Five unmissable independent London bookshops

Offbeat stores from Soho to Shoreditch

The Society Club in Soho prides itself on being community-minded
The Society Club in Soho prides itself on being community-minded

The Society Club Tucked down a Soho side street, this bohemian bookshop-cum-café-cum-art gallery is on a mission to discourage chain stores from invading London. Relishing Soho’s louche heritage and the hedonistic figures, such as Francis Bacon, long associated with it, The Society Club prides itself on being community-minded. Acting as both hangout and shop, it serves tea, coffee, shortbread and Florentines alongside decidedly non-mainstream tomes, from 1950s pulp-fiction paperbacks to rarefied – and rare – first editions. There may even be an art deco vase or antique ashtray available to buy. 12 Ingestre Place, W1. DOMINIC LUTYENS Read more about The Society Club here. 

Libreria has constantly changing sections with frequently offbeat themes
Libreria has constantly changing sections with frequently offbeat themes | Image: Iwan Baan

Libreria Mobile phones are banned at this bookstore off Brick Lane, which has single-handedly rekindled my love of literary browsing. There are also no three-for-two offers, and no coffee counter, and instead of a straightforward A-Z arrangement of authors, or the familiar sections of fiction, history et al, it has constantly changing sections with frequently offbeat themes: Londonarchitecture; family; melancholy and recovery. This is a place to spend time and discover books you might never have otherwise heard of. Innovative interior design adds to the appeal, with undulating shelves and a mirrored ceiling making this feel more like a concept fashion store than a bookshop, while design-classic chairs add to the desire to linger. 65 Hanbury Street, London E1. MARK C O’FLAHERTY Learn more about Libreria here. 

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Bookartbookshop Through the porthole of convex glass in this store’s bright-red door, what at first seems to be an old-fashioned local bookshop – all crammed floor-to-ceiling shelves – quickly reveals itself to be a treasure trove of obscure ephemera, surrealist tomes and one-off, handmade artist publications. As well as poems in matchboxes, handmade journals and tiny photocopied pamphlets, there are art exhibitions and off-the-wall events every fortnight (Bookeatcakeshop, for example, was a show of edible books and readable cakes). “If somebody has an idea and we can accommodate it, we do,” says co-founder Tanya Peixoto. 17 Pitfield Street, N1. VICTORIA WOODCOCK For more on Bookartbookshop, click here. 

Maison Assouline is housed in a handsome 1922 Edward Lutyens-designed building on Piccadilly
Maison Assouline is housed in a handsome 1922 Edward Lutyens-designed building on Piccadilly | Image: Andy Barnham

Maison Assouline Housed in a handsome 1922 Edward Lutyens-designed building on Piccadilly, this chic store sells a curated range of beautiful vintage fashion, art, design and architecture books published by Prosper and Martine Assouline, alongside new titles on the same themes. Budding bibliophiles wishing to create a one-off special piece can use the Assouline book binding service, while those wanting something more bijou can personalise notebooks and leather book bags. A range of candles in scents including paper and wood evoke a bookish air, while the in-house Swans Bar serves dishes including foie gras and Spanish ham, plus coffee, tea and champagne. 196a Piccadilly, W1. JEMIMA SISSONS Find out more about Maison Assouline here. 

Persephone publishes and sells neglected fiction and non-fiction by women, for women and about women
Persephone publishes and sells neglected fiction and non-fiction by women, for women and about women

Persephone Books This small shop on Lamb’s Conduit Street is the kind of place Virginia Woolf might have dreamed of. Publishing and selling neglected fiction and non-fiction by women, for women and about women, Persephone’s books are elegantly bound in silvery-grey paperback and lined with the most beautiful of patterned papers, each taken from fabric designs dating from the period when the book was written. With a catalogue of 120 books – including The Exiles Return by Elisabeth de Waal (£12), grandmother of Edmund – it is perhaps best known for its reprint of Winifred Watson’s Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, whose popularity led to the 2008 film staring Amy Adams. 59 Lamb’s Conduit Street, WC1. BEATRICE AIDIN For our full story on Persephone Books, click here. 

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