The Florence, Islington
The Florence, or "that pub behind the petrol station'' in more forgetful moments, has been a regular haunt of ours for several years, with its spot just off Upper Street making it less likely to be rammed than places on the main thoroughfare. It felt comfortable and was usually lively, without being claustrophobically busy, so it's a shame to report that many of the warm touches have gone following a change of management. The more loungey area to the back of the bar is pretty much the same, but the rest now looks a little plain and uninteresting. Where once you could relax in an armchair, a regulation issue stool takes its place. A couple of plants, anything really to soften the edges, would also make an instant improvement. Furthermore, on a recent visit the volume control on the TV could have been set a bit lower -- with only two people watching the rugby it seemed unnecessary to inflict it upon everyone else. It wouldn't take much to recapture the old atmosphere, we'll be back to see how things are going.
I had been here once or twice before last year, and the change is palpable. This beautiful Victorian saloon looks great in the candlelight, and the barman said the plan was to open up the two open fires before Christmas.
Removing the TVs here was a masterstroke, because this place has a really chatty atmosphere between the staff and punters.
The best bit though is the function room on the first floor. Ask for a look. It's fabulous, and at time of writing the manager is not charging any rent for it.
Once they get the kitchens sorted out and start doing decent grub then I'll happy give this place five stars.
One to watch.
The pub is now fully operational and looks wonderful. The new people are working hard to turn what was once a good pub into a great one and judging by their track record (see the Old Eagle in Camden for one) they'll get there.
Do not be fooled by The Florence's impressive website. They do not want your business. They do not want you to host private parties or functions in their pub. They do not answer their telephone more than one in 500 times. Unfortunately I got lucky just once and, following a conversation with a member of staff, booked the pub for a private function; a champagne reception with food for 60 people before a gig next door at the Assembly Rooms.
After my initial "no problem" telephone conversation I was urged to call again to chat through fine details with the landlord. But the telephone was never answered again - try it now... you won't get an answer 020 7354 5633. They don't respond to emails either. But, I was assured by those in the know that the landlord has a pretty relaxed attitude and that I was, perhaps, worrying unnecessarily. But I was uneasy and, since I don't live in London, got a friend to pop in just to make sure that everything was ok with my booking. She saw the landlord who reassured her that "yes, the booking is in the diary and we can do Thai food for the event." Ok... Thai food wouldn't have been my first choice and somewhat contrary to what the website promises, but by this time I'd sent out invitations.
The day of the event dawned. I headed to The Florence early (with that same uneasy feeling) to prepare for the champagne reception and the promised Thai food... But the Florence was shut. The sign on the door advertised the pub's opening time and it was now 45 minutes beyond that. I rattled the doors, I banged on the windows to no avail. I now had to find a venue nearby that could accommodate the party I'd been planning for three months. I managed to find a venue that could take us - The Vineyard opposite - and we relocated.
Had it not been for an exceptionally brilliant group of relaxed friends (who ended up eating fish and chips in the street because the dishwasher broke down at the Vineyard which meant no food) and the ability of the Vineyard to accommodate 60 people, the evening would have been a total disaster.
Still... that's £900 (our final drinks bill) that The Florence of Islington can obviously afford to turn it's nose up at. I have no idea who owns this pub but whoever's running it shouldn't be.
AVOID AT ALL COSTS.
50 Florence Street, Islington, London, N1 2DU
This one's probably nearer Highbury and Islington tube rather than Angel. From Highbury and Islington, exit the station and turn right and head down Upper Street. Cross over the road and when you walk past Islington Town Hall turn left down Florence Street (beside the petrol station) you'll see the pub on your right.