Published June 8, 2015
We decided not to cover hostel bars, hotel bars and restaurant bars in this guide, because there are just SO MANY of them and we thought it should be all or nothing. That being said, some of them are actually really great—amongst the nicest places in town, even—so we decided to highlight those for you here.
A repeat-winner in the “Best Goddamn Restaurant” category of our Best of Reykjavík awards, Snaps is a great atmospheric bistro with a cosy, seated central bar where you can watch your cocktail being made. It’s one of the few places in town that does a decent Bloody Mary, and if you get peckish you can order some finger-food or a dessert from the kitchen. All in all, it’s a great place for either the first drink of a fancy night out or the “one last drink” of a date.
Laundromat has waiters offering table service and a full menu, and so it’s really more about the food than drinks. However, it has a comfortable central bar where you can sit and work or just drink, and a decent selection of beers and spirits. The soundtrack is tasteful indie-hits (think PJ Harvey and Beach House) and the cooler end of Icelandic music (Samaris, Bloodgroup etc.) and the crowd varies between large groups of super-loud Icelanders, burger-chomping hipsters, and the Gore-Tex-clad tourist masses—expect to be in the background of some foodrelated Instagrams.
This place opened very recently—at the time of writing, the paint was still drying on the walls. The sign of Public House proudly bears the subtitle “gastropub,” but it’s really a regular restaurant, in which you’re seated and given menus by a waiter and then order at the bar, oddly. The menu looks great and they have a very good selection of beers; all in all it seems like a nice addition to the restaurant-bars of Laugavegur.
Austurbakki 2 (inside Harpa)
This place is in one of the most picturesque spots you could imagine—right up with the gods of the Harpa concert hall. Up the airy stairs and past the geometric mirrored ceiling, Kolabrautin bar is kind of a waiting area for the fancy restaurant of the same name, but it’s a great place to go for a fancy happy-hour cocktail, or a pre-concert drink.
This is a place of two halves, with a pleasant, airy tapas restaurant in the east side, and a spacious bar room environment in the west. With its piled beer kegs, stacked chairs and heavy, rough wooden tables, it’s going for some kind of fancy-yet-raw look that doesn’t quite click. But with Icelandic football showing on a big screen, this place has a kind of NYC neighbourhood-bar atmosphere. Add the fact that they have Bríó and Kaldi on the taps, both included in the 500 ISK happy hour, and we’re sold.
Aðalstræti & Lækjargata 2A (respectively)
Each of these upscale restaurants, both headed by chef Hrefna Sætran, house an outstanding cocktail bar, with atmospheric lighting, table service, comfortable furniture and resolutely top-quality mixed drinks. While they’re definitely second fiddle to the excellent restaurants, these two offer some of the best cocktails you’ll find in Iceland.
Housed in a space that was previously a pharmacy, Apotek features a plush lounge bar, which is nestled next to a large restaurant, and under a hotel. There’s a fancy confectionary stand selling macaroons from the kitchen, and a decent cocktail list—try them half-price during happy hour, 16:00-18:00 daily.
Hotel Borg won our “best cocktail” award back in 2013 for their expertly mixed takes on the classics. At the time of writing, they’re about to relaunch their refurbished restaurant-bar. Hopefully they kept the square, seated central bar, tall stools, grand decor, and some of the top-notch bartenders that made it a firm favourite over the last couple of years.
Hotel Holt Gallery Bar
Hotel Holt’s Gallery Bar is something of an institution. The bar is all wood panelling, leather and maroon—it has the feeling of an old-world salon, for highfalutin artists and intellectuals to sip whisky and wine. The art is an attraction in itself, with work by Icelandic greats like Kjarval, Jón Stefánsson and Ásmundur Sveinsson on the walls. It’s the kind of place that feels like you should be wearing a jacket, but it’s the right kind of cosy for starting or finishing a civilized night out.
The Kex bar is much more than a hostel bar. But then, Kex is more than a hostel. The building’s decor is an attraction in itself, incorporating an impressive range of reclaimed ephemera and tasteful brica-bric. Maps, globes and sewing tables complement original features from the space’s former life as a biscuit factory, such as a lift shaft and an old-style safe that now houses a barber booth. The views are of Faxaflói bay and Esja, the sun terrace is a godsend in the fleeting Icelandic summer, and the range of beers and spirits is super nice. If they’d only fix the spotty wi-fi, Kex would be truly perfect.
Loft Hostel is a fourth-floor drinking and relaxing space that has the feel of an Ikea “nice bar” display. There’s a balcony, big windows, natural light, and chirpy staff. People hang around reading or working on their laptops, hostel guests research their next move looking at maps. The post-work crowd drinks here, so it gets busy then, but the atmosphere is usually somewhat mild. It’s a nice hideaway, especially on a sunny day.
Best known for its ever-evolving and creative cocktail list, Slippbarinn is a high end hotel bar located on the ground floor of Hotel Marina by Reykjavík’s old harbour area.