.
Each of London’s five Craft Beer Co pubs can boast dozens of taps, but the Islington outpost is the only one that could be labelled cosy. A comfortable pub with an excellent beer list and helpful, knowledgeable, friendly bar staff to guide you along the way. Outdoor tables and a covered yard offer the beer buffs who flock here the option of a little daylight, too.
Well-to-do Islingtonians favour this upmarket backstreet boozer for its pricey wines, varied beers (Harveys Sussex Best, Sambrook’s Wandle, Truman’s Runner), neutral decor and thoughtfully seasonal cooking. There’s an upstairs restaurant for more focused dining, but downstairs feels homely, with visitors bringing pooches and leafing through the papers.
This backstreet pub has a vast hymn-type board advertising that day’s beers on offer. Staff are constantly hopping up on to chairs to change the names as kegs run out – it’s that sort of place. There are 11 on keg, five or six on cask, plus a couple of quality ciders. The range covers Britain from Devon to Cromarty via Ilkley, before jetting off to the Continent, Scandinavia and the USA. Staff are happy to offer tastings and know their stuff. And there’s a patio at the back that acts as a sun trap in summer months.
Given that it's hidden among some of N1's most covetable residential streets and the barbed-wire-decked back of Pentonville Prison, the Hemingford Arms has to cater for a wide range of locals. It does so beautifully in its own kooky way via the means of drag bingo nights, an out-of-tune piano, Thai food and a scrappy pub dog. The building is made extra beautiful on the outside by leafy swathes of ivy and pretty hanging baskets.
A mile away from Hammerton brewery is a taproom, in what locals will remember was formerly The Wig & Gown on Holloway Road. The inside is all exposed-brick decor stylish rather than cosy pub vibes, and the hard floors and loud music make for a bit of a din – so consider this a place for mates versus dates. There are 24 lines serving suds, so ask staff to guide you through the ever-changing drinks list.
A pub named after the gonzo journalist Hunter S Thompson is kind of quirky – and the quirks continue indoors, with taxidermy climbing along the walls and some of London’s most batshit toilet facilities. This bar’s not a fiery tomb of magic, mystery, and myth, but a pleasant, comfortably furnished, dimly-lit neighbourhood drinking and dining spot in a restrained art deco style.
This Islington backstreet is a notch above most of its N1 competitors, thanks to the wide selection of beers and wine. Inside, high ceilings tower over etched mirrors and abundant greenery; there are a couple of outdoor tables too. Even when it’s busy, the height of the rooms means acoustics that allow easy conversation. But the Island Queen’s main asset is that it has personality in spades: it’s a proper pub for people who want a proper drink.
Find even more amazing pubs in London
Searching for the best pubs in London? You’re in the right place. The capital’s drinking scene is one of the best in the world, where you can bounce from historic and traditional pubs to modern boozers pulling perfect pints. We’ve rounded up our favourite pubs across the capital, slicing and dicing them by area below so you can cut out the faff and concentrate on getting a round in. Bottoms up!
London’s Coolest bars are usually found on a rooftop or underground – drinking on the ground floor is so last year. The Escapologist, a Covent Garden cocktail joint from the folks behind Adventure Bar, is one of the latter. But it’s hardly a diminutive basement bar, with a ‘grand hall’ behind a secret door and a ‘vault’ even further underground. The venue gets its name from a Victorian scoundrel, Baron Von Took, whose supposed last wish before a date with the gallows was to have a drink in one of Covent Garden’s brew houses; as you can probably guess, he managed to escape. Whether or not the story rings true, the bar uses it as an excuse to style itself as a low-lit Victorian gentlemen’s club. With a 20-strong cocktail menu divided into ‘premium’ and ‘party time’, the theme ends there. But it’s fun: The Flaming Zombie (£11.50) came in a white skull glass with a flaming sugar cube on top, naturally. It was pretty boozy from three types of rum, but balanced by fruity sweetness. A selection of pizzas should soak up that triple rum nicely. But if sobering up isn’t on the agenda, head down between 5pm and 7pm for the daily happy hour. Unlike the baron, you won’t want to run after just one drink.
Venue says: “Two-for-one on cocktails, Peroni Rossa, glasses of house wine and prosecco every day from 5-7pm.”