The Angel Inn on St John Street is one of the survivors (at least it was the last time I looked). The etched glass in the front door has since been replaced, and the interior now looks brighter and fresher than it did in 2001. The original Angel Inn was a hostelry dating back to the 17th century. It stood a short distance to the north and from it the district got its name.
Angel tube station was extensively redeveloped in the 1990s with the whole corner-block of buildings being knocked down, taking with them a well-known local pub called the Blue Coat Boy. The old tube station had an island platform with track on either side. In the early 1980s the station would sometimes fill with skinheads on Friday and Saturday nights, making their way to and from the Agricultural pub on Chapel Market, or the Aggrocultural as it became known.
Fights regularly broke out among them and on occasion the tube station would be temporarily closed while police dog teams were sent in to sort out the subterranean chaos. Angel station and its staff were the subject of a fine documentary by Molly Dineen, which you can watch on YouTube.
The pride of Islington’s cafes was Alfredo’s on Essex Road. This rhapsody in formica had closed by 2001 so I didn’t take any photos of it. Shortly afterwards the premises were taken over by a small restaurant chain called Sausage & Mash and they left intact the beautiful old interior. In turn, Sausage & Mash closed down and now there’s no sign left that Alfredo’s was ever there, but it remains immortalised in the film Quadrophenia.
Chapel Market once had several cheap cafes along it, including De Marco’s which was well regarded for its ice cream. Another cafe stood at the corner of Grant Street but it wasn’t much good – a market stallholder told me that there were alternatives to it, “such as hunger”. Also gone is the small pie-and-mash shop which I think was on White Conduit Street opposite the eccentric Costumier Furrier junk shop with its glass cases full of mangy-looking stuffed animals. The Manze pie shop is still there. In the 1980s a huge bearded man, like Geoff Capes, worked behind the counter. Pies were served in combinations of one or two, large or small. If you were foolish enough to ask for one small pie, he would look at you pityingly and mutter “Dear oh dear”. This was an effective sales tactic.
Fortunately the best cafe in the market, Alpino, has survived to the present and is thriving. The mixture of Italian pasta staples, English fry-ups and decent coffee appeals to market traders and office workers alike.
On the east side of Upper Street, almost opposite the Screen on the Green, was a cheap Turkish cafe which has long since gone. This was very plain inside, with the only decoration I can recall being a faded tourist board-type poster showing a photo of a lake with the word ‘Turkey’ at the top. A black-and-white TV was mounted high up on a corner shelf. It was always switched on but no-one seemed to pay any attention to it. The food was good.
Also gone is the small Cross Cafe in Cross Street, a short distance to the north. The kind of shops that are there now are more upmarket than they used to be. On the west side of Cross Street are some quite grand townhouses and it’s surprising to recall that in the early 1980s several of these were squatted and then occupied by a housing co-op founded by punks whose members paid only a very modest rent. Cross Street was also the victim of a curious crime which plagued parts of Islington in the late 1980s and early 1990s – the theft of old stone paving slabs. The slabs were believed to be sold on by garden centres or else were stolen to order.
Holloway Road had then and still has many cafes along its length. Some, like the Hope Workers Cafe, have become minor local institutions. The Panda Restaurant was on a small side street leading west from Holloway Road. Inside it had a subdued atmosphere and a clientele of mostly elderly local residents.
The Shepherdess on City Road is another survivor in an area which has changed a great deal over the last two or three decades. Like Alpino, it’s been able to appeal to a wide range of customers, from the staff of the large laundry which used to be towards the southern end of Windsor Terrace to those working today at the various design and photographic studios nearby.
It’s always been ram-packed at lunchtime, but in the early afternoon things start to quieten down and it becomes a place to sit and chat or while away the time, something for which cafes are often better suited than pubs.