Published July 11, 2001
Grandrokk is one of those places that has what so many pubs promise but few deliver, atmosphere. What is it that gives a place atmosphere? It’s certainly not the stale air, cigarette smoke or stench of alcohol oozing from every pore. That applies to every bar in Reykjavík, and probably the world. It has something to do with decor, but that doesn’t tell the whole story, or any dive with a few amusing placards and posters of 70´s rock stars would have atmosphere.
It’s got something to do with staff. Bartenders are given power seldom entrusted to mere mortals. At a whim they can send you farther up into the heights of drunken bliss, or have you banished into sobriety, and the amount of money in your pockets does not always determine whether you wind up in one group or the other. You are completely at their mercy, and pray they treat you kindly, offering a sympathetic ear and refreshments for a small fee.
But most of all, atmosphere has to do with the clientele. You can have the most intimate decor, and the most benevolent of bar staff, but if the clientele doesn’t add colour, or even stays away altogether, your bar will be nothing but an empty shell.
Grandrokk used to be situated at Klappastígur 30, where Sirkús currently resides. Grapevine spent many a Saturday afternoon there in its youth, downing pints and dreaming of a promising future in publishing. Little has changed but the price of beer. At the time, you could get Jever on tap for 300kr, by far the cheapest in town, and this attraction cut across many a cultural divide. At Grandrokk, you would find teenagers coming to get drunk for the first time and old bohemians getting drunk for the last, and everything in between. On occasion, someone would spontaneously get up to read poetry, the music was turned off and everyone would quiet down and listen. Ah, happy days. But alas, it was not to last.
Grandrokk moved to its present location at Smiðjustígur 6. The number of beers on tap multiplied, but, tragically, so did the price, and a nightly pint of Jever became a thing of the past. Nonetheless, the atmosphere moved to the new place, or, in fact, spread evenly among the two successor bars. The younger cats, the hipsters and the artistic wannabes and willbes remained put at Klapparstígur, whereas the older ones relocated to Smiðjustígur. The most notable of these was the chess club Hrókurinn (The Rook). Almost every table in the bar has a built in chessboard, and you can come in there at any time of day to play, and be sure to find a number of willing opponents. Be careful of playing for beer, though, as most members are pretty proficient, and have often gotten in foreign teams to compete. Among notables who have played The Rook are Kasparov, and Anand. The Rook won the Icelandic cup for chess clubs in 2002, and has just returned from a tour in Greenland.
As Grapevine enters the bar at 5 o clock on a Friday, the evening is just kicking off. First up is a pub quiz. 30 questions are asked, and the winner wins a crate of beer, but the catch is that at least 15 questions must be answered correctly. The regular quiz host is unavailable, and the newcomer is given a hard time of it. It happens to be the 4th of July, so the questions are dedicated to American Lowbrow culture. This does not amuse the regulars, most of whom know more about Icelandic poetry and the sagas than about Oprah or Star Wars. Every question is second guessed and/or shouted down, the host puts up a heroic defence but is in the process of becoming the most reviled man in the room. He asks who was the commander of British Forces in World War I, in one of the questions not dedicated to the theme of the day, and the audience smell blood. He neglects to mention whether this refers to Army, Navy or combined forces, and for a moment it seems as if Iceland might witness its first lynching of the century. As tempers flare he belatedly announces that it was the Army he was asking about, his life is spared and the competition resumes. As it turns out, the result is a tie between two people who both managed 13 points, but no one was a contender for the crate of beer, so the sudden death rule is not invoked (Grapevine manages a measly 9).
The quiz over, there is no pressing need for the use of mental faculties, at least for those not playing chess, and hence the bar is hit hard. The regulars at Grandrokk are considerably more talkative than your average Reykjavík bargoer, and this with only the aid of moderate amounts(as yet) of alcohol. The first man Grapevine finds itself engaged in conversation with to claims to have designed the backdrop for films such as Angels of the Universe and Nói Albínói, and says he wrote the story Ikingut, also made into a film. He lectures Grapevine on JFK and the magic bullets, and about how LBJ and the southern oil barons had him killed. Then, in yet another attempt to expose Grapevine’s ignorance, he pulls out 12 matches and challenges Grapevine to take one away, promising that Grapevine will wind up with the last match, and hence lose the game. Grapevine duly finds itself holding said last match.
Everyone having had their share of merriment, and chairs being requisitioned by chess players, it now finds itself talking to a man who titles himself an artist. He proudly announces that unlike most of his peers, he is a member of the Conservative Party. Attempting to convince Grapevine of the merits of this, he tells us that all this talk of the poor getting poorer is merely relative, it is in fact the rich getting richer, and hence there is no need to worry. Grapevine finds itself quite as dumbfounded by this as by disappearing matches, and decides to concentrate on the drinking. We think it best to end our report here, and let Grapevine go about its business, among the friendly late night drinkers at atmospheric Grandrokk. Vladur