Islington bookshop reaches final five in battle to be named London’s best independent

BookBar. Photograph: courtesy the British Book Awards

Islington’s BookBar is a finalist for the Independent Bookshop of the Year prize at this year’s British Book Awards.

The bookshop and wine bar, located on Blackstock Road, opened in the midst of the third national lockdown and was only able to sell books through a click-and-collect service.

Now, a year on, the venue is a fully operational, brick-and-mortar shop and hosts a number of events in a bid to make reading more social.

Founder Chrissy Ryan said: “We’ve not even been [physically] open for a year yet, so the recognition is such a great honour and a privilege.

“There are some really exciting and innovative bookshops on the list and to be not only among them but up against some really brilliant bookshops in the final is an honour.

“Bookshops are really resilient and creative places and there are lots of bookshops beyond the list of finalists which are also doing amazing things.”

BookBar’s ethos is to promote the social side of reading, which they do through their webinar-based book club and in-person events.

The book club invites members to listen to Ryan in conversation with eminent authors such as Brit Bennett, author of The Vanishing Half, and Evolution of a Girl writer Curtis Sittenfeld, while also encouraging attendees to join in the conversation through a commenting system.

In-person events allow participants to enjoy a glass of wine or a coffee while hearing from celebrated writers at the Finsbury Park premises.

BookBar also offers a bespoke subscription service: participants have a one-to-one consultation with one of the book vendors at the shop, and then receive custom-selected books based on their preferences, reading habits and goals.

Their ‘book prescription’ service, Shelf Medicate, also makes use of staff members’ impressive literary insights to provide bespoke book bundles – ‘The Gin and Tonic Subscription for the Soul’ might be up your alley if you need a mood boost, while ‘The Armchair Traveller’ provides escapism for those who have been stuck in one place too long.

Ryan said: “We’re the antithesis to the algorithm. We use our expertise and knowledge to inform our work.”

BookBar is up against Haggerston’s Burley Fisher Books, Pickled Pepper Books, which is found in Crouch End, The Children’s Bookshop in Muswell Hill, and Village Books in Dulwich.

The winner will be announced on 23 May 2022.