Islington pub face-off: Independent or chain? Untitled_1 - The Blacksmith & Toffeemaker Full view

Islington pub face-off: Independent or chain?

This spring saw London hosting its first ever ‘beer week’, with craft beers starting at £3. The choice of craft brews and fine ales in the capital is endless, but the eternal question remains: pay a little extra to enjoy the atmosphere of an independent pub or hang out at a cheaper chain establishment?

Back in the day, a public house was a venue where friends and family could gather over a nice alcoholic beverage; nowadays, with gastro pubs thrown into the mix, the term ‘public house’ is slowly going out of fashion. Islington is filled to the brim with outlets that sell alcohol, but there’s one question that bugs thirsty Islingtonians – should I go to a chain pub for a better deal, or support my local independent pub?

 The Blacksmith & The Toffeemaker (Independent)

The Blacksmith & Toffeemaker
The Blacksmith & The Toffeemaker


Located just outside of City University, The Blacksmith & The Toffeemaker is only three years old, but the building itself has housed pubs for much longer, according to bartender Finbar Colivet. Its current name is taken from a song by singer Jack Thackray, entitled “The Blacksmith and the Toffeemaker”, which is about a blacksmith and a toffeemaker falling in love.

The B&T doesn’t have the romantic feel to it; instead it offers a classic pub ambiance including a nice comfy seating area. It is filled with interesting images all over the walls and is very peaceful despite a busy road directly outside. The pub, which specialises mainly in gin, was originally called Queen Boadicea and boasted a more posh interior.

Finbar believes pubs have to be unique in order to stay in business. “Pubs are all different from each other, our unique point is the location, right next to a university,” he says. The variety of alcohol also makes a huge difference: “That’s what keeps pubs buzzing, anyone can drink cans at home. There is always craft beers and ales, it’s such a big market.”

The cheapest beer at The B&T comes in at £4, which, for students, may be a bit much. However, the most expensive is only 25p more. Despite the price, Finbar says: “We get a lot of students, but we wouldn’t call it a student bar.” This is how location can make a huge difference when it comes to pubs and their selling points – students would rather spend more than walk less than a mile to save more than 50p for a pint at the nearest Wetherspoons, The Angel.

Overall The Blacksmith & The Toffeemaker is a lovely little quaint pub with bags of charisma. And with a location nearly slap bang in the middle of Islington, it’s a must try for anyone (above the drinking age, of course).

The Angel & The Glassworks (Chain)

The Glassworks in the N1 Centre
The Glassworks in the N1 Centre


Despite sales being up two per cent in December, pub chain JD Wetherspoon has seen sales slow at the beginning of the New Year, a fact they blame on competition from supermarkets.

There are two Wetherspoon pubs within a three-minute walk from each other in Islington. Given that they’re part of the same chain, you’d be forgiven to think that both are the same. But they’re completely different:

The Angel Wetherspoon’s is located just up St John Street and has a very rich history. Built in 1639, the site is in the heart of Islington, easily accessible via Angel tube station.

It is a typical pub with tables and stools, but also has a lunch/dinner area where people can enjoy a good old pub lunch. The exterior wouldn’t necessarily look appealing to families and might give the impression that only people looking for a drink frequent it.

On a recent visit, one customer of The Angel, Ronald Crompton, said: “The tables are sticky and the bartender had to confirm my order three times before getting it correct.”

The Glassworks appears very clean and pleasant, and has a nice family atmosphere too. Despite this, The Angel has a higher hygiene rating than The Glassworks.

The Angel

The Glassworks

The Blacksmith & The Toffeemaker

Two Meal Special
Cheapest Beer
Most Expensive Beer
Average Lunch Meal w/ Soft Drink
Average Lunch meal w/ Alcoholic Drink




(Prices taken from and

As you can see above, The Glassworks is slightly more expensive compared to The Angel, but The B&T is still the most expensive when it comes to having a pint. Despite The Glassworks being ‘posher’, I am sure most people – especially students – would rather save that pound and go to The Angel, which has more of a pub feeling compared with The Glassworks. However, middle-aged Islingtonians might not mind spending that little bit extra for a bit of peace and quiet, as The B&T is much less noisy.

As pubs go, The B&T  is the most ‘public house’ of the three; despite being the most expensive, it feels most like a pub. Both Wetherspoons feel like chain establishments, although the whole idea of chain pubs is to not look like chain pubs… It defeats the purpose.


What’s your favourite pub in Islington? Let us know in the comments!

Written by Jamie Goss

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